Kentucky Derby and Preakness winner Justify was given a fourth day off Wednesday after his half-length victory over Belmont-bound Bravazo in Baltimore’s middle leg of the Triple Crown. Jimmy Barnes, chief assistant to Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert who oversees Justify’s training on the road, said America’s top-ranked 3-year-old will resume training Thursday at Churchill Downs, where he is being prepared for the Grade 1, $1.5 million Belmont Stakes on June 9.
Barnes said Justify will train at the special 7:30-7:40 a.m. ET time slot that Churchill Downs is restricting to Belmont candidates beginning Thursday. Others at Churchill under Belmont consideration are Bravazo, Preakness third-place finisher Tenfold and Free Drop Billy, winner of last year’s Grade 1 Breeders’ Futurity who finished 16th in the Kentucky Derby.
“We came out of the race in great shape, head back to the track tomorrow,” Barnes said. “With the ship, we gave him an extra day, the four days and look forward to going back to the track tomorrow.”
Barnes said the muscular Justify never backed off eating after a taxing trip in the 1 3/16-mile Preakness, where he was tested throughout by reigning 2-year-old champion Good Magic and then held off Bravazo and Tenfold.
Baffert has won the Belmont Stakes twice, with Triple Crown winner American Pharoah in 2015 and Preakness winner Point Given in 2001. He narrowly lost the Belmont in 1997 with Triple Crown aspirants Silver Charm and in 1999 with Real Quiet, the latter by a nose.
Justify is owned by WinStar Farm, China Horse Club International, Starlight Racing and Head of Plains Partners. WinStar Farm president and CEO Elliott Walden said Justify’s Hall of Fame jockey Mike Smith will wear China Horse Club’s red silks with yellow stars and sleeves in the Belmont.
Lukas: Belmont will be better race than the Derby for Bravazo
Hall of Famer D. Wayne Lukas, who won the “Test of the Champion” every year from 1994-1996 as well as in 2000, said he expects this year’s Belmont Stakes to be a better race than the Kentucky Derby won by Justify. Calumet Farm’s Bravazo, trained by Lukas, was sixth to Justify in the Derby and second by only a half-length in the Preakness.
“Here’s why: It’s got a smaller field, bigger racetrack and it’s got all the major players,” he said. “Why would you not call it a better race? It’s going to be more fair, more honest, more demanding. It’s got all the Hall of Fame trainers. All the quality is there. The racetrack. The three-week break. What’s not to like? It’s a better race. Twenty head over here, some don’t belong, stopping, starting. It [the Belmont] is the best race. Whoever wins that should go to the top of the class, the leaderboard.”
Bravazo, who vanned back to Louisville from Baltimore Sunday, walked the shedrow Wednesday morning and will resume training Thursday at the special 7:30 a.m. time restricted to Belmont contenders.
Lukas said Bravazo came out of the race so well that “he was all over the barn” while walking, adding, “I should have taken him” to the track. “I watched him here for about five minutes and said [to the hotwalker] ‘be careful.’ He’s on his game.”
With fog enshrouding Pimlico during the Preakness, it was hard for trainers to see where their horses were.
“I thought I was at Los Alamitos there, running 440 yards,” Lukas joked, referencing the Quarter Horse background Justify trainer Bob Baffert and he had before they turned to training thoroughbreds. “I flashed back to my old days. I thought, ‘Here’s Baffert and I at Los Alamitos.”
More seriously, Lukas continued, “When he hit the three-eighths pole, I looked at the screen to see what the numbers were on the bottom and saw he was still third. I watched that number because I couldn’t see him. Then the numbers went off at the top of the stretch, so I started [looking for him]. I thought he’d be on the outside, and he was. I told [jockey Luis Saez] to be on the outside. So, I started watching outside and I picked him up probably a little earlier than you [media] did.
“He was flying. I kind of flashed, ‘Where’s the wire?’ When you’re in front, you say, ‘Where’s the wire?’ I wanted it to be a little farther down the base path.”
Lukas said he plans to run Churchill Downs Racing Club’s Warrior’s Club, winner of the Grade 2 Churchill Downs Stakes on Derby Day, in the Met Mile on the Belmont Stakes card.
