On Track With Johnny D: Future Plans

Turns out the real reason Bob Baffert ‘backed off’ on Triple Crown winner Justify’s recent training had little to do with searing SoCal heat and more to do with a possibly elevated temperature in the Triple Crown winner’s ankle. According to a Tuesday press release from Winstar Farm, reported by Daily Racing Form’s Jay Privman, the sophomore sensation and Triple Crown winner has swelling in his left front ankle and has been taken out of training. He will be evaluated further.

That’s awful news to racing fans and could spell the end of a career that filled the night air as suddenly and brightly as a comet, only to vanish nearly as quickly.

Personally, I was looking forward to seeing Justify in the Travers at Saratoga–got my hotel room, tickets and permission from my wife. The Mid-Summer Derby had been mentioned as one of a select few probable final starts before the colt would began a career at stud.

Now, everything’s on hold. Future racing for Justify is unlikely. True, at this writing, he hasn’t been ruled out of competition or officially retired. However, if you are very quiet you can hear the other shoe hit the floor. Say it ain’t so, Justify. It’s too early for you to go. We hardly knew ya. Thanks for the brief, indelible memories. Farewell, dude.

Sad goodbyes may be premature, but maybe not. Retirement makes sense, really. Why in the world would anyone risk injury to this horse? He’s worth roughly $75 million and the insurance premiums to keep him racing are astronomical. Chances are we’ve seen the last of this amazing athlete in action, unless you’re privileged enough to visit him at…well, we assume he will be servicing approved clients at Coolmore America’s Ashford Stud but, to my knowledge, nothing official’s been announced.

While dampening my summer plans, Justify’s bulging ankle provides a lift in spirits to connections of horses with designs on the Haskell, Travers and Breeders’ Cup Classic. Chances of them winning one of those races just improved immensely. While Justify hasn’t officially been retired or, to use the vernacular of NFL injury reports, placed on ‘Inured Reserve,’ the Haskell is reported as ‘Out,’ Travers ‘Doubtful’ and Breeders’ Cup Classic ‘Questionable.’

An examination of recent and current menus for Breeders’ Cup Classic Future Odds illustrates not only Justify’s domination, but also how wide-open the Classic becomes without him. Since Xpressbet can’t legally offer non-pari-mutuel Breeders’ Cup Classic Future wagering, I accessed odds from the Wynn in Las Vegas and two other non-US-based operations—Interaction, in Canada and the ironically named, US Racing—which, according to its website, “…is privately held with offices in the Americas, Hong Kong and the Isle of Man,” but not in the US.

According to Wynn’s Breeders’ Cup Classic Future Odds (updated June 20), Justify reigned as the clear 5/2 favorite. Another Bob Baffert-trained horse, West Coast, last seen finishing second to Thunder Snow in the Dubai World Cup in March, was ranked second-choice at a distant 7-1. Collected, another top-ranked Baffert student that hasn’t raced since seventh in the Pegasus World Cup in January, Good Magic, second to Justify in the Kentucky Derby and fourth to him in the Preakness, and Thunder Snow, winner of the Dubai World Cup, followed on the line at 12-1. Recent impressive Santa Anita Gold Cup winner Accelerate was next at 14-1. Pavel (15-1) and Audible (18-1) were the only other choices under 20-1 odds, just below Tapwrit (22-1), Gronkowski (25-1) and Honorable Duty (25-1).

Tuesday, July 9, at Interaction–following Saturday’s Suburban Handicap at Belmont that included some Classic hopefuls and before the day’s later gloomy press release–Justify was listed as a strong favorite at about 2.25-1. West Coast and Hofburg were next at 11-1, followed by Collected, Good Magic, Accelerate and Gronkowski at 13-1. Audible (15-1) and Mendelssohn (15-1) topped Thunder Snow (29-1) and McKinzie (34-1) on the short list of principal contenders.

Interaction’s shortest-priced futures mirrored Johnny Avello’s Wynn numbers, with a few exceptions. Hofburg, third in the Belmont Stakes, was Interaction’s co-second choice along with West Coast at 11-1, but the Bill Mott-trained Juddmonte runner was 30-1 at the Wynn. Thunder Snow was an Interaction bargain at 29-1 when compared to Wynn’s tighter 12-1.

US Racing was quick to adjust to Tuesday’s news. By Wednesday morning, Justify had been removed from consideration. West Coast became the new BC Classic Futures favorite there at 5-1. Accelerate and Thunder Snow moved up to co-second choices at 8-1. Collected is next at 10-1, closely followed by Good Magic at 12-1. Gronkowski is 15-1 and Hofburg is 18-1. Pavel (20-1), Instilled Regard (25-1), Vino Rosso (25-1) and McKinzie (28-1) round out those below 30-1 odds.

It has been said that ‘Horses are like bananas. They spoil overnight.’ Therefore, any type of intelligent future wager demands a generous price. For example, before Tuesday, if you were interested in backing Justify to win the BC Classic your money would have been tied up for approximately three months. By the way, Justify still would have had to then win the race for you to collect! All at roughly 5/2 odds. You must know that in the next ten minutes you could go online at Xpressbet and find a valid 5/2 shot running at a track somewhere in the world. Even before Tuesday’s announcement, backing such a horse would have been a far better move than betting Justify at the same price to win the BC Classic in November.

So, where does Justify’s possible eviction leave players looking to make a BC Classic future buck? Good news is that if Justify can’t compete, the race becomes a wide-open affair. The bad news is that racing fans will miss seeing the sophomore star strut his stuff.

Here’s a look at some of the most favored contenders and their chances of winning the Classic.
Favored West Coast currently doesn’t seem a bargain at anything from 5-1 to 7-1. He was second to Thunder Snow in Dubai and hasn’t raced since. Co-second choice Thunder Snow hated Churchill Downs when there for the 2017 Kentucky Derby and bucked off his rider in the opening strides. You want him at anything around 8-1? Accelerate (8-1) looked awesome in recently winning Santa Anita’s Gold Cup, but SoCal training stalwart John Sadler has inexplicably horrible stats when racing outside California. Collected (10-1) hasn’t won in nearly a year.

Good Magic seems to have decent credentials. He likes Churchill—site of this year’s BC –holding second, barely, in the Kentucky Derby. But that close finish also hints that a mile and one-quarter might not be his optimum distance. You want a piece of him at around 12-1 more than three months before the race?

Hofburg, third in the Belmont and eligible for ‘non-winners of two,’ still has upside and would arrive at Churchill more seasoned than he did when seventh in the slop on Derby day. 18-1 Classic Future odds might be somewhat palatable. Diversify, who won the Suburban Saturday, loves the Belmont surface and sure looked good winning. At 50-1, the New York-bred might be worth a thought or two. Instilled Regard ran a creditable fourth at Churchill in the Kentucky Derby and could be a longshot threat in the Classic, but he hasn’t raced since May and is merely 25-1! That’s not nearly enough upside.

Remember that before Baffert met Justify he was in love with McKinzie. Then the latter was injured and forced off the Derby trail. If Baffert once thought so highly of McKinzie, the colt certainly deserves respect, but he hasn’t raced since the San Felipe Stakes in March.
28-1 seem about the correct odds, according to this horseplayer.

According to Woody Allen, “If you want to hear God laugh, tell him about your plans.” That may be true. However, I still plan to cash a future wager in the BC Classic. Let the man upstairs have his chuckle. And, if my wagering choices happen lose to Justify in an illuminated, moving swan-song comeback victory beneath the twin spires in November, I’m okay with that conclusion, too.

Race On!

On Track With Johnny D: Future Plans

On Track with Johnny D |