Elmont, New York
Justify has arrived here at Belmont Park. And since he seems to be writing the terms of engagement for this Triple Crown, the rain is not far behind.
Look no further than burgeoning weather expert Bode Baffert, the 13-year-old son of Justify’s trainer Bob Baffert, to provide a credible forecast for Saturday’s 150th running of the $1.5 million Grade 1 Belmont Stakes.
“Bode sent a text that said, ‘Tell dad there’s a cold front pushing through New York, and there’s going to be a half-an-inch of rain the day of the race,” Bob Baffert said shortly after his Kentucky Derby and Preakness winner settled in here at John Terranova’s Barn 1, the same place that American Pharoah called his temporary home.
Bode Baffert has made meteorology a hobby since the Pharoah days of 2015, and he has had an uncanny knack for being right more often than the National Weather Service when it really counts. He certainly was in the days leading up to the Kentucky Derby, predicting endless rain when all other experts said it would let up.
For what it is worth, the National Weather Service is forecasting a 50 percent chance of showers Saturday for Belmont Park.
“I’d like to see a nice day,” Bob Baffert said. “Things like the weather, how the race is going to play out, I don’t really think about that.”
It is hard to avoid, though. There has not been a year when all three Triple Crown races were run as regattas, but this could be the first. And if that were to happen, why wouldn’t Baffert welcome the sight of something antediluvian? Three of Justify’s six career races – all wins – were on muddy or sloppy tracks, although his speed figures have dropped after having to lumber through the slop of the Derby and the Preakness over the past 4½ weeks.
But Justify (4-5 morning line, 11-10 Wynn Las Vegas) delivered a bullet workout of 46 4/5 seconds last week over a half-mile at Churchill Downs. Monday he had a more relaxing breeze of 1:01 2/5 for five furlongs before shipping east. Since he recovered from the Preakness, he has not looked worn out from the Triple Crown campaign. And certainly not the flight from Kentucky, where he spent most of the last two weeks.
“He handled the trip well,” Baffert said. “He didn’t get hot. He drank a lot of water when he got off. We feel pretty relieved he came in safe and sound.”
And to a lot of attention. More than 100 media types were outside the barn jostling for position and clicking away with their cameras as Justify walked off the van just ahead of his stable mate and possible pace companion Restoring Hope.
Justify then took about a 20-minute shed-row walk to get rid of any cobwebs. Although Baffert did not specify a time, it was expected that Justify would get his first visit to the track on Thursday morning.
The most salient news Tuesday came from the rival barn of Todd Pletcher, who confirmed that Louisiana Derby winner and Belmont long shot Noble Indy (30-1, 25-1) will have the blinkers taken off for Saturday’s race, three weeks after a lamentable 17th-place finish in the Kentucky Derby.
“It’s not about tactics, necessarily,” Pletcher told the Blood-Horse. “In his two works since the Derby we thought the work without the blinkers was a little better – a little more focused when could see horses.”
With Javier Castellano getting the ride for the first time, Pletcher has said he wants Noble Indy to be near the early lead but not necessarily on it. That will be left to Justify. Just how he handles it will go a long way to determining Saturday’s winner.
Ron Flatter’s racing column is posted every day this Belmont Stakes week at VSiN.com. You may also hear separate editions of the Ron Flatter Racing Pod today and Friday morning at VSiN.com/podcasts. Today’s pop-up podcast features handicappers Dave Tuley, Vinny Magliulo and Patrick McQuiggan, all focused on analyzing each of the 10 horses in the Belmont field. Guests on Friday’s podcast include Todd Pletcher, trainer of Vino Rosso and Noble Indy, and Britney Eurton, NBC and TVG racing analyst. Please subscribe and post a review where available at Apple Podcasts, Google Play Music and Stitcher.