Elmont, New York
After he finished off his Triple Crown by winning Saturday’s Belmont Stakes, Justify’s next stop Sunday morning was a date with the media.
Where he will be for his next race, though, remains an unanswered question.
The big chestnut colt was paraded out of Barn 1 here at Belmont Park through an off-and-on drizzle. Trainer Bob Baffert took him around to pose for selfies and get a pat on the nose from all but the most hardened cynics among the 100 media types who wanted to be a part of it.
“Most of the media work so hard to cover these races,” Baffert told reporters. “I just wanted you to get up close and personal with the horse. I get to do it every day. I get to touch him and pet him. I wanted you to see just his presence after a race and the way he is.”
But before and after the meet-and-greet that has become de rigueur for Baffert’s big race winners, many in the media continued to press him and WinStar Farm CEO Elliott Walden about where and when bettors may see Justify again.
“Nothing has been decided yet,” Walden said. “We want to race him at least through this year, and we’ll see where we are at the end of the year. I’m looking forward to his next race just as much as you guys are.”
That is good news for those who want to see Justify back on the track before he goes to the breeding shed. ESPN reported last month that the Irish giant Coolmore agreed to pay $60 million to buy Justify’s stud rights. Walden tersely neither confirmed nor denied the deal.
If American Pharoah’s path is used as a guide, Justify’s schedule for the rest of 2018 could be the Haskell Invitational on July 29 at Monmouth Park, the Travers Stakes at Saratoga on Aug. 25 and the Breeders’ Cup Classic at Churchill Downs on Nov. 3. But that schedule was influenced by Pharoah’s owner Ahmed Zayat. This time the decisions will be made through WinStar and the other lead partner – the China Horse Club.
There is also the possibility that Baffert races Justify close to his home base in southern California, maybe in open company in the $1 million Grade 1 Pacific Classic at Del Mar. Then again, that could also be a target for stable mate West Coast once he is deemed ready after his runner-up finish nearly three months ago in the Dubai World Cup. If so, Baffert may want to keep them separated.
Whatever the case, there seems to be no hurry to make a decision on what is next for Justify.
“Now we can take a deep breath and see how the horse is,” said Walden, himself a former trainer. “The great thing about having Bob as a trainer is that he knows when horses are right. He’s so in tune with horses. He’s not going to bring them up here unless they’re right.”
“They tip you off,” Baffert said. “You don’t really know. You’ve just got to wait.”
The only certainty for now is that Justify, looking fit and maybe a little tired Sunday morning, will be flown Monday back to Churchill Downs. That is where he is likely to be paraded in front of the crowd next Saturday before the Grade 1 Stephen Foster Handicap.
The aftermath of the Belmont also included the head shaking over Gronkowski’s unlikely second-place finish as a 24-1 long shot. After missing the break, the British import now trained by Chad Brown came from nearly 15 lengths behind to finish within 1¾ lengths of Justify.
Most bettors probably lost any chance to cash exotics because of Gronkowski, a horse that only appeared able to attract wagers based on his name. But those bettors wound up getting lucky if they scored with a $2 place bet that paid $13.80.
More likely were the cold exacta, trifecta and Superfecta bets that put Justify on top with “All” underneath. Such a $1 play would have cost $9 to get back $44.50 in the exacta, roughly a 4-1 payoff. A 50-cent trifecta play of Justify with “All” and “All” would have cost $36 for a $114.87 return, making the odds 2-1. The 10-cent Superfecta with Justify over “All,” “All” and “All” would have cost $50.40 to collect $105.15, virtually even money.
Handle for Saturday’s 13-race card totaled $137,954,895, the second-highest one-day, all-sources handle in New York Racing Association history. The only one bigger was Belmont day four years ago, the year before track attendance was capped at about 90,000.
The Belmont Stakes itself Saturday brought in $72,702,815 worth of bets, underscoring the doubt that souvenir tickets moved the odds for Justify, who closed at 4-5. Three years ago there were about $180,000 worth of American Pharoah tickets that went uncashed. That sort of number would not make much of a dent in a win-place-show pool that reached $27,346,262.
Ron Flatter’s racing column is posted every day this Belmont Stakes week at VSiN.com. You may hear the Ron Flatter Racing Pod posted Friday mornings at VSiN.com/podcasts. This week’s guests will include trainer Wesley Ward and Racing Post writer Lee Mottershead, both previewing Royal Ascot. Please subscribe and post a review where available at Apple Podcasts, Google Play Music and Stitcher.