Nine hopefuls (dreamers) are set to attempt to thwart Justify's bid for a Triple Crown. There's no reason why any of them should be able to do it. Maybe they're running for second, which is worth as much as winning a half-million dollar stakes. The only horse in the field who can beat Justify is Justify. If he runs his race, and his post-Preakness works have been sensational, he wins. It's that simple.



This year's Belmont would be one of the best betting races in the history of the third jewel of the Triple Crown--without Justify.

Who would be the favorite? Could be almost anyone.

Bravazo showed a nice late turn of foot in the Preakness, which could be interpreted as The Coach's hopeful wanting more distance.

Tenfold was moving just as impressively late in Baltimore and his owner feels he is the best bred horse for the demanding 12 furlongs.

Hofburg also looks like he could run all day and Bill Mott's confidence is noteworthy. He doesn't rush horses into spots where they don't belong.

Vino Rosso and Noble Indy have the Pletcher factor going for them. Todd knows how to win a classic on his home court.

Free Drop Billy is the only Grade 1 winner other than Justify and has been working up a storm at Churchill.

Blended Citizen won the Peter Pan in front of the parochial New York fans, so he'll get bet, although I think he is one of a few that can be tossed.

Mystery Euro invader Gronkowski has a decent enough record to draw money from drunk football fans. Remember My Boy Jack at the Derby?

Restoring Hope is "the other Baffert."

Would you take even money on any of these to be the favorite in a Justify-less Belmont? The point is there is an undefeated horse, who has given indications he could be one of the ones, against nine well matched,
really nice but, to this point, unexceptional challengers. Six of them have already tried Justify without coming
close. Any of them could win if Justify comes up short. But that is the only way.

A frequently heard knock on Justify is that this is his sixth race in less than four months. I contend this will help him. He hasn't gone longer than four weeks between races in his life so coming back in three weeks from the Preakness will be no big deal.

As I've argued countless times, horses can do almost anything they are trained to do. Train them to run every two months and that's what you'll get.

2017 under-achievers

In winning the Preakness, Justify already has done more than the winners of last season's Triple Crown events. Not one of them has won another race since taking his Classic. Some years this is understandable due to early retirement or injury. Not this time. All raced again as a 3-year-old after their big score and all have raced as a 4-year-old, an unusual occurrence in any case.

Derby winner Always Dreaming is winless in five starts, two this year. Cloud Computing is 0-3, one of them this season, since his Preakness. Tapwrit, who ran third in his 4-year-old debut this past Sunday, failed in his only race as a 3-year-old after the Belmont. As a group, they are the most disappointing Triple Crown winners alumni in memory.

The 2016 Triple Crown heroes were barely more accomplished. Nyquist was 0-3 after the Derby and Belmont winner Creator was 0-2. Exaggerator somewhat saved the reputation of the class by taking the Grade 1 Haskell after the Preakness. But that was his only win in four starts.

It's revealing that the 3-year-old champion both seasons were horses--Arrogate and West Coast--who not only didn't win a Classic but didn't even run in one. This has happened only twice before in the history of the Eclipse Awards, Tiznow in 2000 and Wajima in 1975.

However, before anyone mounts the tired old complaints about the toll the Triple Crown trail takes on contemporary horses, the two previous years produced American Pharoah and California Chrome and this year we have Justify. For me this is one more reason to root for him.

Bolt d'Oro has had enough

Justify is getting ultimate respect from the connections of a horse who knows him best. Mick Ruis is bringing his crack 3-year-old Bolt d'Oro to Belmont Saturday but not to run against Justify, who dusted him in the Santa Anita Derby and Kentucky Derby. Rather than face him again, Bolt d'Oro will tackle a salty group of accomplished older foes in the Met Mile. This is the ultimate respect.

It remains too bad that the Met Mile, one of the most cherished prizes in racing, gets buried on the Belmont undercard. The winner will be lucky to get even a full sentence in the media.

Saturday's program doesn't need the Met Mile but Memorial Day, its traditional home, certainly could use it. I'm sorry but a gaggle of state-bred races doesn't get my juices flowing. I'd prefer one Met Mile on the holiday over however many NY-bred stakes as can be carded.

There's another reason Mick Ruis decided to bring Bolt d'Oro back east. There is nothing meaningful on the West Coast for 3-year-olds after the Santa Anita Derby until the Malibu on the day after Christmas. It's pretty much the same story for fillies. It has been this way for years. This is inexplicable and inexcusable.

With the Santa Anita Handicap having lost its sizzle thanks to the Pegasus and Dubai World Cup, there is an opportunity to correct the 3-year-old wrongs and create another big day of racing on the West Coast while keeping local stars, who otherwise would ship east, at home. All that would need to happen is to reschedule the Big Cap with significant races for 3-year-old colts and fillies, toward the end of the marathon meeting.

It also wouldn't hurt if Del Mar, whose big races are on grass, also created major dirt races for 3-year-olds of both genders.