It was a looping throw that wound up high and inside, but at least he got the ball to the plate.
Trainer Bob Baffert got out of here at Citi Field without the embarrassment of bouncing one of the ceremonial first pitches before the Orioles-Mets game Tuesday night. If only he escaped with a better draw in the Belmont Stakes for Justify.
“I never do like to draw the rail,” Baffert said after Justify (4-5 morning line, 11-10 at the Wynn Las Vegas), indeed, drew the rail for Saturday’s $1.5 million classic, the last obstacle separating the undefeated colt from becoming the 13th Triple Crown winner.
“You can have a great hole,” Baffert said, “but if you don’t leave there, you’re still going to be in trouble.”
In all seriousness, it is not that bad. It is not like drawing the rail at the Kentucky Derby, where the bottleneck is as impossible to navigate as getting from the back row of the plane to the front before the doors open. With only nine other 3-year-old colts in the field, and with 1½ miles to navigate, it should not be an excuse, even if it has been 15 years since Empire Maker won from the “1” hole. If Mike Smith gets Justify out of the gate quickly, he could have a ground-saving trip to an easy lead.
“Most importantly the horse is doing well,” Baffert said. “Once he gets here (Wednesday) we’ll feel good when he gets on that plane (from Kentucky) and gets here. But everything has been really smooth since the Preakness.”
The draw really was anticlimactic, even as a throng of media and well-heeled well-wishers gathered in a Mets party room to watch the perfunctory exercise of the draw. At one point there was a cacophonous spill in an adjacent kitchen, the closest thing there was to any drama.
Hofburg (9-2, 6-1) drew No. 4 for trainer Bill Mott and jockey Írad Ortíz Jr. and was made the second choice on the morning line, mirroring part of the betting picture back in Las Vegas.
“Justify is a very good horse,” Mott said about Hofburg, the seventh-place closer in the Derby despite a troubled trip. “We’ve had a good time to recover from the Derby, which probably makes it a bigger challenge for Justify. We didn’t see any big advantage to running in the Preakness. We just pointed for the Belmont. We have to do what’s best for us, and that’s what we did.”
Stable mates Vino Rosso (8-1, 6-1) and Noble Indy (30-1, 25-1) got the No. 8 and 9 posts, respectively, for three-time Belmont-winning trainer Todd Pletcher.
“We didn’t feel like it was really important where we drew,” Pletcher said. “I think the outside is just fine.”
That is especially true for Vino Rosso, which figures to be raced off the pace by two-time Belmont winner John Velázquez.
“He’s a horse that has I wouldn’t necessarily say tactical speed, but he’s got enough pace that he’s not going to be way out of it if the fractions are reasonable,” Pletcher said. “We’d like to see him laying right off the main pace-setters.”
The most glaring difference between the Las Vegas futures market and the morning-line prediction of Saturday’s odds was with Gronkowski (12-1, 30-1), the European transplant to Chad Brown’s barn. He drew into the “6” hole and will be ridden by José Ortíz.
Complicating preparations for the race is a four-letter word that begins with “R.” After sloppy races in the Derby and Preakness, the forecast for Saturday says there is a 60 percent chance of rain, meaning the possibility of the first Triple Crown on three sodden tracks.
“We’d all like to see it run on a fast track,” Pletcher said. “Maybe with the exception of Bob Baffert.”
Listed with trainers, jockeys, the morning line and Wynn Las Vegas odds, following is the full draw for the Belmont Stakes, which has a scheduled post time of 6:46 p.m. EDT:
1. Justify (Bob Baffert, Mike Smith) 4-5 ML, 11-10 Wynn
2. Free Drop Billy (Dale Romans, Robby Albarado) 30-1, 35-1
3. Bravazo (D. Wayne Lukas, Luís Sáez) 8-1, 7-1
4. Hofburg (Bill Mott, Írad Ortíz Jr.) 9-2, 6-1
5. Restoring Hope (Bob Baffert, Florent Geroux) 30-1, 30-1
6. Gronkowski (Chad Brown, José Ortíz) 12-1, 30-1
7. Tenfold (Steve Asmussen, Ricardo Santana Jr.) 12-1, 12-1
8. Vino Rosso (Todd Pletcher, John Velázquez) 8-1, 6-1
9. Noble Indy (Todd Pletcher, Javier Castellano) 30-1, 25-1
10. Blended Citizen (Doug O’Neill, Kyle Frey) 15-1, 15-1
Ron Flatter’s racing column is posted every day this Belmont Stakes week at VSiN.com. You may also hear the Ron Flatter Racing Pod on Wednesday afternoon and Friday morning at VSiN.com/podcasts. Wednesday’s pop-up podcast will feature 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.