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

Breeders’ Cup spots on the line this weekend, top trainers hold keys to 2-year-old tests

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Sometimes, in assessing stakes races, it is best to look at the history of the race and see if there is a dominant factor in that history. This weekend’s racing features both the Champagne Stakes and the Miss Grillo Stakes, two Win and You’re In races for the Breeders’ Cup (coverage begins Saturday at 4 pm ET on NBC). For both races, you need to look no further than the “winning trainer” column, which provides some unavoidable facts:

  1. Since 2004, Todd Pletcher has won the Champagne Stakes a record-setting six times.
  2. In recent times, Chad Brown has asserted himself in this race, winning 3 of the last 6 runnings.
  3. In the 14 runnings of the Miss Grillo since 2008, Chad Brown has been the winning trainer 8 times.

All observations and handicapping of these two races must begin with these facts. Is there something that makes horses from these barns better than others? Not necessarily. But history tells us that these two barns have high-quality and expensive horses and they tend to get them to peak at this time of year. You can try to beat them at the betting windows, but be aware of the history that you are running into.

Further research brought up some interesting notes about these two races and their Breeders’ Cup divisions.

First, a look at the 2-year-old colt division. Since 2004 (when Todd Pletcher won the first of his 6 Champagne Stakes), three 2-year-olds have won the Champagne, the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile and the 2-year-old Eclipse Award. They were War Pass (2007), Uncle Mo (2010) and Shanghai Bobby (2012).  Pletcher trained Uncle Mo and Shanghai Bobby, and Hall of Fame trainer Nick Zito handled War Pass.

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Looking at the 2-year-old turf fillies, the dominance of Chad Brown is even more striking. Since 2008, when Chad Brown captured his first Miss Grillo and the first running of Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies Turf, four 2-year-old fillies have captured the Miss Grillo and the Juvenile Fillies Turf. They were Maram (2008), Lady Eli (2014), New Money Honey (2016) and Newspaperofrecord (2018). All four fillies were trained by Chad Brown.

A review of charts from the Champagne back to 2004 (the year of Todd Pletcher’s first winner in the race) reveals that he had 20 starters, with 6 wins, 3 seconds and 1 third. That means he has won 30% of the time and been in the money 50%.

A review of the charts from the Miss Grillo dating back to 2008 (Chad Brown’s first winner in the race) shows that he has had 23 starters, with 8 wins, 1 second and 4 thirds. That means he has won approximately 35% of the time and been in the money 56%.

RELATED: Olympiad cruises to Jockey Club Gold Cup victory

Storylines to Watch for 2022 Champagne Stakes

So, what does this mean for this year’s editions of these two “Win and You’re In” races for the 2022 Breeders’ Cup?

In the Champagne, it seems that the dominant trainers in the sport are putting forth the major contenders.

  • 2021 Eclipse Award-winning trainer Brad Cox is likely to start Verifying, who was a solid winner at Saratoga as a big favorite in his only career start.
  • The sport’s all-time winningest North American trainer is Steve Asmussen, who is rapidly closing in on 10,000 career wins. Asmussen, who won this race in 2020 with Jackie’s Warrior, will send out Gulfport, a very impressive son of Uncle Mo. Gulfport won his first two races by an average winning margin of almost 10 lengths. Then, he had some real misfortune in his next two starts, finishing 2nd in both races at Saratoga. In the Saratoga Special, he had major traffic problems that led to losing several lengths at the top of the stretch. As the favorite in the Hopeful, he endured a wide trip on a sloppy surface to be 2nd best again. With a clean trip, he will be a major contender in the Champagne.
  • As previously stated, Chad Brown has won the Champagne in 3 of its last 6 runnings. He is likely to enter Blazing Sevens, who is a son of Good Magic, the 2017 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile winner. After a big win in the first race of his career at Saratoga, Blazing Sevens endured a wide trip on a sloppy track in the Hopeful Stakes, and he should improve here, especially on a fast track.
  • The horse who beat Gulfport in the Hopeful was Forte, trained by the 6-time winner of this race, Todd Pletcher. The stretchout to a one-turn mile in the Champagne would have seemed to be made to order for his closing kick. At entry time, Pletcher chose to not enter Forte in the Champagne Stakes, in all likelihood because he plans to enter the horse in the Breeders’ Futurity next Saturday at Keeneland. The Breeders’ Futurity is a Win and You’re In race for the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile, and can be seen on CNBC.

RELATED: Taiba wins $1 million Pennsylvania Derby for Baffert

Storylines to Watch for 2022 Miss Grillo Stakes

Moving on to the Miss Grillo, Chad Brown is likely to enter Free Look, who was an impressive late-closing winner of a Maiden race in her second career start. In her first start, she was a victim of a slow pace, and the best she could do from the back of the pack was close to be 3rd. She seems to be a horse who is likely to improve with more racing. Free Look is a daughter of the leading sire Tapit.

Two others to watch in the Miss Grillo are Be Your Best and Pleasant Passage. Be Your Best is undefeated in two starts for trainer Horacio DePaz. Her last start was the P.G. Johnson Stakes, and she displayed the stalking style that has led to wins in both of her starts. Another with a license to improve is Pleasant Passage, from the barn of legendary trainer Shug McGaughey. In her only career start, she rallied up the rail and endured a stretch battle to get up for a narrow win. She has outstanding grass breeding, and the experience of that win should work in her favor in this race.

It is hard to predict outcomes with lightly-raced 2-year-olds. What we do know is that two horses will win their way into two Breeders’ Cup races on Saturday. That’s the great thing about these “Win and You’re In” races… they are running for something other than purse money, and it often produces some outstanding outcomes.

Lookahead to 2022 Breeders’ Cup

These races lead up to two of the 14 championship races on November 4th and 5th. For those who have never watched an entire Breeders’ Cup, get ready for the rush of witnessing a world championship event every 35 minutes or so. It’s like the Olympics of our sport. Be ready to watch and wager, and you’re sure to come away with some great memories. If you pick some winners, you might come away with a nice profit, as well. The Breeders’ Cup…there’s nothing like it!

Pegasus on Jan. 28, Florida Derby on April 1 at Gulfstream

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HALLANDALE BEACH, Fla. — Gulfstream Park announced the schedule for the 2022-23 Championship Meet, highlighted by the $3 million Pegasus World Cup Invitational on Jan. 28.

Also on Pegasus day: The $1 million Pegasus World Cup Turf Invitational, as well as the $500,000 Pegasus World Cup Filly & Mare Turf.

Gulfstream’s top Kentucky Derby prep race, the $1 million Florida Derby, will be run on April 1 as part of a card with 10 stakes races. Other top 3-year-old preps at Gulfstream in early 2023 include the $150,000 Mucho Macho Man on Jan. 1, the $250,000 Holy Bull on Feb. 4 and the $400,000 Fountain of Youth on March 4.

The Pegasus is returning for a seventh time. The format has changed several times in the race’s infancy; the purse structure for the Pegasus World Cup no longer requires owners to put up $1 million apiece for a spot in the starting gate for what was, at its inception, the world’s richest race with a purse that reached $16 million.

This much has remained constant: Winning the Pegasus changes a horse’s resume. No Pegasus winner has ever finished worse than sixth in the yearlong earnings among North American horses, and two past winners – Arrogate and Gun Runner – are two of the three highest-earning thoroughbreds in U.S. history.

Gulfstream’s Championship Meet runs from Dec. 26 through April 2, featuring 60 stakes races, 35 of them graded, and worth a combined $13.6 million.