Oh I was so wrong! How glad I am to be SO wrong! Justify justified all the hype to become the 13th Triple Crown champion!
He did it and he did it well. This was – in my eyes – his best performance by a country mile. Put simply: the task on hand, as outlined in my preview, seemed an incredibly steep climb beforehand.
But this wonder colt he made it look easy. Mike Smith made it look easy too. “Big Money Mike” – he’s got the nickname for a reason.
For some reason this Triple Crown touched me more from an emotional side of things than American Pharoah’s. Maybe because the whole campaign felt more humble, more authentic than all that surrounded Pharoah’s campaign.
4.05 Nottingham: Class 3 Handicap, 5f
A return to form at Redcar last months brings Justanotherbottle right into the picture here. He was going away at the end picking up the pieces off a strong gallop.
The now four year old ran extremely well in some big handicaps in the second half of 2017 while also being incredibly progressive, winning twice throughout the year and improving his handicap mark by 21 pounds!
After his last success a career highest is needed today. I feel with ever improving apprentice Ger O’Neill who’s worth every single pound of his 5lb claim this is possible to achieve in this race.
He’s a CD scorer already, the fastish ground won’t pose any problems and he is one who looks still on the up with a an assignment at higher level on the cards fairly soon. I have him closer to the top of the market than his current price, that is for sure.
An almighty task on hand, the chance to become an equine legend beckons at the end of it – Justify has to defy history one more time to land the Triple Crown!
Still unbeaten, the Scat Daddy colt only started his racing career in February this year. He’s come a long way since then. Memorable victories in the Santa Anita Derby, the Kentucky Derby and the Preakness Stakes bring him here to this day, the day where it’s all on the line.
We all want to see a Triple Crown winner. And we may do so today. It’s so difficult to achieve, such a tremendous ask for a three year old colt who’s still learning his trade. Three grueling races within four weeks; different trips, tracks, underfoot conditions, going against some fresh and not so fresh, inexperienced and race hardened rivals.
If history tells us how difficult it is to win the Triple Crown then we must saviour the opportunity to witness the second one of these historical achievements within three years. Amercian Pharoah broke through this barrier that latest decades. Who’d have thought we might see one again so soon after?
So, the question everyone is asking: can he do it???
No. He can’t. My heart wants it. My head disagrees.
There are a few much smarter brains than I am out there who brought compelling arguments forward for and against. What sticks out for me personally is Simon Rowlands take on the race as he uses striding analysis to understand how Justify’s performances to this date compare to other notable Triple Crown winners.
His comparison and the facts uncovered are comprehensive. They tend to agree with my less so analytical thoughts: Justify is all speed. Or mostly speed. His pedigree doesn’t scream “I want a trip” either.
Don’t get me wrong, he impressed me in the Kentucky Derby and the Preakness, no doubt. The way he looks, the way he moves, the way he goes about his business.
Today is an entirely different race, though. Different conditions. An additional two furlongs. Against opposition that didn’t have to compete in all three Triple Crown races. Some of these may have a bit more left in the locker plus a few of the rivals Justify will meet today are likely to appreciate this marathon trip quite a bit more than he likely does.
Lest to forget: Justify needed to go all out for a while now – on the go since February – each month one important race for him to contest and be at his best. That must take its toll.
if it doesn’t- and if Justify can overcome all of these hurdles then he truly is a special horse, one that warrants to be mentioned in line with the best – make no mistake about that.
Okay so, if not Justify, who’s then going to win the Belmont?
Well, I take a punt. He’s not the most obvious one, he may not be good enough after all. Regardless, I do sense that Free Drop Billy is overpriced. He hasn’t won a race this year and only managed to get places in a couple of Grade 2- and 3 contests. He ran in the Kentucky Derby like his price suggested: rotten.
BUT there is a big but: Free Drop Billy is a Grade 1 winner already, nonetheless. He landed the Breeders’ Futurity Stakes at Keeneland as a juvenile. He also was a fair runner-up at this seasonal reappearance this year in February behind Derby third Audible. He clearly has class.
That says he very much looks like a grinder. One who’s always going to get beaten for speed. He’s also one who is likely to get into his own in the second half of the year – so now! Free Drop Billy is May foal; normally these individuals need a bit more time.
