NEW YORK – Something Bob Baffert always dreads has come true ahead of the Belmont Stakes: Justify drew the No. 1 post for the colt’s bid to sweep the Triple Crown.
The Kentucky Derby and Preakness winner was made the early 4-5 favorite in the 10-horse field for Saturday’s race.
Baffert is not a fan of the inside post for his horses, no matter what the race.
“I never do like to draw the rail, but my horses seem to live in it,” he said Tuesday. “We have it, we can’t change it. We’ll deal with it.”
And history may be on Justify’s side.
Since 1905, a leading 23 horses have won from the No. 1 post. The last to win from there was Empire Maker in 2003 when he spoiled Funny Cide’s Triple Crown bid.
“He is so talented, I think he can dictate the race,” Hall of Fame trainer D. Wayne Lukas said of Justify. “That is the thing that makes him very tough to beat. He can pick his spots. He is the key to how all of us run.”
Justify won the first two legs of the series from the No. 7 post. He ran on sloppy tracks both times and the forecast for Saturday calls for a 60 percent chance of rain.
This time the No. 7 hole went to Tenfold. The colt was a fast-closing third in the Preakness and is 12-1 for the Belmont.
Hofburg was made the 9-2 second choice. Trained by Hall of Famer Bill Mott, the colt finished seventh in the Kentucky Derby and skipped the Preakness.
The only other horses with single-digit odds are Preakness runner-up Bravazo and Vino Rosso, both at 8-1. Vino Rosso finished ninth in the Derby and didn’t run in the Preakness.
Baffert is seeking a second Triple Crown victory in four years. American Pharoah ended a 37-year drought when he completed the sweep in 2015. He broke from the No. 1 post in the Preakness.
In the 2010 Kentucky Derby, Baffert had the favorite with Lookin At Lucky, who broke from the No. 1 hole. The colt was pinned to the rail and had nowhere to go until a late run helped him finish sixth. He won the Preakness.
“Everybody is always joking in my family, (wife) Jill is always saying, ‘They should just put you in the one hole and just draw the rest of the race,“’ Baffert said. “I had a feeling I was due for the one.”
Jockey Mike Smith will need to use Justify’s speed to get him away from the starting gate before the rest of the field comes over on him along the rail.
“It’s all you can hope for,” Baffert said. “He is on the inside, so he can sort of dictate what’s going to go, what’s happening.”
Wearing a Mets jersey with his name on the back, Baffert tossed out a ceremonial first pitch at Citi Field before the Mets hosted the Orioles. His throw from in front of the mound was high to infielder Luis Guillorme, who rose up to catch it.
Justify and Bravazo, trained by Lukas, are the only two horses that will have run in all three Triple Crown races. Bravazo was sixth in the Derby and came running late to finish a half-length behind Justify in the Preakness.
“One of these horses or two maybe has to run a little bit better than you would expect them to, mine included (to win),” Lukas said.
Baffert has another horse in the race: Restoring Hope, the third-place finisher in the Wood Memorial. Smith rode him in his last race on the Derby undercard, but will be replaced by Florent Geroux on Saturday.
Gronkowski is a 12-1 long shot, no doubt attractive odds for his part-owner Rob Gronkowski, the New England Patriots tight end. He and teammate Tom Brady have wagered together at the Derby in past years.
The Britain-based colt is a newcomer to the Triple Crown trail. He got sick and missed the Derby and has been waiting to make his U.S. debut in the grueling Belmont.
The field for the 150th Belmont in post position order with jockeys and odds: Justify, Smith, 4-5; Free Drop Billy, Robby Albarado, 30-1; Bravazo, Luis Saez, 8-1; Hofburg, Irad Ortiz Jr., 9-2; Restoring Hope, Geroux, 30-1; Gronkowski, Jose Ortiz, 12-1; Tenfold, Ricardo Santana Jr., 12-1; Vino Rosso, John Velazquez, 8-1; Noble Indy, Javier Castellano, 30-1; Blended Citizen, Kyle Frey, 15-1.
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