by NYRA Press Office
It was a quiet morning for Belmont Stakes horses at Churchill Downs on Wednesday, with Triple Crown hopeful Justify and his Belmont-bound stablemate Restoring Hope having a walk day in the barn following Tuesday’s workouts.
Jimmy Barnes, assistant to trainer Bob Baffert, reported all was well with Justify, the Kentucky Derby and Preakness Stakes winner who worked a half-mile in 46 4/5 seconds with a strong gallop-out a day earlier, as well as Restoring Hope, who had a seven-eighths of a mile work in 1:26.
Justify’s jockey Mike Smith will wear the red and yellow silks of China Horse Club International in the Belmont Stakes after sporting WinStar Farm’s white and green colors in the Derby and Preakness. Justify’s other owners are Louisville-based Starlight Racing and Head of Plains Partners.
Justify and Restoring Hope are scheduled to fly to New York on Wednesday, June 6.
Meanwhile, late-swooping Preakness runner-up Bravazo jogged two miles under Danielle Rosier. Trainer D. Wayne Lukas said Calumet Farm’s son of Breeders’ Cup Classic winner Awesome Again is expected to have his lone timed workout before the Belmont Stakes on Thursday “as long as the weather doesn’t stop us.”
Lukas said he plans to send Bravazo to the track during the 7:30-7:40 a.m. time slot reserved for Belmont Stakes horses but could move it up to 5:30, when the track opens, depending on weather.
Bravazo will van with Warrior’s Club, who is running in the Grade 1, $1.2 million Runhappy Metropolitan Mile, to New York Monday.
Albaugh Family Stables’ Free Drop Billy had his first day back to the track since working five-eighths of a mile in 59 3/5 seconds Monday, jogging two miles under exercise rider Juan Segundo.
Trainer Dale Romans confirmed that Robby Albarado will have the Belmont Stakes mount on Free Drop Billy, a Grade 1 winner at age 2 who finished 16th in the Kentucky Derby after taking third in Keeneland’s Grade 2 Toyota Blue Grass and Aqueduct’s Grade 3 Gotham and second in Gulfstream Park’s Grade 2 Holy Bull.
“In my opinion, he’s still one of the best riders in the country,” Romans said of Albarado, a finalist on the 2018 Hall of Fame ballot. “And for big-money races, he’s the man I want.”
Romans said he remains undecided whether to run Gulfstream Park’s front-running Grade 2 Fountain of Youth winner Promises Fulfilled in the Grade 2, $400,000 Woody Stephens presented by Mohegan Sun at seven-eighths of a mile or in the $150,000 Easy Goer at 1 1/16 miles on the Belmont Stakes card. He said plans for King Zachary, owned by Louisvillian Tom Conway, now call for the Churchill Downs allowance winner to run in that track’s Grade 3 Matt Winn Stakes at 1 1/16 miles on June 16.
Romans plans to fly his horses to Belmont on Wednesday, June 6.
Winchell Thoroughbreds’ Tenfold, third by a total of three-quarters of a length in the Preakness, galloped 1 1/8 miles under Angel Garcia after getting a day off Tuesday.
“The horse is doing good,” said Hall of Fame trainer Steve Asmussen.
Asmussen said Tenfold is scheduled to work five-eighths of a mile Saturday and that he’s looking for a nice, relaxed move in “1:01 and change, 1:02” in preparation for running Belmont Park’s 1 ½ mile circumference.
“It’s who he is physically and the rhythm I want him in that I think will be most effective in the Belmont for him,” Asmussen, who frequently works his Saturday stakes horses on Mondays, said of the workout design and timing. “…. He’s just going to have to be big, relaxed and cover the ground with the frame that he has.”
Tenfold and other Churchill-based Asmussen horses running at Belmont will fly to New York on Tuesday, he said.
G2 Woody Stephens-bound Strike Power gets ready for one final breeze before Belmont Stakes Day
Courtlandt Farms’ Strike Power is expected to put in his final breeze either Friday or Saturday before running in the Grade 2 Woody Stephens presented by Mohegan Sun on Belmont Stakes Day June 9, trainer Mark Hennig said by phone Wednesday morning.
