How to bet the 2018 Belmont Stakes

For The Baltimore Sun

To the surprise of no one, Justify was installed as the 4-5 favorite for Saturday’s Belmont Stakes. For the most part, all the naysayers have come around to see that a horse that did not race as a 2-year-old can, in fact, be the best horse in the country as a 3-year-old. Justify is clearly that.

Of some concern, Justify’s Preakness performance was not as strong as his Kentucky Derby performance. For horses that like to lead to win, the Preakness is supposed to be easier than the Derby. As a rule, the pace is not as hot, and there are fewer horses to clear in getting to the front. It looked like the Preakness was going to unfold just like the Derby, but down the stretch Justify was losing ground on his competition, despite the shorter distance (by one-quarter of a furlong) and the fact that the first half-mile was over a full second faster in the Derby. If the pace is hot, he would be wise to leave it alone for at least six furlongs, and he has never shown the ability to do that.

That said, there do not appear to be any horses in the race that will want the lead badly enough to crank out faster fractions than Justify can set on an average day. So he will likely inherit the pace and will set modest fractions for the first six furlongs. Then it will turn into a race. This scenario favors Justify since the Belmont is usually won by a horse racing at or near the lead.

Many will pick Bravazo to be the primary challenger, but frankly his second-place effort in the Preakness was to be expected as the new competition at Pimlico Race Course was nothing special. There is little to suggest he is better than Justify and just waiting for his shot.

Hofburg will get some betting based on his decent Derby performance (seventh) and the fact that he rested while Justify raced in the Preakness. But his claim to fame before the Derby was a second-place finish in the Florida Derby and a maiden win, so his morning line odds of 9-2 make little sense. He would need to back into a win by some catastrophic pace collapse.

Vino Rosso is well-regarded by the e-Ponies computer program, but frankly his Derby performance was worse than expected and without any obvious excuses.

The bottom line is that below the favorite, there is no clear second tier of horses likely to challenge. It is wide open, so shopping for some value makes sense. For value, Blended Citizen has a win over this track in the Peter Pan. Although he is cheaper than most of these, he could get up for a piece. For even more value, Noble Indy creeps into the computer’s top four choices, despite a miserable Derby run. His style will keep him closer to the lead than many of these and if the pace is reasonable, as expected, that could be an advantage.

Bet Justify to win. And keep a souvenir ticket for framing and keep it somewhere safe just in case he gets it done. Wheel Justify over Bravazo, Vino Rosso, Noble Indy and Blended Citizen in exacta and trifecta wagers.

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