I would be remiss to not mention some controversy surrounding the Belmont.
This has heated up in the last 24 hours, so much so that national news outlets such as ESPN, CNN, and FOX News have ran stories on this.
I tweeted out the below minutes after they crossed the finish line. What I saw during the race I questioned as it happened. But I tweeted it out afterwards after I saw one replay, and lo and behold more followed. Watching the replay over and over made me feel more strongly about what happened. When I got home to watch the replay of the NBC broadcast I was stunned to hear Mike Smith, the jockey of Justify call out to Florent Geroux, the jockey of Restoring Hope, after the race on national TV as the horses were being pulled up, “you da man” to Florent. It was clear, there seemed to be a bit of collusion. Not good.
What happened? First some background.
Restoring Hope is trained by Bob Baffert, the same trainer as Justify. They are owned by two different entities.
Justify is owned by Winstar Farm and China Horse Club among others. He broke from post position #1 and ridden by Mike Smith
Restoring Hope is owned by Gary West and he broke from post position #5 and was ridden by Florent Geroux
Noble Indy is trained by Todd Pletcher and ridden by Javier Castellano, he broke from post position #9 and Winstar Farm has a minority ownership, but the majority owner is Mike Repole
Vino Rosso is trained by Todd Pletcher, he broke from post #8.
Some of what I write below was taken from a piece by Mark Midland of HRN, the link to that story is below.
Many handicappers believed Noble Indy was a horse that could have pushed Jusify through early fractions and threatened his bid at the Triple Crown sweep. But WinStar farm, the managing partner in Justify, also owns a share of Noble Indy.
While WinStar seemingly wouldn’t compromise itself, Nobly Indy ran in the silks of New Yorker Mike Repole, who has expressed that the Belmont Stakes is the race he’d most like to win. Repole not only wanted Noble Indy to run, but anticipated his presence would help the other horse in the Repole blue and orange, Vino Rosso, by helping set a fast early pace. If Noble Indy couldn’t last, he still had Vino Rosso as a closer with a shot.
As the field left the gate, Florent Geroux sent Restoring Hope aggressively towards the front in the middle of the track and then proceeded to float very wide around the first turn forcing horses from post 6 through 10 very wide, blocking them from getting to the lead or forcing their jocks to have to take back and get behind towards the rail. We also saw as they left the gate Noble Indy break well and actually be right on the lead in the middle of the track. Javier Castellano, for some reason held him back though.
Geroux then steered Restoring Hope hard left as he straightened away into the backstretch to close the opening that Bravazo had to possibly use to press Justify.
Restoring Hope served as Justify’s escort, protector, and offensive lineman/blocker. Its that simple.
After the race tempers flared. The owner of Restoring Hope, a horse that seemed to be sacrificed for others agenda, states afterwards, “I have no earthly idea what Florent was thinking or what his race strategy was, had I known better, the first eighth of a mile I would have thought it was a quarter-horse race, not the mile-and-a-half Belmont.”
Mike Repole, the owner of Noble Indy and Vino Rosso said afterwards, ““All week and in the paddock, Todd and I were crystal clear to Javier to make the lead,” Repole said. “He broke good. Mike Smith broke good. We definitely saw an opportunity that Javier, being told to make the lead, could have, or at least pressured Justify.” He went on to say about Castellano, “You get to run in this race one time in your life, you would expect to follow directions. He chose an audible. That doesn’t sit well with me. It’ll be awhile before you see Javier in the blue and orange silks.”
- Wayne Lukas, the trainer of Brazo chimed in and said “That was strange the way they sent him up there. I mean, he compromised a few horses with blocking and so forth.”
NBC analyst Randy Moss also called attention to Restoring Hope “running interference” on the broadcast. Non-fans or new fans could see this and have their opinion on racing soured.
Now the owners, you can do math and see this is a mess and we will likely never know what truly went on.
This is a far cry from 2004. Smarty Jones went for the Triple Crown and it was the opposite as everyone in that race rode their horses to beat Smarty Jones and PREVENT the Triple Crown like they should, but not to ride it sacrificing their own horses. There was much controversy after the 2004 Belmont but that’s a story for another day.
What we had Saturday was the opposite, where two jockeys riding horses trained by the same trainer played part in one winning.
Did this affect who the winner was on Saturday? In my opinion, it likely would not have mattered, Justify was the best horse and deserves all the accolades he is getting. I think Justify would likely have won the race regardless of where he was placed.