CRAWFORD | Justify completes final pre-Belmont work; next stop New York
With his final pre-Belmont Stakes work now complete, Justify has a trip to New York and a couple of easy gallops before bidding to become the 13th Triple Crown winner in history on Saturday.
LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) – Kentucky Derby and Preakness winner Justify put in his final work before Saturday’s Belmont Stakes and a bid at the Triple Crown on Monday morning at Churchill Downs.
The unbeaten son of Scat Daddy emerged from trainer Bob Baffert’s Barn. No. 33 at Churchill Downs with around a hundred onlookers on the backside and many more in the grandstand to watch. He’s not expected to be on the track Tuesday, then will ship to Belmont Wednesday morning.
With Martin Garcia aboard, he went five furlongs in 1:01.40, then galloped out strong to complete what by all appearances has been a flawless training regimen up to his tall task in New York. (He finished six furlongs in 1:13.60 and seven in 1:27.20.) It’s the same regimen Baffert’s American Pharoah followed three years ago.
It was a slower work than Pharoah’s five furlongs of 1:00.20 in the rain three years ago, but Baffert said he wanted a bit easier pace after Justify worked a half-mile in 46.8 seconds and galloped out five furlongs in 59.20 last Tuesday.
“We went a little quick last time, so I wanted to go three-quarters with him,” Baffert said. “. . . Just kept him in hand the whole way and let him gallop out seven-eighths. It went smooth. He relaxed nice. Last time he was a little bit fresh I think and really wanted to do a little bit more, but came back and Martin was happy with him and said he didn't take a deep breath. So all seems good.”
Now, Justify will spend one more day in Kentucky, then settle into his barn at Belmont after a Wednesday morning flight, galloping on the track there as Baffert bides his time and fulfills his considerable media obligations until race day. He’ll leave for New York a day ahead of his colt, to be present at the post-position draw at Citi Field before the New York Mets and Baltimore Orioles game on Tuesday night. He’ll throw out the first pitch before that contest.
“That deal? I threw at Dodger Stadium about a year ago,” Baffert said. “I went out there and I could've hit a bird, I threw it pretty high. I asked (wife) Jill, ‘How'd I do?’ and she said, ‘It was good for a girl.’ But I think when you pass 60, you don't feel the pressure. When I was younger I was like, 'Don't bounce it.’ You don't want to bounce it, that's the worst thing you can do. One time I tried to throw a strike and it was a disaster.”
More than that, however, he’s hoping for a home run on Saturday. It would complete an unlikely journey for a colt whose career debut was delayed as a 2-year-old, and who has been in fast-forward since breaking his maiden in February. He went from off the charts to dominant in the space of two months.
“He just came out of nowhere, and now he's picking up steam,” Baffert said. “People say he's beautiful, what a beautiful horse, so he's become a rock star like Pharoah, so let's see if he can do it. . . . . If it's meant to be, it's going to happen. All we can do is prepare him. . . . I feel good that he's doing well. He looks great physically. He looks healthy. He's moving well. So that's all you can ask for.”
He’ll face a talented field when he gets to the Belmont, including a group of horses who have been waiting since the Derby. But Baffert said his colt has overcome every hurdle – from not racing at 2, to a post-Derby foot issue to dealing with off tracks.
“Before he was lightly raced,” Baffert said. “We were talking about he can't win the Derby because he's lightly raced, now he can't win the Belmont because he's raced too much. There's always something. But I think he's seasoned now, and he should be up for it. . . . He's basically just run himself into shape here.”
Next up, we’ll see if he can run himself into history.
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