A bit of intrigue has surfaced in the wake of Justify’s Triple Crown-clinching victory Saturday, with rival owner Mike Repole questioning jockey Florent Geroux’s tactics aboard the other Bob Baffert-trained horse in the Belmont Stakes, Restoring Hope.
Repole told the New York Post he hopes that Belmont Park’s racing stewards will take a second look at Geroux’s ride. Specifically, he said Restoring Hope seemed to act as “more of an offensive lineman than a racehorse trying to win the Belmont.”
At one point, he said, Restoring Hope turned left in what seemed like a deliberate attempt to pin Preakness runner-up Bravazo on the rail and keep him away from Justify.
Repole, who co-owns defeated Belmont contenders Noble Indy and Vino Rosso, was not the only one who raised questions about Restoring Hope’s race. Yahoo.com reporter Pat Forde asked Baffert about it in the post-race news conference.
Baffert denied using Restoring Hope to protect Justify. “No, Restoring Hope, he has natural speed, and his only chance was to be up near the lead in the first wave because he’s like a one-dimensional horse,” he said.
Geroux offered a similar explanation to the Daily Racing Form, saying the plan was always to move Restoring Hope to a forward position.
Meanwhile, a steward for the New York Gaming Commission told the Daily Racing Form there were no plans to interview Geroux about his tactics.
Restoring Hope’s owner, Gary West, was among those frustrated with the race. “I have no earthly idea what Florent was thinking or what his race strategy was,” he told the Post.
Repole was also annoyed with one of his own riders, Javier Castellano, who was aboard Noble Indy and failed to press Justify early in the race.
In another twist to that part of the story, Repole shares ownership of Noble Indy with WinStar Farm, which co-owns Justify.
Of course, a skeptic could say Repole was planning to use Noble Indy as a “rabbit” to tire Justify out and make him more vulnerable to a late charge from Vino Rosso. Perhaps his camp was simply outmaneuvered in the tactical battle.
Repole did tell the Post he considers Justify a “super horse,” regardless of his questions about the Belmont.
None of this seems likely to change long-term perceptions of Justify’s achievement. But the story does offer a fascinating glimpse of the politics, tactics and overlapping relationships that often define high-level thoroughbred racing.