Here we go again.
American Pharoah didn’t save horse racing and neither will Justify – if he wins the Belmont Stakes today – but a Triple Crown attempt does spark interest outside the bubble. At the Upperville Horse Show Friday night, people want to know who I like in the Belmont, well, it’s more like, “Is he going to win?” Rarely do horses transcend their names and go by he, Justify is he at the moment, at least for the rest of the day. And, yes, I crushed them when I said Hofburg was going to beat him. I picked Hofburg in the Derby, I have to pick him in the Belmont, right? Of course, the value is long gone.
I spoke to Mike Smith over the weekend, we talked everything from Italian food to losing the ride on champion Vindication to Justify’s attitude and demeanor, Smith finished one thought with the old line, “Hey, I might not be as good as I once was, but I’ll be good once as I ever was.” Smith has been good his entire career, through the Triple Crown and, yes, we’re looking for him to be good just once today. No doubt, he’ll drop his legs down long across Justify’s ribs, squint at the sky and saunter out of the paddock like he’s going for a trail ride down a lonesome road and then give Justify every chance. Some jockeys ride to be the first one to the finish line, others ride to beat the other horses, Smith does both. Mike, just be good once.
Her Majesty the Queen won the Belmont Gold Cup Invitational. Saratoga Special graduate John Panagot, new agent for Javier Castellano, has arrived, helping to engineer three stakes wins Friday, including the one for The Queen. I wish I could find Panagot’s email when he asked for a shot at The Special, he said he wanted to be a jock’s agent. I said aim higher. Now, he’s booking rides for a Hall of Famer and I’m writing about him. He’s worked hard, he’s smart, he’ll go far.
• Two runners today. Gotham Gala, a Smart Strike filly purchased at Keeneland in 2016, makes her career debut in the opener at Laurel and Mythmaker aims at the last race at Suffolk.