Justify odds-on to join the immortals of the American Triple Crown
Tipperary's Fozzy Stack flies Irish flag at Belmont Stakes with Alexios Komnenos
Triple Crown hopeful Justify trains on the track at Belmont Park racetrack. Photograph: Shannon Stapleton/Reuters
Tipperary trainer “Fozzy” Stack flies the Irish flag at Belmont Park on Saturday night when American racing’s newest superstar, Justify, bids for Triple Crown glory.
A week after English Triple Crown ambitions for Saxon Warrior got floored at Epsom, Justify gets the chance to make light of his own stall one draw in the Belmont Stakes and enter the history books.
Just a dozen horses have ever won US racing’s Triple Crown and after victories in the Kentucky Derby and Preakness Stakes, Justify is odds-on to join the immortals in the space of just five weeks.
The focus of the racing world will be on New York for the Belmont’s 11.46 “off” time on Saturday night but at 10.40pm there will be Irish interest in the $1 million Grade One Manhattan Stakes.
Alexios Komnenos, last season’s Desmond Stakes winner, will attempt to give Stack the biggest success of his fledgling career in the mile and a quarter turf highlight.
Stack has engaged the locally based French jockey Florent Geroux for the colt, who was out of the money behind Rhododendron in last month’s Lockinge at Newbury.
Alexios Konenos will break from stall four of the 13 runners, which includes the American turf stalwart Beach Patrol, the forecast 2-1 favourite.
Stack is in just his second season as trainer, although he was heavily involved with his father, Tommy, for years including when enjoying Grade One success at Belmont in 2007 through Alexander Tango in the Garden City Stakes.
Roll of honour
Inevitably though it’s Justify’s attempt to join legendary names such Secretariat and Seattle Slew on the Triple Crown roll of honour that will be the centre of attention.
Only Slew has won the Triple Crown while unbeaten, and none of the previous dozen winners completed it without having run as a two-year-old.
In Justify’s favour, though, is that trainer Bob Baffert ended a famous 37-year Triple Crown with American Pharoah just three years ago.
Prior to that Baffert endured the agony of coming up short three times on the final leg of the Triple Crown. But even he has been impressed by how much a colt who only first raced in February has packed into such a short time frame.
“It’s been quick. He’s handled everything thrown at him without losing his composure. A lot of horses get nervous, hot – he thrives on this,” the 65-year-old trainer said.
“Not only is he a great athlete but he has a great mind. In the Derby, the Preakness, he was in the paddock like he’d handled it all before. He’s a very fearless type of horse,” he added.
Justify will also have experience on his back. Mike Smith will become the oldest Triple Crown-winning rider at 52 should he land the Belmont for a third time.
The jockey labelled Big Money Mike, for his record in the sport’s most valuable contests, said: “I’m getting towards the end of my career but I’m blessed that I’m doing really well and I’m happy riding. I can see myself doing this for another few years.”
The Belmont Stakes can be seen live on the At The Races channel.
The Curragh’s Saturday card is the sole Irish weekend action with the following day one of five Sundays without flat racing during the summer in order to ease the workload for stable staff during the busiest months of the year.
Irish Derby ambitions could be encouraged for Theobald if he impresses in the Listed McDonnell’s Silver Stakes.
Jim Bolger won this race with Trading Leather in 2013 en route to Irish Derby glory. and Theobald is one of four three-year-olds taking on older horses.
Mustajeer can boast a 110 rating on the back of a fine Mooresbridge Stakes effort but it is debatable if quick ground conditions will suit him. Theobald ran a sound race in the Irish Guineas and could thrive on the going more than his older rival.