Grade 2 winner and Preakness Stakes (G1) runner-up BRAVAZO logged a one-mile breeze in 1:42.60 over Churchill Downs’ fast main track on Thursday ahead of showdown with Kentucky Derby (G1) and Preakness winner Justify in the 150th Belmont Stakes (G1).
“Beautiful,” trainer D. Wayne Lukas said. “I just wanted to open his lungs a little bit. You have to be a tough horse to compete in the Triple Crown series and I think we have a tough horse. He’s fit. It wasn’t a fitness thing. But I want to get him mentally where I want him. Now I’m pretty much through.
“He wasn’t blowing much at all,” the Hall of Fame conditioner added. “It was really a nice morning for him, very pleased. Everybody who works a horse usually has something nice to say, but it was a good work.”
Lukas wanted exercise rider Danielle Rosier to keep Bravazo in :13 eighth-mile splits during the move, which began and ended at the wire of the one-mile venue. Churchill Downs clocker John Nichols recorded fractions of :13.20, :25.60, :38.20, :50.60, 1:03.40, 1:16.60 and 1:30, with a nine-furlong gallop out in 1:58.
“She was worried about it,” Lukas said of Rosier. “I told her, ‘We’re not saving lives here. We’re not going to get the Nobel Peace Prize for this. You’re just working a horse.’ She was really nervous. I drew out what I wanted her to do: hit ’em in :13, :13, :13 and 1:13s.’ She was worried she wouldn’t get it, and she got it darn near perfect.
“It was even all the way,” he continued. “I told her to get the half in :50 and change, 1:15-1:16 for three-quarters and she was right on the money.”
Bravazo and Justify are the only two sophomores this year to compete in all three legs of the Triple Crown. The Awesome Again colt was sixth in the Derby before improving and nearly running down Justify in the Preakness, settling for second only a half-length back.
“This horse is pretty tough,” Lukas said of Bravazo, but added, “We’re taking on Goliath, you know. This is not the junior prom we’re dealing with. We’re going to have a tough chore. I don’t see any chinks in the armor.
“I think we had a chance to beat Justify in the Preakness. Now he’s going to be really tough. I think it’s a lot tougher order to beat him now.”
JUSTIFY returned to the track on Thursday to jog once around the oval with exercise rider Humberto Gomez in the irons. The Derby winner walked the shedrow on Wednesday after posting a bullet half-mile breeze in :46.80 on Tuesday under the Twin Spires.
“It was a really good first day back at the track. He had a very good jog day,” assistant trainer Jimmy Barnes said. “He stayed with the pony the whole way. It was exactly what we wanted to see after his breeze Tuesday. Very strong, very happy. Couldn’t be happier.”
Barnes also praised RESTORING HOPE, a fellow Bob Baffert trainee pointing to the Belmont Stakes on June 9 at Belmont Park, calling his one-mile jog “Very good.” The Grade 2-placed son of Giant’s Causeway also breezed Tuesday, clocking seven furlongs in 1:26 at Churchill, and walked the barn area Wednesday.
Justify is set to have his final official move for the Belmont on Monday and fly to New York on June 6.
Grade 1 scorer FREE DROP BILLY, 16th in the Kentucky Derby last out, and Preakness third-placer TENFOLD each galloped on Thursday during the special 7:30-7:40 a.m. (ET) training period Churchill has reserved for runners preparing for the Belmont Stakes. Free Drop Billy had Juan Segundo aboard for trainer Dale Romans while Tenfold went out under Angel Garcia for conditioner Steve Asmussen.
“Very uneventful,” Romans said. “He did what he was supposed to do, and he did it the way he’s supposed to do it. That’s all I’m asking for.
“Very few people know how to prepare a horse for a mile and a half,” he added. “You only do it once a year. I’ve kind of learned to back off a bit more, like (Lukas) is talking about, not pushing them over the hump.”
“He’ll go two miles tomorrow and breeze on Saturday,” assistant trainer Scott Blasi said after Tenfold galloped 1 1/2 miles on Thursday. “The horse is doing great. His weight’s good; he’s putting on weight. We hopefully will get a good race in him.
“He has a lot of personality to him right now, a lot of life. I like what I see so far.”
At Saratoga’s Oklahoma training track on Thursday, Florida Derby (G1) runner-up and Kentucky Derby seventh HOFBURG galloped 1 5/8 miles for trainer Bill Mott.
“He looked really good. He was relaxed, which is a good thing, well within himself,” Mott said of the Belmont Stakes hopeful. “So far, we feel pretty good about him.”
With rain forecasted in the Saratoga Springs, New York, area, the conditioner is mulling over when would be the best time for Hofburg to breeze. The chestnut son of Tapit recorded an in-company, six-furlong breeze over the fast Oklahoma training track last Friday in 1:13.43.
“He’s going into this race nicely,” Mott said. “Of course, we need to breeze again and make the move down to Belmont. We hope the ship goes good and he adapts well down there. But it seems like when we move him, he falls into the routine pretty well. He’s pretty good about everything.”