BOZICH | Belmont Muse: Baffert ready to sharpen Justify's Triple Crown push
Bob Baffert returned to Churchill Downs Monday morning to continue preparing Justify for his pursuit of the Triple Crown in the Belmont Stakes June. 9.
LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) — Happy Memorial Day. Sincere thanks to everybody who has served our country, starting with my father (Alex) who was deployed in the Marshall Islands with the Air Force during World War II.
The sacrifices made by our military enable us to celebrate entertaining sports moments like the Belmont Stakes, which will unfold in New York City June 9.
Trainer Bob Baffert will try to win the Triple Crown for the second time in four years with Justify, the winner of the 2018 Kentucky Derby and Preakness.
Baffert returned to Louisville from California Sunday night. He sent his colt to the Churchill Downs track for a gallop at 7:30 Monday morning and later said he was likely to breeze the horse Tuesday morning, Justify’s first work since he won at Pimlico May 19.
Five questions — and five answers — on Justify’s quest to deliver the way American Pharoah did in 2015.
1. Considering the demands of the Triple Crown schedule and the colt's late development, has Baffert considered easing Justify’s training schedule?
BAFFERT: “We’re still training. We don’t train scared.
“He has to go a mile-and-a-half. I want to make sure when I throw (jockey) Mike Smith on his back that he has a full tank of gas and that this horse is ready.
“Because if he’s not ready, it doesn’t matter what Mike does. It’s up to us to give him his best chance.“
2. This is Baffert’s fifth pursuit of the Triple Crown. Silver Charm (1997) and Real Quiet (1998) finished second. War Emblem (2002) was beaten out of the starting gate and finished eighth. American Pharoah became the first Triple Crown winner since Affirmed in 1978.
At a mile-and-a-half, the Belmont is the longest race on the calendar, a quarter mile more than the Kentucky Derby. Can a colt be trained to excel at longer distances?
BAFFERT: “They either can get it or they can’t get it. You can’t train a mile and a half into it. And you really don’t want to train it into it.
“I’ve trained him just like all my other horses who went up there. And they all ran well. They all fired. (Some) just got beat. One out of four is not too bad. They others ran second. One was off the board.
“It’s just one of those things where I just don’t overthink it. I just go by my experience. You have to draw on all experience.”
3. Justify is the first colt since Apollo (1882) to win the Derby (and Preakness) after not racing as a 2-year-old. Baffert seemed pleased and at ease with his position.
BAFFERT: “I’ve been smiling since he won the Kentucky Derby. It’s been a really fun journey for a horse who basically was a walk-on in January to take us this far.
“It’s nice to get the Preakness out of the way. We knew that was probably going to be a tough, tough race for him coming back a little quick like that and dealing with a little foot issue.
“But right now it seems that everything is going smoothly. He looks good. Flesh wise he looks great. So I’m very happy with the way he’s going.”
4. Monday was the first time Baffert saw Justify in eight days. Did the trainer like what he saw?
BAFFERT: “All my horses I ran in the Derby that won, they all looked well. (American) Pharoah looked great coming into it.
“The thing he has going for him is that he’s a big strong horse. He can handle a lot. He eats everything that you put in front of him. That’s main key, that they don’t lose weight.
“I remember War Emblem. The heat got him and he wasn’t eating well. He lost a lot of weight during that time.
“I’m happy that for a horse who has done a lot in just a few months, he still looks healthy. He looks like he hasn’t run that many times. That just goes to show you the quality that he has.
“I keep using the word superior. But just like Pharoah. Pharoah was the same way. He just got better as we went along. Those are great horses. They do that. He’s holding it well. He’s moving really well. He’s hitting the ground really well.
“You can tell the rider has his hands full.”
5. What’s the plan moving forward?
BAFFERT: “It’s day by day with these horses. You hope that every day is like that because it can change. Right now I’ll say I feel really good about him.
“But I go day by day. That’s the way I train. I go by what they look like I want to see what he looks like. If I saw something I didn’t like, I might back off on him. But … like I said, he’s strong, he’s powerful.”
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