Strike Power put in his fourth work at Belmont Park since running eighth in the Grade 1 Florida Derby, contested at 1 1/8 miles, on March 31 at Gulfstream Park. After two straight starts at more than a mile, including a runner-up effort to Promises Fulfilled in the 1 1/16-mile Grade 2 Fountain of Youth on March 3 at Gulfstream, the Speightstown colt will be cutting back in the seven-furlong Woody Stephens; a distance in which he won the Grade 2 Swale in his stakes debut on February 18.
Strike Power breezed five furlongs in 1:00.65 last Friday on Belmont’s main track, building on his three previous works at a half-mile.
“It was good, everything went well and we’re all real happy with him,” Hennig said. “It’s all going as planned. We’ll probably go a half-mile either Friday or Saturday, depending on the weather.”
His stablemate, My Miss Lilly, was nominated to the Grade 3, $200,000 Wonder Again on Opening Day of the Belmont Stakes Racing Festival on June 7, but Hennig said he does not plan on moving her to turf and could be instead be targeting the Grade 2, $250,000 Mother Goose on June 30.
“We’re not looking to put her on the turf at the moment. We just put her there as a main-track only possibility, but I don’t think we’d do that,” Hennig said.
On Friday, My Miss Lilly put in her first breeze since finishing 11th in the Grade 1 Kentucky Oaks on May 4, going four furlongs in 48.77 seconds on Belmont’s main track. Hennig said he was impressed with the winner of the Grade 2 Gazelle on April 7 at Aqueduct.
“She did well, it was her first breeze back from the Kentucky Oaks,” Hennig said. “There’s no definite plans yet, but we think she could be a Mother Goose horse or something [later in the meet].”
The Kentucky Oaks was the only time in five career starts the Tapit filly finished out of the money after posting third-place finishes in the Grade 3 Forward Gal and the Busher to start her 3-year-old campaign.
Motion armed with eclectic arsenal for Belmont Stakes Racing Festival
Trainer Graham Motion is looking to field an eclectic assortment of horses during the Belmont Stakes Racing Festival next week, from the up-and-coming 3-year-old Rugbyman, who is under consideration for the $150,000 Easy Goer on Belmont Stakes Day, to the stalwart Augustin Stable homebred Spring Quality, who at age 6 will be making his first Grade 1 appearance in the $1 million Woodford Reserve Manhattan at 1 ¼ miles on the turf.
Motion also is pointing Lady Alexandra, who won the License Fee in her first start for him, to the Grade 3, $200,000 Intercontinental on opening day of the Festival, Thursday, June 7; European import Esquisse to the Grade 2, $600,000 New York presented by NYRA Bets on Friday and Serena’s Song winner Berned to the Grade 1, $750,000 Ogden Phipps on Belmont Stakes Day.
Rugbyman, a gray son of Tapit bred and owned by Wertheimer Et Frere, finished a closing third in his debut on April 13 and followed that with a rousing 14-length maiden victory over older horses at a mile at Belmont Park.
“He was impressive enough in his maiden victory to consider a stake for his next start,” said the trainer. “A lot will depend on how be breezes on Friday.”
Spring Quality, a son of Quality Road out of the Deputy Minister mare Spring Star, made a single appearance at age 2, winning a seven-furlong maiden at Keeneland, then reappeared in the spring as a 4-year-old to take an optional claimer at Tampa Bay Downs. Given more time off, he finally began racing on a consistent basis in 2017, notching his first graded stakes win in November in his second start on turf in the Grade 3 Red Smith Handicap at Aqueduct Racetrack.
In his first start this year, he was beaten less than a length by fellow Manhattan hopeful Robert Bruce in the Grade 3 Fort Marcy.
“He had little niggling issues that kept him away from the races, but knowing he had the ability, his owner [George Strawbridge] was very patient with him,” said Motion, noting Spring Quality has won five of 10 starts, with three seconds. “I always thought he could be a grass horse, but he was running so well on dirt I didn’t move him [until the second half of 2017].”
Spring Quality was entered in the Robellino at Penn National in August, which wound up coming off the turf and which he won by a neck. He followed that by finishing second in the Roanoke at Parx, and an encouraging fourth in the Grade 2 Knickerbocker at 1 1/8 miles at Belmont.
“Looking back, maybe I should have moved him [onto turf] earlier,” said Motion. “That being said, I’ve always had this race in mind for him, and the timing of the Fort Marcy was perfect.”
