Long shot Restoring Hope’s run in Saturday’s Belmont Stakes is being questioned by some competitors, who suggest the horse might have been used to block other horses from catching stablemate Justify on his way to the Triple Crown.
Bob Baffert trains both Justify and Restoring Hope, which went off at 37-1 and then broke fast to the front and settled into second place for much of the race, just off Justify’s shoulder, before falling to eighth at the finish.
Mike Repole, who co-owns fourth-place finisher Vino Rosso and last-place finisher Noble Indy, and Hall of Fame jockey John Velazquez both found fault with the ride by Florent Geroux aboard Restoring Hope.
“It baffled me,” Repole told the Daily Racing Form. “I would have thought Baffert would have wanted Restoring Hope nowhere close to the pace.
“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. He looked like a bodyguard making sure nobody got close to Justify.”
Velazquez, who was riding Vino Rosso, added, “Why would you send a horse that breaks bad and take everybody out, then come back in? That’s his job, to protect the other horse, and it worked for them. You have to give it to them.”
Repole said he thought stewards should take a look at the race. But New York Gaming Commission steward Steve Lewandoski told the Daily Racing Form that there is no plan to talk to Geroux.
Geroux said Sunday that he had some trouble controlling Restoring Hope. “When he broke a step slow — he’s kind of an aggressive horse to ride, he pulls very hard — I wanted to make sure I put him in the clear,” Geroux said.
“I didn’t want to break, get the horse covered up and then the horse starts getting aggressive behind horses. It would have been even worse if he was behind horses.”
Even Restoring Hope’s owner was not happy with the way his horse was ridden. “I have no earthly idea what Florent was thinking or what his race strategy was,” West told the New York Post in an email. “Had I known better, the first eighth of a mile I would have thought it was a quarter-horse race, not the mile-and-a-half Belmont. Maybe the horse was completely out of control and Florent had no choice. I will never know.”
It’s not unusual for horses from the same stables to help each other in a race. To that end, Repole was not happy with his own jockey, Javier Castellanos, who was aboard Noble Indy and was expected to push to the lead, possibly wearing down Justify for a late run by Vino Rosso.
“[Repole] wanted me to be on the lead, but I didn’t have enough speed to get to the lead,” Castellano told the Daily Racing Form. “I made an effort, but I got to the point where I had to give up. How far can I go — 10 wide — and try to go to the lead? I can’t.”