Hofburg has talent to upset Justify in the Belmont Stakes

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NEW YORK (AP) There are horses for courses and Hall of Fame trainer Bill Mott thinks he has one ready to upset Justify’s bid for a Triple Crown in the Belmont Stakes.

The colt is Hofburg, a 9-2 second choice in $1.5 million race Saturday. Justify will look to become thoroughbred racing’s 13th Triple Crown winner and second in four years. American Pharoah ended a 37-year drought in 2015.

Mott is the first to admit beating the undefeated and heavily favored Justify won’t be easy. Trainer Bob Baffert’s colt was impressive in winning the muddy Kentucky Derby more than a month ago, and the son of Scat Daddy showed a lot of heart in fending off Bravazo and Tenfold at the foggy Preakness roughly three weeks ago.

Belmont Stakes: What Time, Where To Watch and More

“Our horse has been getting some attention. They made him second choice in the morning line,” Mott said of Hofburg. “From the rumblings I have been hearing, it seems there are a few people talking about him and handicappers seem to like him.”

Hofburg finished seventh in the Derby after encountering traffic problems and skipped the Preakness. The lightly raced 3-year-old colt, ridden by Irad Ortiz, has one win in four lifetime starts. A second in the Florida Derby this year was his best career start.

So why the hoopla?

Hofburg has the genes for the 1+ mile race around the Belmont Park surface. He is the son of Tapit, who has sired three of the last four Belmont winners – Tonalist (2014), Creator (2016) and Tapwrit last year. When American Pharoah won in 2015, the second-place finisher was Frosted, another son of Tapit.

“You have to have a horse that really wants to do that, and is capable of doing that,” Mott said of the distance, the longest of the Triple Crown races. “That’s one of the main ingredients right there. Some of those horses are just made a little different. They move a little different and have the lung capacity, and they have the whole package to do it.”

Mott said horses can be trained to run longer distances, but you would rather have one bred to do it rather than transforming a miler into a distance runner.

There’s more to Hofburg’s hereditary than Tapit. The colt’s dam was Soothing Touch, a daughter of Touch Gold.

Touch Gold won the Belmont in 1997 by three-quarters of a length, denying Silver Charm a Triple Crown. By the way, Baffert also trained Silver Charm.

If Hofburg is going to win, Mott said the late-running colt has to be within 2-to-3 lengths of the lead for the final quarter mile. It also would help if some of the others in the field of 10 forced Justify to run an honest early pace.

Good Magic did that in the Preakness and Mike Smith, the jockey of Justify, felt Bravazo and Tenfold closing at the wire.

Hofburg finished his final workouts at Saratoga last week and shipped to Belmont. He will gallop Thursday and Friday.

“I love horses and I love the people,” said the 64-year-old Mott, who won the Belmont with Drosselmeyer in 2010. “I enjoy the people I come to work with. We work with the horses. I really enjoy seeing young horses develop and working with the horses and different issues they might have, quirks or physical problems.”

The soft-spoken Mott says he would almost prefer to train the horses and send them over to the paddock to race while he stays back at the barn. He will go to the paddock Saturday for the Belmont, and then take the trip to the winner’s circle if Hofburg does his thing.

NOTES: New York Giants coach Pat Shurmur will deliver the traditional call of “Riders Up” prior to the 150th running of the Belmont. Chris Mara, the brother of Giants co-owner John Mara, has an interest in the race. Chris Mara is a member of the Starlight Racing group, which owns a stake in Justify.

What: 150th Belmont Stakes
When: June 9, 2018
Post time: 6:37 p.m ET
Where to watch: NBC, NBC Sports app

Hall of Fame jockey Javier Castellano rides 5,000th winner

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NEW YORK — Javier Castellano won consecutive races to give the Hall of Fame jockey his 5,000th career victory in North America.

The 41-year-old rider won the $200,000 Mohawk aboard Offering Plan in the third race at Belmont Park on Saturday and followed up in the next race aboard Runaway Lute in the $150,000 Hudson to reach the milestone.

Castellano is the 34th jockey in North American history to reach 5,000 wins.

He began his career in his native Venezuela in 1996 before moving to the U.S. a year later and riding his first winner at Calder in Florida.

Castellano is a four-time Eclipse Award winner as the nation’s top jockey. He won the Preakness in 2006 and 2016 and has notched eight Breeders’ Cup victories.

Best Solution, Northern Ireland jockey win Caulfield Cup

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MELBOURNE, Australia — Godolphin stable’s Best Solution won the Caulfield Cup in a photo finish ahead of American-bred Homesman, with The Cliffsofmoher finishing third on Saturday in the 2,400-meter race.

Ridden by Pat Cosgrave of Northern Ireland, Best Solution recovered from a bad start to follow Taj Mahal at 600 meters to go and hold on for the Group One win.

Cosgrave was later suspended by race stewards for 11 meetings for a careless riding charge.

The jockey decided to take his suspension immediately, which means he will miss the Cox Plate, another major lead-up race to the Melbourne Cup, Australia’s richest and most prestigious race on Nov. 6 at Flemington.

Cosgrave plans to ride in Dubai on Nov. 3 before returning to Melbourne to again partner Best Solution in the Melbourne Cup.

Cosgrave pleaded guilty to the charge that he allowed Best Solution to shift in near the 1,800-meter mark of the Caulfield Cup, tightening Japanese runner Sole Impact.

Japanese rider Ryusei Sakai was also suspended for causing interference at the same point of the Caulfield Cup when he too shifted ground when not clear. He was suspended for 11 meetings and is able to ride again on Oct. 31.

The victory gave trainer Saeed bin Suroor and Godolphin their second Caulfield Cup after All The Good won in 2008.

Pre-race favorite Kings Will Dream had a bad start to drop a couple of lengths and never recovered, finishing sixth after being caught in traffic.