Baffert at Churchill Downs to see undefeated Triple Crown hopeful Justify breeze a half mile in 46 4/5 seconds ahead of G1 Belmont Stakes; wishes the race were ‘this week’
by NYRA Press Office
More Belmont Stakes Racing Festival notes below
Trainer Bob Baffert said “that’s what you want to see” after undefeated Triple Crown hopeful Justify turned in a bullet half-mile work Tuesday morning at Churchill Downs, covering the distance in 46 4/5 seconds and galloping out five-eighths of a mile in 59 3/5.
Jockey Martin Garcia, who regularly works Justify while Hall of Famer Mike Smith is aboard for the races, was up for the move, the fastest among the 43 works at that distance Tuesday. His gallop-out time was surpassed only by two five-eighths of a mile works.
“I was hoping for that kind of work,” said Baffert. “Like [his 2015 Triple Crown winner] American Pharoah came back here and looked like that. I wish the race were this week. We’ve got another week to go, but I think we’re in great shape. I feel pretty strong that he’s not going backward on us, he’s moving forward.
“I was surprised the time and how easy he was doing it,” he added. “We let him gallop out a little bit just to make sure he pulled up down there where Jimmy [assistant trainer Jimmy Barnes on his pony] was. He stopped, took a deep breath and he was happy when he turned around.”
Baffert said the Kentucky Derby and Preakness winner will have one more work, perhaps this coming Monday, before the Grade 1, $1.5 million Belmont Stakes on Saturday June 9.
Justify is scheduled to fly to New York on Wednesday, June 6. Baffert also expects to have Restoring Hope in the Belmont, 2017 Kentucky Oaks and Acorn winner Abel Tasman in the Grade 1, $750,000 Ogden Phipps, and $4.4 million-earner Hoppertunity running in the Grade 2, $400,000 Brooklyn.
Justify’s official splits were 12 seconds for the first eighth-mile, 23 3/5 for the half-mile and 35 1/5 for three-eighths of a mile, according to Churchill clockers.
“It went really well,” said Baffert, who is going for his second Triple Crown. “I was worried about the rain and the weather. The track man did just an outstanding job in having it ready for us. It had some bounce to it. He went around there really nice. He warmed up really nice and I was talking to [Garcia] on the radio the whole time. I basically didn’t say anything to Martin at all during the work. He just had him down in a nice little groove. You can see the way he’s held his weight. He’s just a big massive horse.”
Earlier, Baffert had said Justify would be going out for a “little breeze.”
“That was a ‘little breeze.’ But he’s a great horse,” said Baffert, who was to return to California Tuesday before coming back to Louisville over the weekend. “He was in hand. I knew [Monday] the way he was that he was ready to do something. He was pretty anxious and the day before he couldn’t do much with the rain. This week, with the rain coming, we’re not going to be doing too much. I just wanted to make sure we got a little air into him.”
Among those watching the work was Elliott Walden, president and CEO of WinStar Farm, which owns Justify with China Horse Club, Starlight Racing and Head of Plains Partners.
As well, Gary and Mary West’s Restoring Hope worked seven-eighths of a mile in 1:26 shortly after 6 a.m., with splits of 12 1/5, 25 3/5, 37 2/5, 1:01 4/5 and 1:13 4/5, then galloping out the mile in 1:40 1/5 under Florent Geroux, who will ride him in the Belmont Stakes.
Baffert said that while the $150,000 Easy Goer at 1 1/16 miles on the undercard was being considered, his first choice would be to run Restoring Hope in the Belmont Stakes. In his last start, Restoring Hope was 12th in the Grade 3 Pat Day Mile on the Derby undercard. The son of Giant’s Causeway finished third in Aqueduct’s Grade 2 Wood Memorial off a maiden victory at Santa Anita.
“He worked nice,” Baffert said. “He’s like a one-paced horse. Belmont is my first choice, because I think he can hit the board. I’ve always been high on him. Like in the Wood Memorial, he ran a good third there.”
Free Drop Billy confirmed for Belmont Stakes
Co-owner Jason Loutsch said Tuesday morning by phone that Free Drop Billy will run in the Belmont Stakes. Albaugh Family Stables’ colt had a walk day after working five-eighths of a mile in 59 3/5 seconds on Monday with a strong gallop-out. Trainer Dale Romans, who has finished third in the Belmont Stakes four times, said after the work that he thought Free Drop Billy deserved to run but that the decision would be left up to the owners, with Loutsch both racing manager and partner in the horses with his father-in-law, Iowa industrialist and philanthropist Dennis Albaugh.
“I guess our main thing coming out of the Kentucky Derby was, obviously, we were really disappointed,” said Loutsch of Free Drop Billy’s 16th-place finish. “We feel he’s a better horse than that, and we’re going to cross that one off. 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.
“This is a huge race, a big stage, and this is what we’re in the game for: to run in big races. This is a great opportunity. We know it’s going to be a very tough challenge. But if we can get a piece of it, even hitting the board is a huge accomplishment, and we’re excited for the opportunity.”
Loutsch said it didn’t take much discussion with Albaugh.
“No, no,” he said. “He loves the big races. I just had to point out the pros and cons to him, try to educate him as best I could about all the circumstances. In the end, he’s like, ‘This horse only gets one chance to run in the Belmont. He deserves the opportunity; let’s give it to him.’ [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.”
