It might not have been what trainer Bob Baffert wanted, but in a 1 1/2-mile race there is plenty of time to fix any mistakes.
Justify drew the No. 1 post for Saturday’s running of the Belmont Stakes, the race that could make him the 13th Triple Crown winner. The rail is considered one of the worst, if not the worst, posts to draw.
Baffert appeared unconcerned when the announcement was made, then pulled out his phone, looked at a message, and started laughing with those around him.
This year’s Belmont post-position draw was held at Citi Field in New York, home of the New York Mets. Baffert later threw out the ceremonial first pitch for the game between the Mets and Baltimore Orioles.
“Well, I never like to draw the rail, but my horses seem to live in it,” Baffert said. “But, most importantly is that the horse is doing well, and the last time I went through this with American Pharoah, … he didn’t leave with them and I got lucky that he got away from there.
“You can have a great hole, but if you don’t leave there, you’re still going to be in trouble.”
Justify was immediately installed as the 4-5 morning-line favorite. Hofburg, who came with a late rally to finish seventh (in a 20-horse field) in the Kentucky Derby, was the second favorite at 9-2. Bravazo and Vino Rosso were at 8-1. Everyone else in the 10-horse field was 12-1 or greater.
“We’ve had a good time to recover from the Derby, which probably makes it a bigger challenge for Justify,” said Bill Mott, Hofburg’s trainer. “I don’t think there’s any doubt about it. We didn’t hit the board in the Derby and didn’t see any big advantage to running in the Preakness. We just pointed for the Belmont. We have to do what’s best for us, and that’s what we did.”
Baffert was forced to come in to New York earlier than normal in order to attend the draw and make an appearance at the Mets game.
Baffert, along with trainer Dale Romans, who has Free Drop Billy in the Belmont, talked about their trip from Louisville.
“The worst thing about flying on a plane with Bob Baffert is he’s Ritchie Valens and I’m the Big Bopper,” Romans said. “The headline says, ‘Plane crash, Bob Baffert got killed. Also on the plane was Dale Romans.’”
“No, they’re not going to say that; they’re going to say ‘another trainer.’”
Justify, and other horses who have been training at Churchill Downs, will be arriving Wednesday in the early afternoon at Belmont Park.
There are two other Southern California-based horses in the Belmont. Blended Citizen, for trainer Doug O’Neill, has the outside 10 post and is listed at 15-1 on the morning line. He won the Jeff Ruby Steaks at Turfway Park and the Peter Pan Stakes at Belmont. He was fifth in the Blue Grass Stakes in the last major prep before the Kentucky Derby.
Restoring Hope, also for Baffert, will break from the No. 5 post at 30-1. His credentials are not great compared to unbeaten stablemate Justify. He has won only one race, a maiden special weight. He finished third in the Wood Memorial and followed that with a 12th-place finish in the 14-horse Pat Day Mile at Churchill Downs.