When Justify captured the Triple Crown by winning the Belmont Stakes last weekend, he secured his place in racing history as the 13th Triple Crown champion and just the second to be undefeated at the time of his triumph.
But following the race, some accusations of ‘foul play’ surfaced as Justify’s stablemate Restoring Hope was accused of being a ‘blocker’ for Justify and keeping speed horse Noble Indy from getting an early front-running position to challenge Justify.
Repole stable creates controversy
Team Justify is accused of getting assistance from stablemate Restoring Hope, ridden by Florent Geroux and also trained by Bob Baffert.
Geroux unexpectedly rode Restoring Hope aggressively toward the front early in the race and took the first turn notably wide.
He then came back inside to the rail on the backstretch, and in doing so blocked a couple of fast-starting contenders including Noble Indy from getting anywhere near pace-setting Justify.
Queens native and loudmouth Mike Repole of Repole Stable, co-owner of Vino Rosso and Noble Indy, let his concerns be known with accusations against Geroux and Restoring Hope.
“It definitely seemed to me he was more of an offensive lineman than a racehorse trying to win the Belmont,” said Repole of big longshot Restoring Hope. “Justify was a running back trying to run for a touchdown.”
Repole didn’t stop.
“We watched him rush up like he was a Quarter Horse, make a quick right-hand turn, then turn left, pinned [Bravazo] on the rail,” an angry Repole told DRF following the race. “He looked like a bodyguard making sure nobody got close to Justify.”
“I can see the stewards looking into this over the next couple of days. I probably expect them to look into reckless riding by Florent and bring him in to question him about what he was thinking and what his tactics were.”
Should race and sports bettors be wary of collusion?
Owners with two horses that possess complementary styles often attempt to use one to set up another since both can be said to be trying to win in different ways.
The owner or Restoring Hope, Gary West, even said in an email response that “I have no earthly idea what Florent was thinking or what his race strategy was.” He also added that “We didn’t belong in the race, anyway, and that is my fault.”
So was Restoring Hope put in the race strictly to assist Justify? And if so, should bettors be looking for this kind of ‘situational advantage’ in marquee races or events?
WinStar Farm, a major player in racing, has financial stakes in Justify and Noble Indy. Perhaps their stake also included paying off someone to keep one of their own horses from hurting Justify’s chance of winning the Triple Crown?
Clearly a Triple Crown champion is going to demand a greater stud fee and make his connections significantly more money than if he fails in his Triple Crown bid. Like millions and millions and millions more.
Controversy is pretty common in horse racing. The drugs and treatments involved and ways to keep a horse healthier and running faster and longer are a debated topic.
So too are owners intentions and trainers placement of horses in selected races. Let’s not forget that Repole gave specific instructions before the race to his jockey Javier Castellano on how to ride Noble Indy. Castellano failed to get Noble Indy to the front as ordered so he could challenge Justify early in the race in hopes of softening up the champion so Repole’s stronger horse Vino Rosso would benefit from the pace and make his late kick.
That strategy didn’t materialize as planned, and Repole added that Castellano “decided to call an audible, and that’s not the way we wanted the race run. I am baffled by the audible.”
On Thursday, following the Belmont Stakes, the New York stewards did meet with jockey Florent Geroux to discuss his ride aboard Restoring Hope. Details of the conversation have not yet been released. But bettors should pay attention and perhaps anticipate these type of situations or audibles. Corruption is commonplace in society and especially situations and events that involve big money.