Lady Alexandra, who was purchased last year for $375,000 by the Heider Family Stables at the Horses of Racing Age Sale at Keeneland following an optional claiming victory at Belmont in June, made one subsequent start at Saratoga for trainer Tom Proctor, finishing eighth in the Coronation Cup. Sent to Motion over the winter, she trained forwardly and made her 4-year-old debut a winning one with a 3 ½-length score in the License Free going six furlongs.
“I was extremely impressed with her performance in that race,” Motion said.
Esquisse, who arrived in Motion’s barn in late fall of 2017, finished third, beaten 1 ¼ lengths in a one-mile allowance in April at Keeneland and second, one length back, in an optional claimer on May 18 at Belmont.
“Her races here have been very good,” said Motion of the British-bred daughter of Dansili. “Perhaps she’s showing more in the morning than in the afternoons. Her mother [the Rahy mare Legerate] ran 1 ½ miles, so perhaps the difference might be the extra quarter-mile.”
Berned, owned by Robert Masiello and West Point Thoroughbreds, would be making her third Grade 1 appearance in the 1 1/16-mile Ogden Phipps, having finished fourth in the Coaching Club American Oaks at Saratoga last summer and seventh in the Starlet at Laurel Race Course as a 2-year-old while under the care of Tom Albertrani.
The Bernardini filly is 1-0-1 this year, with a third-place finish in the Grade 2 Barbara Fricthie at Laurel and a sixth in the Grade 3 Distaff Handicap at Aqueduct.
“This would be a big step up for her,” said Motion. “A lot will depend on who is running.”
Lucullan ready to step up for Grade 1 debut in Manhattan
Godolphin Racing’s Lucullan is “doing very well” ahead of his Grade 1 debut in the Manhattan, reported Kiaran McLaughlin on Wednesday. The eighth straight start on grass for the colt by Hard Spun will be a step up in class, said his trainer, but the Kentucky-bred should benefit from a couple of factors while taking on a talented group.
The distance of 1 ¼ miles, a bit longer than his customary attempts at 1 1/8 miles, should also aid his late running style, McLaughlin noted.
“He’s doing very well,” he said. “It’s a tough race for us, but we feel like he likes the Belmont turf course, and he’s gets in light. He’s getting in at 114, so he should be good.”
Two of the colt’s three career victories have come over the Belmont grass after he necked out a maiden win in his third career start while making the switch to turf. He also earned a two-length victory that fall over the Widener course following a third-place finish at Saratoga Race Course that summer.
The chestnut son of Hard Spun closed out his 3-year-old season in the Grade 3 Hill Prince in October, where he utilized his strong kick to close well amid a four-wide journey over the inner turf to finish second. In that effort, fell a neck short of Yoshida, now a Grade 1 winner after winning the Turf Classic at Churchill Downs earlier this month.
The Manhattan will be the fourth start of the year for the earner of $260,450 through nine starts. He was third last time out in the Grade 3 Fort Marcy on May 3 behind the talented Robert Bruce and has been based at Godolphin’s private Greentree Training Center in Saratoga since.
McLaughlin said Runhappy winner Westwood is heading towards a start in the Grade 2, $250,000 True North for 4-year-olds and up at 6 ½ furlongs on Friday, June 8.
The 4-year-old gelding covered four furlongs in 48.23 seconds over Belmont’s training track on Wednesday morning, his first work since his three-quarter-length victory in the six-furlong Runhappy at Belmont Park on May 12.
“He worked good this morning, 48 and change,” said McLaughlin. “He moved up a day because of the weather. He’s heading to the True North and doing well. Johnny [Velazquez] will ride.”
By Bernardini and out of Hall of Fame mare Ashado, Westwood earned his first stakes victory in the Runhappy, which followed his stakes debut in the Grade 3 Commonwealth at Keeneland, where he was passed late to finish fifth by two lengths, his lone off-the-board finish in eight starts.
One day removed from Belmont Stakes Day, Peter Deutsch’s Kentucky Oaks runner Take Charge Paula will make her return in the $150,000 Jersey Girl at six furlongs on Sunday, June 10.
McLaughlin expects the Take Charge Indy filly to work in the coming days. In her morst recent breeze, she went four furlongs in a bullet 47.34 seconds on May 25 over the training track.
Take Charge Paula put together a three-race win streak beginning last fall and culminating with a 3 ½-length score in the Grade 3 Forward Gal at Gulfstream Park in February. She followed with back-to-back seconds in the Grade 2 Davona Dale and the Grade 2 Gulfstream Park Oa