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Belmont Stakes: Well-rested Hofburg could be threat to Justify’s bid for Triple Crown

Belmont Stakes hopeful Hofburg gallops around the track

Belmont Stakes hopeful Hofburg gallops around the track during a workout at Belmont Park on Wednesday. Credit: Newsday / J. Conrad Williams Jr.

Bill Mott has saddled one Belmont Stakes champion, Drosselmeyer, a 13-1 shot who outlasted Fly Down by three-quarters of a length in 2010 with Mike Smith aboard and no Triple Crown on the line.

The veteran trainer believes he may have an even better horse for this Saturday’s 150th Belmont Stakes in Hofburg, who finished seventh in the Kentucky Derby then skipped the Preakness to recover and prep for the chance to derail Justify’s shot at becoming the 13th Triple Crown winner.

Hofburg, who will have jockey Irad Ortiz Jr. up, drew Post No. 4 and 9-2 morning line odds on Tuesday, making him the second favorite after the Smith-ridden Justify, who starts with 4-5 odds and the unfavorable Post No. 1.

“It’s a major challenge for any horse to win the Triple Crown,” said Mott, 64, who had his greatest success with Cigar, who won 16 straight races from 1995-96 as a 4- and 5-year-old. “You have to have a tough horse to withstand the challenges or horses that haven’t run both races. We skipped the Preakness so, hopefully, he’s fresh and ready to go.”

Hofburg, training at Saratoga, breezed an impressive 1:01.03 over five furlongs on Sunday in his last major work before Saturday’s race.

If that’s any indication, Hofburg should run a faster race than Drosselmeyer’s pedestrian 2:31.57 in 2010. It’s likely he’ll be chasing Justify down the stretch.

“He’s been out of the spotlight and he’s been going well, we’re happy with him,” Mott said. “He’s had decent works in him. We haven’t had many roadblocks yet. I think our horse has plenty of stamina, that’s been his forte. He keeps coming. In the Kentucky Derby, he kept coming. I think he fits the profile of a horse that could be competitive in the Belmont.

“Hofburg is a horse that is probably going to come to hand a little bit quicker [than Drosselmeyer],” Mott added. “Drosselmeyer is a very good horse and had a lot of staying power. This horse has that in his favor. He has a lot of stamina and seems to recover well from his workouts and races. He doesn’t seem to be exhausted.”

Hofburg has just one career win, breaking his maiden in his second career start, running 1:45.54 over 1 1/16 miles at Gulfstream Park on March 3. He then finished second by three lengths to Audible in the Grade 1 Florida Derby on March 31 before getting a rough trip through the crowded Kentucky Derby field.

“We went into the turn and we opted for the rail,” Mott said. “Approaching the three-eighth pole, we were only about eight lengths off the lead. We lost a lot of ground around the turns, waiting for horses.”

That should not be an issue with the wider and more forgiving turns of the 1 1/2-mile Belmont.

“I really think Hofburg is sitting on a big race,” NBC handicapper Ed Olczyk said. “Bill Mott is as good as it gets. He always seems to spot his horses for the right races. He pegged this race all along.”

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