Connections clearly felt that way after the Derby. They gave him time off. He bypassed the Preakness and comes here fresher than most. And there is the fact that he is a son of Union Rags – himself a Belmont Stakes winner – while also being a half-brother to multiple 1m 4f Stakes scorer Hawkbill.
Dare I say that Free Drop Billy looked excellent in his work this week leading up to the big race? I start to believe….
In saying all of this, Free Drop Billy needs to improve, needs to step up a good deal to be in with a shout. I feel there is a better chance for him to do exactly that than the betting suggests. I believe he is a lively place chance, at the very least.
5pts Each/Way (3 places, 1/5) – Free Drop Billy @ 66/1 VC
Pretty clear storyline tonight: American Pharoah wins the Belmont and becomes the first conquer of the Triple Crown in ages. That’s the theory at least, or what the betting is telling us. Well, in fact many experts were making strong cases for this scenario as well. Pharoah’s relaxed attitude, lack of real opposition and so on where all brought up. And rightly so.
It would be massive for our sport if American Pharoah could make it happen – the sport needs superstars. Pharoah already is a star, of course. He won the Kentucky Derby and Preakness Stakes. But win the Triple Crown and immortality beckons. While he was still heavily challenged in the Derby, he hacked up at sloppy Pimlico – but here’s the all important question: can he show the same class over in the Belmont Stakes, a race which puts an alien like test to him?
Alien like because the 12f trip is a marathon distance for US racing. Something comparable with 2m in Europe. That’s down the nature of US racing. Emphasis is on early speed, unlike in Europe.
Personally I’m wary. I was sceptical before the Preakness, back then voicing concerns about the potential third leg of the Tripe Crown. American Pharoah doesn’t give me the impression to be a stayer. He’s speedy and powerful, but on pedigree you would give him very little chance to go as far as 12f.
Now, he has the right attitude, he really has! And he usually hits the line strongly – so happened in the Derby and the Preakness – plus there is there general perception of the lack of classy opposition in the Belmont Stakes, which many believe there is just nobody who’s capable of beating him.
My view is: that all counts for nothing if he doesn’t stay the trip. It’s that simple. Yes, my heart is with him tonight, all fingers crossed when he enters the home straight. But my money won’t be.
So let’s check out Pharoah’s opposition, shall we? I’m a huge fan of Mike De Kock and South African racing, so I’d love to see Mubtaahij running a mighty race. He swerved the Preakness, which was probably the right decision. But I’ve trouble to see him getting home over this trip. Unfortunately.
Derby fourth Frosted is thought to be the biggest danger to American Pharoah. He also comes here as a fresh horse and seems likely to appreciate the trip. He wasn’t well positioned at Churchill Downs, staying on well from the back. On pedigree he has a fair chance to stay 12f, but it’s not a given either.
Tale Of Vale came from a long way back to finish second in the Preakness, albeit still decisively beaten by Pharoah. Not sure if this performance reflects his true ability. He didn’t really excel in minor races before. So I’m rather cautious – he might not be able to back it up. Though the longer trip may well suit.
Staying on in the Derby was Materiality. A son of Belmont Stakes winner Afleet Alex, he may appreciated the trip. Whether he is good enough is another question. At least he already is a Grade 1 winner, so can’t be easily discounted. Might be an interesting alternative against the red hot favourite.
However I find Keen Ice more appealing at a much bigger price. He also didn’t go to Pimlico, and is closely matched with Materiality on the Kentucky Derby form, as he finished behind him in 7th. Keen Ice encountered a troubled run, travelling way off the pace. He was hampered and short of room in the closing stages, but finished the race well enough.
He’s a son of Belmont Stakes runner-up Curlin, who can get offspring capable of staying the Belmont trip, like in 2013 with Palace malice – his stock sometimes needs a while to hit best form as well. Keen ice has some fair Belmont form in his dam line too.
That brings me to my final point: the heart is with American Pharoah – if he wins tonight he’s to be considered one of the all-time greats. My head and money is with Keen Ice, though, who seems to have good credentials to appreciate the Belmont trip and who looks still a big price, despite some money pouring in for him.