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Justify draws No. 1 post for Belmont Stakes

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NEW YORK — Something Bob Baffert always dreads has come true ahead of the Belmont Stakes: Justify drew the No. 1 post for the colt’s bid to sweep the Triple Crown.

The Kentucky Derby and Preakness winner was made the early 4-5 favorite in the 10-horse field for Saturday’s race.

Baffert is not a fan of the inside post for his horses, no matter what the race.

“I never do like to draw the rail, but my horses seem to live in it,” he said Tuesday at Citi Field before throwing out the first pitch at the Orioles-Mets game. “We have it, we can’t change it. We’ll deal with it.”

Justify won the first two legs of the series from the No. 7 post. He ran on sloppy tracks both times and the forecast for Saturday calls for a 60 percent chance of rain.

This time the No. 7 hole went to Tenfold. The colt was a fast-closing third in the Preakness and is 12-1 for the Belmont.

Hofburg was made the 9-2 second choice. Trained by Hall of Famer Bill Mott, the colt finished seventh in the Kentucky Derby and skipped the Preakness.

The only other horses with single-digit odds are Preakness runner-up Bravazo and Vino Rosso, both at 8-1. Vino Rosso finished ninth in the Derby and didn’t run in the Preakness.

Justify and Bravazo, trained by D. Wayne Lukas, are the only two horses that will have run in all three Triple Crown races. Bravazo was sixth in the Derby and came running late to finish a half-length behind Justify in the Preakness.

Gronkowski is a 12-1 long shot, no doubt attractive odds for his part-owner Rob Gronkowski, the New England Patriots tight end. He and teammate Tom Brady have wagered together at the Derby in past years.

The Britain-based colt is a newcomer to the Triple Crown trail. He got sick and missed the Derby and has been waiting to make his U.S. debut in the grueling Belmont.

The field for the 150th Belmont in post position order with jockeys and odds: Justify, Mike Smith, 4-5; Free Drop Billy, Robby Albarado, 30-1; Bravazo, Luis Saez, 8-1; Hofburg, Irad Ortiz Jr., 9-2; Restoring Hope, Florent Geroux, 30-1; Gronkowski, Jose Ortiz, 12-1; Tenfold, Ricardo Santana Jr., 12-1; Vino Rosso, John Velazquez, 8-1; Noble Indy, Javier Castellano, 30-1; Blended Citizen, Kyle Frey, 15-1.

Victor Espinoza plans comeback in late December

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ARCADIA, Calif. — Triple Crown-winning jockey Victor Espinoza is planning a comeback in late December after fracturing a vertebra in his neck during a training accident at Del Mar.

That’s according to his agent Brian Beach, who says Friday that Espinoza saw his doctors this week and they are pleased with his progress. However, they’re not yet ready to release the 46-year-old Hall of Fame jockey to ride again.

Beach says on his Twitter account that Espinoza “wants to be 100 percent when he comes back.”

A late December return would allow Espinoza to ride at Santa Anita, which opens its winter-spring meet on Dec. 26.

Espinoza got hurt July 22 when he fell while exercising a horse.

He rode American Pharoah to a Triple Crown sweep in 2015.

Vale Dori scores upset win for Baffert in Zenyatta Stakes

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ARCADIA, Calif. (AP) Vale Dori defeated La Force by three-quarters of a length to win the $300,000 Zenyatta Stakes in an upset at Santa Anita on Sunday.

Abel Tasman, the 1-9 favorite trained by Bob Baffert, finished next-to-last, beaten 10 1/2 lengths. Vale Dori, an 11-1 shot also trained by Baffert, ran 1 1/16 miles in 1:44.88 under Joe Talamo. The Grade 1 victory earned her an automatic berth in the Breeders’ Cup Distaff at Churchill Downs on Nov. 3.

Vale Dori snapped a six-race skid.

Bettors waged $474,683 to show on Abel Tasman, who was fresh off a pair of Grade 1 victories in New York under Hall of Fame jockey Mike Smith. But she broke poorly from the starting gate and never fired.

“I’m as shocked as everybody else, but they’ll do that,” Baffert said. “I’m worried about (Abel Tasman) because Mike said she was lethargic, and she’s up there where all these sick horses are, so I hope she’s not getting sick.”

Vale Dori returned $24.60, $13.20 and $40.60. She earned $180,000, and increased her career earnings to $1,365,567.

La Force paid $8.40 and $14.60. Shenandoah Queen was another 1 1/4 lengths back in third and paid $26.60 to show.