Anytime the Kentucky Derby (G1) winner returns to the racetrack for his first gallop back, it’s attention-grabbing. But in light of questions about exactly what was going on with Justify favoring his left hind hoof Sunday morning, his resumption of galloping at Churchill Downs Thursday carried more than the usual interest.
With connections, fans, and prospective Preakness (G1) rivals all looking to see any signs of vulnerability from the unbeaten Derby hero, Justify sailed through his exercise as though eager himself to put the issue to bed.
The Bob Baffert trainee took to the track at 7:30 a.m. (EDT), following the first renovation break, escorted by assistant Jimmy Barnes on the pony. Justify strode away for exercise rider Humberto Gomez and galloped 1 1/2 miles.
“I was very happy with him,” Barnes said. “He went to the track perfect and galloped perfect. I couldn’t be happier with him.
“Each day he was getting better. He is 100 percent. He was ready to go (today). He was getting a little pushy in his stall.”
Justify, who initially was said to have a skin irritation on his left hind, was subsequently found to have a bruised heel. His daily activity since the Derby had been walking the shedrow.
“The good ones seem to come up with little issues now and then,” Barnes added. “Other ones that don’t put out that much, they don’t show signs of anything. But the track was very wet that day (in the Derby) and he had to run fast and far. These are things you have to deal with, and we’re ready to move on and go to Baltimore.”
Elliott Walden, President/CEO and Racing Manager of co-owner WinStar Farm, was similarly pleased with how the big chestnut looked on track.
“I thought he went great,” Walden said. “The last couple of days he has looked good in the shed, but you never know until you get them out there.
“He has dealt with a cracked heel off and on and that is typical of horses. The track was rough Saturday with all the rain. The first time we saw it (the heel) was when he came out for you guys (the media) Sunday. We had to figure out what it was and work on it.
“But the horse looked great this morning, and I’m very happy with him. He looked super every step.”
Jack Wolf’s Starlight Racing partnership, which owns a minority share of Justify, said that he has “zero” concern about the colt — only about whether he will be able to land enough Preakness tickets.
“I thought he looked great,” Wolf said. “Bob has been telling me the horse is fine.”
Rival trainer Tom Amoss was a particular interested spectator. His Lone Sailor, the Louisiana Derby (G2) near-misser and eighth behind Justify in the Derby, is mulling the Preakness.
Amoss tweeted that Justify was wearing a three-quarter shoe to protect that heel, but that the colt “looked exactly the same” as before the Derby.
Justify looked exactly the same today as he looked training before The Ky Derby. This is a good look at the 3/4 shoe to protect the bruise on the inside quarter of his foot. pic.twitter.com/TyAMhZ5bUX
— TomAmossRacing (@TomAmossRacing) May 10, 2018
And a short clip of Justify walking under tack before heading out:
— TwinSpires.com (@TwinSpires) May 10, 2018
Plans call for Justify to continue his 7:30 a.m. gallops until shipping out for Pimlico next week ahead of the May 19 Preakness. Barnes noted that this is the same schedule for Baffert’s past four Derby heroes – Silver Charm (1997), Real Quiet (1998), War Emblem (2002), and American Pharoah (2015) – who went on to capture the middle jewel of the Triple Crown.
“We will stick to the same plan and go a little light into Baltimore – just keep him happy and healthy,” Barnes said.