There will be a lot at stake when Justify enters the gate in the Belmont Stakes this Saturday. A win would make him the 13th Triple Crown winner, the second in four years, and would give Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert his second Triple Crown winner and Hall of Fame jockey Mike Smith his first.
To win the Belmont, a grueling 1½-mile route around two turns, requires a certain blend of speed and stamina, both of which can be found in Justify's pedigree.
His sire, Scat Daddy, a Grade 1-winning juvenile, was known for having a late kick, often winning races from behind. His fleet offspring, such as Lady Aurelia, Caravaggio, Acapulco, No Nay Never and Sioux Nation, tend to label Scat Daddy as a speed type rather than a horse with stamina, but Scat Daddy performed well in the 1 1/8-mile Florida Derby with Lady of Shamrock, Daddys Lil Darling, Dacita and Harmonize all winning at classic distances or beyond. Justify's broodmare sire, Ghostzapper, took graded stakes sprints like the seven-furlong Tom Fool Handicap and the 6½ furlong Vosburgh Stakes in addition to the Breeders' Cup Classic at 1¼ miles.
As a result, Justify has a perfectly balanced "Classic" dosage index of 3.00. Over the past 13 years, an "average" horse, one with a dosage index between 2.10 and 3.00, has won the Belmont 11 times. Too much speed is detrimental after 9 ½to 10 furlongs and where they would begin to wind down. Too much stamina and the colt would lack in the necessary speed needed down the stretch.
Don't be too worried about Justify's declining speed figures. Seven of the past 15 Belmont Stakes winners earned a declining speed rating in the previous start. Two of those winners, Palace Malice in 2013 (97, 96 and 93) and Union Rags in 2012 (103, 102 and 100), had declining numbers in the last two outings like Justify (114, 102 and 98).
Plus, as they say, pace makes the race. And when the pace of a race and final speed figure are looked at together, Justify is still the class of the field. His 98 Brisnet speed figure in the Preakness is complimented by his 107 pace figure, which, when added together (205), almost equals that of his Kentucky Derby performance (204). And on Saturday there is not a plethora of speed in the race, allowing Justify to get on or near the lead to control the tempo.
The only concern is Justify's post position on the rail. That could force the talented colt to expended more energy than desired to get clear of the field and up near the front, a maneuver that has taken its toll on other Belmont entrants. The last Belmont Stakes winner to break from post No. 1 was Touch Gold in 1997, although Tapwrit won the third leg of the Triple Crown last year from post No. 2.
"I never do like the rail," Baffert told reporters at the Belmont draw Tuesday. "We have it. We can't change it. We'll just deal with it."
The real key is keeping a forward position by the half-mile pole: horses occupying the top three positions or within four lengths of the lead after the opening half-mile have gone on to win 80 percent of the time this century.
That certainly suits Justify — he has never been worse than second at any call in his five-race career nor has he been behind more than 2½ lengths at any point in any race.