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

What to know about the 151st Belmont Stakes

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Rogue riderless horse Bodexpress won’t make an appearance at the 2019 Belmont Stakes, but the 151st iteration of the race won’t be without major star power. Mark Casse‘s War of Will looks to claim the third jewel in the Triple Crown just three weeks after his 2019 Preakness Stakes win and a month removed from the 145th Kentucky Derby, where he was one of the horses most impacted by the disqualified first place finisher Maximum Security. The field is set to be a combination of Derby and Preakness horses, some of which have never met before—only fitting for a race known as the “Test of the Champion.”

What is the Belmont Stakes? The Belmont Stakes is the last leg of the American Triple Crown of horse racing. Like the Derby and the Preakness, it’s a Grade I Thoroughbred stakes races. The Belmont Stakes is 1 1/2 miles, or 12 furlongs, which makes it the longest race in the Triple Crown.

The Belmont is run on the dirt track (also known as “Big Sandy”) at Belmont Park in Elmont, New York. It was first raced in 1867, making it the oldest jewel in the Triple Crown (and the fourth oldest race in North America). However, the race wasn’t run in 1911 or 1912, which is why the Kentucky Derby is still the longest continuous sporting event in the country. The Belmont always been run in or around New York City, having raced at Jerome Park (now closed), Morris Park (also closed) and Aqueduct in addition to Belmont, which is just east of Queens.

Aside from being the last hurdle for Triple Crown contenders, the Belmont is known for Secretariat’s 31-length victory in 1973, which sealed his Triple Crown title and set the current world record at 2:24 for 1 1/2 miles on dirt.

When is the 2019 Belmont Stakes? The 151st Belmont Stakes is on Saturday, June 8. Post time will be at approximately 6:50 p.m. ET.

What is unique about the Belmont Stakes? The Belmont is the final test for horses seeking a Triple Crown title. Horses have an additional week of rest between races as opposed to the Preakness, but the Belmont is also the longest race of the three.

Belmont Park is only a few miles away from New York City, and city dwellers can just hop on the Long Island Rail Road for a day at the races. The annual Belmont Festival features several days packed with racing and other events. This year, hip-hop artist Flo Rida will perform on June 8.

How can I watch the 2019 Belmont Stakes? NBC is home to the 151st Belmont Stakes, providing comprehensive race coverage and analysis live on TV and NBCSports.com before, during and after the main event. Get started with NBCSN on Friday, June 7 at 5 p.m. for the Belmont Gold Cup. NBCSN coverage continues on Saturday, June 8 at 2:30 p.m. before moving to NBC at 4 p.m. See the broadcast schedule here.

Who are the horses to watch?

  • 2019 Preakness winner War of Will could become just the 12th horse in history to lose in the Derby but come back to win both the Preakness and Belmont. The last horse to do this was Afleet Alex in 2005. “WOW” crossed the wire 8th at Churchill Downs and was elevated to 7th.
  • Trained by 2019 Kentucky Derby winner-trainer Bill Mott, the easy-to-spot gray horse Tacitus finished fourth in the Derby and was elevated to third.
  • Longshot Preakness runner up Everfast and third place finisher Owendale will look for redemption against War of Will.
  • Master Fencer was one of the biggest surprises of the 145th Kentucky Derby. Not only did he become the first Japan-bred horse to race in the Run for the Roses, but he defied expectations and finished 7th (elevated to 6th), crossing the wire ahead of fellow Belmont competitor War of Will.

Who won the 2018 Belmont Stakes? WinStar Farm’s colt Justify, trained by Bob Baffert and ridden by Mike Smith, won the 150th Preakness Stakes to become the 13th-ever Triple Crown winner.

What comes next? NBC Sports is home to all things Breeders’ Cup and will have comprehensive coverage from Santa Anita on Friday, Nov. 2 and Saturday, Nov. 3. Qualifying races for the 2020 Kentucky Derby will start back up in the late winter and early spring of next year on NBCSN. Racing fans can also hope for a competitor in Gary West‘s $5 million challenge to the horses impeded by Maximum Security that they can’t beat him in a race.

3rd horse in 9 days dies at Santa Anita

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ARCADIA, Calif. (AP) Santa Anita had its third horse death in nine days when a gelding pulled up during a race and was euthanized.

Twenty-six horses have died in racing or training at the Southern California track since Dec. 26.

The Los Angeles Times reported that Kochees sustained an injury to its left front leg in a 5 1/2-furlong race Saturday.

Kochees was taken off the course with a splint. The newspaper says during surgery Sunday it was determined that the 9-year-old horse had lost blood flow to the leg and the decision was made to euthanize.

Santa Anita is scheduled to host the Breeders’ Cup Nov. 1-2. It’s considered the biggest two-day event in U.S. horse racing.