Kentucky Derby and Preakness winner Justify recorded the first of two scheduled workouts in advance of the June 9 Belmont Stakes (G1), breezing a half-mile in :46.80 Tuesday morning at Churchill Downs. Exercise rider Martin Garcia was up. Under a light rain on a fast track, the unbeaten chestnut colt impressed onlookers and trainer Bob Baffert as he logged splits in :12, :23.60 and :35.20 and galloped out five furlongs in :59.60.
“He worked really well,” Baffert said. “The trackman (Jamie Richardson) did a great job with the track this morning with some impeding rain. Martin knows how to breeze the horse so I flew him in from California. (Justify) warmed up really nice. I basically didn’t say anything on the radio to Martin after I asked him how he was warming up. He went in a nice grove.
“We let him gallop out a little further past the five-eighths pole, he took a big breath and turned around to go back to the barn. I’m really happy. It’s what you want to see. I knew yesterday the way he galloped he was ready to do something. The day before he didn’t get to do much with the rain and he may not get to do much this week because of (possible) rain as well.”
Easily the fastest of 43 at the distance, Justify traveled smoothly and made it look easy, according to clocker Brandon Stauble.
“Looked like (he went in) in :48, the good ones move with such ease and are fast when they do it,” Stauble noted.
Justify will try to become the 13th winner of the American Triple Crown and Baffert has more experience than most, readying his fifth horse for a Triple Crown bid this year. The Hall of Fame conditioner broke through in 2015 with American Pharoah, who received a pair of workouts before snapping a 37-year Triple Crown drought, and Baffert compared Justify favorably to his former star pupil.
“American Pharoah looked like that,” said Baffert, who would snap a tie with D. Wayne Lukas with a record-setting 15th Triple Crown race win in the Belmont Stakes. “That’s what you want to see with another week to go before the Belmont. (Justify) looked really good and in great shape. He’s moving forward and held his weight for being a massive horse.”
Baffert is also trying to join Sunny Jim Fitzsimmons as the only trainers with two Triple Crown winners.
“I went to see Pharoah yesterday,” Baffert added. “He got really big and I was really emotional when I was there. I asked him if it was okay if another horse broke his record and he didn’t seem to have a problem with it.”
Baffert will fly back to California Tuesday and return to Churchill Downs to supervise Justify’s final work.
“(I’ll) come back either late Saturday or Sunday and possibly breeze on Monday before we leave for New York Wednesday (June 6).”
China Horse Club, Head of Plains Partners LLC, Starlight Racing and WinStar Farm campaign the son of Scat Daddy and Justify is unbeaten from five career starts. Regular rider Mike Smith has the call in the Belmont Stakes.
The Baffert-trained Restoring Hope continued preparations for a Belmont Stakes bid when breezing seven furlongs from the five-furlong pole in 1:26 with jockey Florent Geroux aboard.
Third in the Wood Memorial (G2), Restoring Hope posted splits of :13.20, :25.60, :37.40, 1:01.80 and 1:13.80 before completing a one-mile gallop out in 1:40.20. The Gary and Mary West-owned colt exits a 12th in the Pat Day Mile (G3) on the Kentucky Derby undercard.
“I thought he worked really well,” Baffert said. “He’s a really competitive horse and is honest on the track. We were disappointed how he ran in the Pat Day Mile but I don’t think he liked the sloppy track.”
Justify will walk the Barn 33 shedrow Wednesday morning and could be back on track Thursday.
Bravazo and Tenfold, the respective second- and third-place finishers in the Preakness, galloped 1 ½ miles at Churchill Downs Tuesday for Hall of Fame trainers Lukas and Steve Asmussen.
The Belmont Stakes field could possibly be comprised of the following 11 horses (with trainer): Bandua (Dermot Weld), Blended Citizen (Doug O’Neill), Bravazo (Lukas), Free Drop Billy (Romans), Gronkowski (Chad Brown), Hofburg (Bill Mott), Justify (Baffert), Noble Indy (Todd Pletcher), Restoring Hope (Baffert), Tenfold (Asmussen) and Vino Rosso (Pletcher).
To watch Justify’s Tuesday morning breeze, visit https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PMqXP7NO7yI.
For complementary Belmont Stakes past performances courtesy of Brisnet.com, visit http://www.brisnet.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/05/BelmontStakes18.pdf.
With unbeaten Triple Crown hopeful Justify and four other possible Belmont Stakes contenders stabled on the grounds, Churchill Downs Racetrack is conducting a special 7:30-7:40 a.m. (all times Eastern) training period for those horses.
Area horse racing fans are invited to watch those colts train from the first floor of the facility free of charge. Churchill Downs Racetrack will open its Paddock Gate entrance between 7-8 a.m. each morning so the public can watch Kentucky Derby and Preakness winner Justify along with rivals Bravazo, Free Drop Billy, Restoring Hope and Tenfold.
Guests may park free of charge in the Orange and Black Lots outside of the Paddock Gate.
Video of the exercises will be shown on the Big Board and infield video screens at Churchill Downs. Those unable to attend can watch an online live stream of the daily exercises with commentary on the Kentucky Derby Facebook (www.facebook.com/KentuckyDerby), Twitter (www.twitter.com/kentuckyderby) and at www.KentuckyDerby.com/Works from 7:20-7:45 a.m., thanks to TwinSpires.com, the country’s leading online and mobile betting platform and official betting partner of Churchill Downs, the Kentucky Derby and Breeders’ Cup World Championships. Also, clips of the activity will be uploaded on the Kentucky Derby YouTube channel.
In other Belmont Stakes news, Free Drop Billy was confirmed for the third leg of the Triple Crown Tuesday by trainer Dale Romans, a day after working five furlongs in :59 3/5 at Churchill Downs.
“We feel he’s a better horse than that, and we’re going to cross that one off,” co-owner Jason Loutsch said of the colt’s 16th-place finish in the Kentucky Derby. “We wanted to see how he bounced back after that race, and yesterday he showed us he has a lot of energy and is a happy horse. He galloped out really strong, and Dale’s been really happy with his training.
“[Free Drop Billy’s] dad [Union Rags] was a Belmont winner, and he’s out of a Giant’s Causeway mare. He’s bred to go the distance. We just hope he runs to his breeding.”