Hall of Fame trainer Bill Mott issued an upbeat bulletin Sunday morning following Hofburg’s five-furlong workout in company with Good Samaritan over the Oklahoma training track at Saratoga Race Course, his final preparation for the Grade 1 $1.5 million Belmont Stakes, presented by NYRA Bets, on Saturday, June 9.
Ridden by Neil Poznansky and working outside of Good Samaritan, Hofburg completed the breeze in 1:01.03 before drawing away from his stablemate past the wire.
“We wanted to do a little bit more with Hofburg than with Good Samaritan,” said Mott. “We let them both work under the wire, then I wanted to make sure Hofburg had a good gallop out. Both horses went well, and I was very pleased. Hofburg couldn’t have worked better.”
Hofburg, a Juddmonte Farms homebred, broke his maiden in March at Gulfstream Park in his second start before finishing second, beaten three lengths by Audible, in the Grade 1 Florida Derby. He finished seventh by 8 3/4 lengths in the Kentucky Derby after steadying twice on the far turn.
“We loved him as a 2-year-old a year ago at this time, and we liked his chances going into the Kentucky Derby,” said Mott. “I know he wasn’t very seasoned and he had only three races going into it and there were probably a few people who were quite skeptical about us running him in the Derby off only three races, but I felt very confident in him and I think he ran a good race. He didn’t get the desired trip and he had a little traffic problem during the course of the running of the Derby. If you are going to run in the Kentucky Derby, that can happen if you are a closing kind of horse who has to come through traffic.”
Mott said he is hopeful that having five weeks between the Kentucky Derby and Belmont Stakes will help Hofburg turn the tables on Justify.
“Justify is a very good horse,” Mott said. “We have a lot of respect for him, he’s very talented, he’s got a lot of speed. His advantage, probably, is that he gets away from the gate good and shakes loose from the field. Whether that’s going to happen or not, I don’t know. He has a lot of natural speed.
“We’ve had good time to recover from the Derby, which probably makes it a bigger challenge for Justify. I don’t think there’s any doubt about it. We didn’t hit the board in the Derby and didn’t see any big advantage to running in the Preakness. We just pointed for the Belmont. We have to do what’s best for us, and that’s what we did.”
Mott is seeking his second Belmont Stakes victory, having won the 2010 renewal with Drosselmeyer.
“I have a lot of confidence in [Hofburg]” said Mott. “I feel very good about him. It’s no walk in the park. You got to go run around Belmont, a mile and a half. We don’t take the challenge lightly, but that’s what we’re here for.”
Mott said Hofburg will ship down to Belmont Park on Monday or Tuesday.
“I don’t think we have regressed any,” added Mott. “I think we have moved forward. The main thing is that he comes out of this work in good shape. We’ll get down to Belmont and get him familiar with his surroundings down there, and if that goes well we will be ready to go.”
Good Samaritan remains on target for the Grade 1, $1.2 million Runhappy Metropolitan Handicap as he seeks his fourth graded stakes victory and first in a Grade 1. The 4-year-old has made two starts this year, winning the Grade 2 New Orleans Handicap in March at the Fair Grounds and finishing third in the Grade 2 Alysheba on May 4 at Churchill Downs. The Metropolitan will be his first start at one mile on the dirt.
“We’re anxious to try him at a flat mile,” said Mott. “The Met Mile probably is one of the toughest, most competitive races you can run in all year long. It’s also a race that, if you have luck and can win it, makes a horse a stallion prospect.”
Free Drop Billy ‘perfect’ in sizzling final breeze for Belmont
Relatively out of the limelight, Albaugh Family Stable’s Free Drop Billy turned in another dazzling workout Sunday morning in advance of the Grade 1 Belmont Stakes. Swooping through the Churchill Downs stretch, Free Drop Billy was clocked working five furlongs in a strong 59 1/5 seconds, with splits of 11 3/5 seconds for an eighth-mile, 23 for the quarter-mile, 34 2/5 for three-eighths and 46 4/5 for the half-mile, then unleashing a powerful six-furlong gallop-out in 1:12 4/5.
“He worked really well today,” Romans said of Billy. “He did it all on his own and worked fast, galloped out strong and looks healthy and happy walking back. I wanted him to run along, stretch his lungs a little bit but [there was] no time that we had to have. But it looked perfect. He had a lot of horse, and he did it easy on his own. It was fast but under control.”
Even on a morning when he was the only Belmont Stakes horse working at Churchill Downs, Free Drop Billy was somewhat overshadowed by Kentucky Oaks heroine Monomoy Girl working for Saturday’s Grade 1 Acorn and Triple Crown aspirant Justify’s gallop.
Romans doesn’t take it personally if Free Drop Billy isn’t getting a lot of respect.
“Naw, he flopped in the Derby, we really don’t know why,” he said of Free Drop Billy’s 16th-place finish. “But I’ve seen him bounce back before. He didn’t run real well in the Breeders’ Cup and he came back and ran well all spring.”
After winning Keeneland’s Grade 1 Claiborne Breeders’ Futurity, Free Drop Billy struggled home ninth in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile at Del Mar. In three Derby preps, he was second in Gulfstream Park’s Grade 2 Holy Bull won by eventual Florida Derby winner Audible and third in both Aqueduct’s Grade 3 Gotham and Keeneland’s Grade 2 Blue Grass, the latter the result of being moved up a position after being impeded by a horse.
“He’s training so well,” Romans said. “He’s always been consistent. Throw out the two races and he’s hit the board every time, and the mile and a half might be the difference-maker. You don’t know if the others will like it, and his pedigree says he should. But you don’t know until you try.”
Romans trained the only horse to defeat 2015 Triple Crown winner American Pharoah as a 3-year-old when Keen Ice won Saratoga’s Grade 1 Travers. Keen Ice had finished behind American Pharoah in the Derby, Belmont and Haskell Invitational until pulling off the upset by three-quarters of a length. Now the trainer relishes potentially playing spoiler as his good friend Bob Baffert attempts to sweep the Derby, Preakness and Belmont Stakes for the second time in four years.
“I’d love to upset him in the Belmont,” he said. “The thing about the Travers was, it was surprising how many people cheered the horse and cheered us walking back. I thought they’d all be booing us when America’s horse got beat. It just shows you how smart racing fans are up in New York. I think they’ll be cheering a good performance, no matter who it is.”
Romans said he’s still undecided whether to run Promises Fulfilled, Gulfstream Park’s Grade 2 Fountain of Youth winner, in Saturday’s Grade 2, $400,000 Woody Stephens presented by Mohegan Sun at seven furlongs or the $150,000 Easy Goer at 1 1/16 miles. He said he will study the prospective fields before making a decision.
Free Drop Billy and Promises Fulfilled are to fly to New York Wednesday. Robby Albarado has the Belmont Stakes mount.
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