Asmussen on Tenfold: ‘All indications here are go’ for Belmont
Steve Asmussen, who on Kentucky Derby Day became the second trainer to win 8,000 races, said Winchell Thoroughbreds’ Tenfold came out of his Preakness third-place finish “beautiful” and is squarely on course to run in the Belmont Stakes.
Tenfold jogged at Churchill Downs Wednesday morning shortly after the track opened. He will resume galloping Thursday at the 7:30 a.m. time restricted to Belmont Stakes candidates, Asmussen said.
Tenfold, who like Justify never raced as a 2-year-old, was making his fourth start in the Preakness, having won a maiden and allowance race at Oaklawn Park before coming in fifth in the Grade 1 Arkansas Derby.
“I think we’re just getting to where we’re wanting to be with him,” Asmussen said. “He came out of it well physically, gave him a little jog this morning and he was as comfortable as he always is.”
“We expect to run,” he said of the Belmont, a race he won in 2016 with WinStar Farm’s Creator. “All indications here are go. I was very anxious to be here this morning when he went back to the track and I loved how he looked. It’s going to be a very exciting 2 1/2 weeks, and it sure feels like we’re going to get to play.”
Terranovas ‘ready to roll’ as Justify’s hosts
With Justify in training at Churchill Downs in the interim, trainer John Terranova and his wife Tonja are quietly preparing to host Bob Baffert’s undefeated stable star when he arrives at Belmont Park in his bid for greatness in the Grade 1 Belmont Stakes on June 9.
The Scat Daddy colt vies to become the second Triple Crown winner the Terranovas have housed in Barn 1, which served as American Pharoah’s home away from home when he ended the 37-year drought in 2015. The trainer and his wife have housed many of Baffert’s superstars who have journeyed through the New York Racing Association circuit over the years, including Eclipse Award honorees, eventual Hall of Famers and a Triple Crown winner.
“We’re ready to roll,” said Tonja Terranova, who served as an assistant to Baffert in California before moving east. “Jimmy [Barnes] said he’s doing good, got to Churchill in good shape, so now we just sit and wait. It’s not [stressful]. They come in and we all work together. We help them whenever they need it. No one bats an eye.”
“It’s nice to get to be around those kinds of horses,” John Terranova added. “They’re so rare. It would be great to do it again.”
The Terranovas expect to follow the same basic plan as they did in 2015, stabling the horse on the north end of the barn, although it’s not yet determined if Justify will settle into Stall 30, made famous during American Pharoah’s run for immortality.
“It’s a quiet corner back there,” Tonja said. “You can rope it off and people can’t get to him. No one’s peering through the windows. More than likely, that’s where he’s going to go. I don’t know which stall. I haven’t talked to Jimmy [Barnes] about it yet. Once we talk to him, we’ll figure where we’re going to put him and stuff. It’ll be fun. We can’t wait.”
Free Drop Billy possible for Belmont — with Belmont Derby an option
Trainer Dale Romans termed Albaugh Family Stable’s Free Drop Billy “possible” for the Belmont Stakes but added that the $1.2 million Belmont Derby Invitational on July 7 is an option.
Free Drop Billy won of last year’s Grade 1 Claiborne Breeders’ Futurity and third in this year’s Gotham Stakes (G3) at Aqueduct and Keeneland’s Toyota Blue Grass (G2) before finishing 16th in the Kentucky Derby. Romans believes turf could be in Free Drop Billy’s future. His mom, Trensa, also produced Hawkbill, a Group 1 winner in England and Dubai.
Romans said the Belmont decision will come down to “gut instinct” and how Free Drop Billy is doing, more than who else might be running.
“His brother is one of the best turf horses in the world,” he said.
Free Drop Billy is expected to start training at Churchill Downs’ special 7:30 a.m. time restricted to Belmont Stakes horses.
Romans said Robert Baron’s Promises Fulfilled, Gulfstream Park’s Grade 2 Fountain of Youth winner who faded to 15th in the Kentucky Derby after pushing the pace with Justify, could run in the Grade 2 Woody Stephens. He said Thomas Conway’s King Zachary, winner of a Churchill Downs’ allowance race after finishing sixth in the Grade 2 Wood Memorial is a candidate for the $150,000 Easy Goer at 1 1/16 miles.
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