Juvenile champion filly Caledonia Road primed for stakes return in G1 Acorn
Reigning 2-year-old champion filly Caledonia Road continues to progress on her journey back to stakes company in the Grade 1, $700,000 Acorn for sophomore fillies at a mile, where she’s expected to face Grade 1 Kentucky Oaks winner Monomoy Girl and two-time Grade 1 winner Moonshine Memories, among others.
The 3-year-old Quality Road filly turned in a sharp bullet work on Saturday and has emerged in good order, said trainer Ralph Nicks on Wednesday. In that move, her last serious training before the June 6 race, Caledonia Road broke well behind her workmate, a 3-year-old New York-bred filly, and easily usurped her company in the stretch. She crossed the wire by open lengths over her stablemate to complete five furlongs in 59.84 seconds, her second bullet work in a row and the fastest of 12 at the distance.
Owned by Zoom and Fish Stable, Charlie Spiring, and Newtown Anner Stud, Caledonia Road is exiting a 3 ½-length win in a one-mile optional claiming race on April 29 at Belmont Park, where she earned a career-high 84 Beyer Speed Figure as the 1-5 favorite. It was her first race since clinching the Eclipse Award with a 3 ¼-length victory at 17-1 in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies in November at Del Mar.
“She needed a good work,” Nicks said of Saturday’s breeze. “Obviously, it’ll be her second race off the layoff and in her first race back, she wasn’t what I would call 100 percent for her best effort that day. It was a building block to the Acorn and of course to the rest of the year. I would expect her to move forward off of the last race and if we’re good enough, we can catch them around a one-turn mile.
“I expect a good effort from her,” he added. “She’s training well, looks good, appetite’s good. We’ll see how we stack up against the Oaks champion and a couple other ones in there. It’s not going to be an easy race.”
Assistant trainer Heather Smullen is overseeing the Belmont string for Nicks, based in Florida for much of the year. Smullen is also the regular exercise rider for Caledonia Road, who Nicks said will “open gallop” into the race.
He added that Hall of Fame jockey Mike Smith will have the call in the Acorn. Smith, who will ride the undefeated Justify in his bid for the Triple Crown, was also aboard for her Breeders’ Cup win.
Lukas: Bravazo better than for Preakness, and ‘he’ll have to be’
Justify and Calumet Farm’s Preakness runner-up Bravazo were the only racehorses on the track during Churchill Downs’ special 7:30-7:40 a.m. time slot for Belmont Stakes horses Tuesday. Bravazo had another lively gallop under exercise rider Danielle Rosier.
“He’s had a good week,” said trainer D. Wayne Lukas, a four-time Belmont Stakes winner. “Good energy, bucking and jumping during his gallops, which is kind of unusual.”
Lukas said Bravazo reiterated will have one work between the Preakness and Belmont, possibly this Thursday. “I’m going to play it by ear,” he said. “It could be tomorrow, Thursday, Friday.”
Lukas, who was on the track on his pony, got a close look at Justify’s work, joking, “I tried to keep Bravazo from looking at him because I didn’t want him to go off his feed and be intimidated, so we had to be careful. I told Danielle, ‘When he goes by, just kind of cover that right eye.’”
Asked if Bravazo gets a close look at all the motivational signs Lukas has hanging in his barn while walking the shedrow, he said more seriously, “He’s actually buying into what we’re doing pretty good. He’s a much better horse than I took to the Preakness, I know that. He’ll have to be.”
Of Justify’s work, Lukas said: “His efficiency of motion is so good and so effortless. That work today, I thought he could have gone in :50 the way he did it. It was just effortless, there was no effort at all. When you have that efficiency of motion like that, I think the mile and a half is well within his scope.”
Winchell Thoroughbreds’ Tenfold had a walk day Tuesday after galloping two miles on Monday. Scott Blasi, assistant trainer to Steve Asmussen, said the Preakness Stakes third-place finisher is expected to have his one pre-Belmont work this Saturday.
McGaughey reviewing Belmont Stakes Racing Festival options
Multiple graded stakes winner On Leave, who kicked off her 5-year-old campaign with a third-place finish in the Grade 3 Honey Fox at Gulfstream Park on March 31 and returned to run second in the Grade 2 Distaff Turf Mile at Churchill Downs, is targeting a next start in the Grade 1, $700,000 Longines Just a Game on Belmont Stakes Day.
“She’s doing really good,” said Hall of Fame trainer McGaughey of the Stuart Janney III homebred, a winner of $882,220. “We’ll take a good look at the Just a Game for her.”
McGaughey also has graded stakes winner Inspector Lynley, who breezed a half-mile in 51.12 on Monday, nominated for the Grade 1, $1 million Woodford Reserve Manhattan, and the 2-for-2 Breaking the Rules for the 1 1/16-mile Easy Goer for 3-year-olds.
The $150,000 Easy Goer is named after the McGaughey-trained Belmont Stakes winner, who thwarted Sunday Silence's Triple Crown bid in 1989 after epic battles in the Kentucky Derby and Preakness.
“I wasn’t looking to upset anybody when we ran,” said McGaughey. “I just wanted to win the Belmont. We were doing really well. I was just anxious for it to come up to run. He came out of the Preakness great and he trained good when we got back up here. We were looking forward to running and luckily it worked out good for us.”