CRAWFORD | Justify shows no signs of slowing down in first Belmont appearance
Justify showed no signs of slowing down as he took to the Belmont Park race track for the first time in preparation for Saturday's Belmont Stakes and a run at the Triple Crown.
ELMONT, N.Y. (WDRB) — The buzz isn’t quite the same as when American Pharoah was preparing to make history at Belmont Park three years ago. The thirst for the Triple Crown might have been quenched a bit.
Still, there were around 100 reporters and photographers at the barn when Justify arrived Wednesday, and the cameras were clicking when he went to the Belmont oval for the first time on Thursday morning under exercise rider Humberto Gomez.
Everybody wanted to take a look at how the undefeated chestnut colt would like the Belmont surface, and how he would handle the Belmont crowd.
They had to look fast. Justify galloped a mile and 3/8 on Thursday morning, but went quickly. Though he took to the track several minutes after Belmont rival Free Drop Billy, he nearly had caught Dale Romans’ colt by the time they galloped beyond the finish line.
Neither the sights of Belmont nor its sandy surface seemed to bother Justify, but the sounds might be another story. It’s a different setup at Belmont from what Justify encountered at Churchill Downs at Pimlico. Those tracks held training sessions which included Triple Crown (and Kentucky Oaks) entries only. At Belmont, the Belmont Stakes contenders train with everyone else, so there’s a bit more traffic and commotion to deal with.
“He was a little fresh,” Baffert said. “. . . A horse came up to him and we usually have his (ear) plugs in but we didn’t do it today because I thought it would be really quiet. We’ll put them back in (Friday).”
Justify does not race with earplugs, as American Pharoah did, but does use them during training.
Justify has been known to be a tad spirited. He kicked both hind legs playfully when under a tight hold during a recent Churchill Downs gallop, and Baffert has been nipped by him a time or two.
He’s certainly less sociable than American Pharoah, who was friendly with fans (and reporters), and was gently curious around crowds.
“Pharoah loved human contact,” Baffert said. “This guy will let you love on him for about four seconds and that’s it. He bit me when I was walking him around.”
Baffert said he’ll repeat Thursday’s routine with Justify on Friday morning, an easy gallop heading into race day. He said he won’t school Justify in the gate or in the paddock, adding, “He’ll probably get schooled enough sitting in gate in the one hole for a long time.”
Otherwise, Baffert said, his colt looks comfortable and ready to chase the Triple Crown.
“He floated over the track. He was happy and aggressive,” Baffert said. “. . . He couldn’t have looked any better coming around there. He looks like a horse that is flourishing. He went around like he’s been here before.”
Among those watching were Justify’s jockey Mike Smith.
“He looked really nice,” Smith said. “He should like the track — especially if it’s dry.”
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