'Bounce to His Step'
By Dick Downey
Justify returned to the track Thursday at Churchill Downs for the first time since returning to Louisville Sunday after his half-length win in the Preakness.
He came out during a special training period from 7:30-7:40 ET for horses preparing for the Belmont Stakes. Justify galloped 1 3/8 mile under a sunny sky with regular exercise rider Homberto Gomez aboard.
"We definitely saw what we needed to see,” assistant trainer Jimmy Barnes said. “He had a good bounce to his step, and he was very happy out there. Bob told me to make sure he has a nice and easy first day back galloping. He went about 1 3/8 miles and seemed to enjoy it.”
Justify is following a post-Preakness training pattern similar to that of Baffert’s previous Triple Crown hopefuls – Silver Charm (1997), Real Quiet (1998), War Emblem (2002) and Triple Crown winner American Pharoah (2015). Each of them trained at Churchill Downs before shipping to New York for the Belmont.
“I try not to think too much about the Triple Crown,” Barnes said. “I just try to focus on the next day of training. I’m sure I’ll start thinking about it when we ship to Belmont. My biggest job is to keep Justify happy.”
Trainer Bob Baffert is expected to be at Churchill Downs this weekend, according to Barnes.
During the special training time, Preakness runner-up Bravazo jogged two miles with exercise rider Danielle Rosier aboard for trainer D. Wayne Lukas, and Preakness third Tenfold galloped about 1 1/2 mile with Angel Garcia for Steve Asmussen.
Audible, Vino Rosso
Audible and Vino Rosso will breeze Friday morning at Belmont Park for trainer Todd Pletcher. Vino Rosso, winner of the Wood Memorial and ninth in the Kentucky Derby at 14-1 odds, is definite for the Belmont Stakes. We're still awaiting a decision about Audible.
Word is that WinStar Farm's Elliott Walden will be on hand for Audible's workout and have an ensuing discussion about his status for the Belmont. Some say the decision has been made already.
Audible and Justify are owned by China Horse Club, Head of Plains Partners LLC (Sol Kumin), Starlight Racing (Jack Wolf et al) and WinStar Farm LLC. Wolf and his Starlight partners have a minority interest in both horses and, as Wolf said several times during Kentucky Derby week, are just along for the ride. They participate in purse winnings but not in breeding rights.
Accordingly, the decision to run or not run Audible in the Belmont Stakeswill rests with the majority owners holding breeding rights to both horses, and one would think, based on financial considerations, they would lean away from challenging Justify's bid to win the Triple Crown. One thing is for sure, and it is that the decision belongs to them and them alone.
My Boy Jack
Don't Tell My Wife Stables made if official late yesterday afternnon, tweeting that My Boy Jack will skip the Belmont Stakes.
The team says he'll be pointed to the Belmont Derby on turf as a springboard to the Haskell and Travers Stakes. The tweet concludes, "Jack is 100% sound but prefer a fresh horse for the summer and beyond."
The Belmont Stakes field could possibly be comprised of the following 11 horses: Audible (trained by Todd Pletcher), Bandua (Dermot Weld), Blended Citizen (Doug O’Neill), Bravazo (D. Wayne Lukas), Free Drop Billy (Dale Romans), Gronkowski (Chad Brown), Hofburg (Bill Mott), Justify (Baffert), Restoring Hope (Baffert), Tenfold (Steve Asmussen) and Vino Rosso (Pletcher).
Watch Live or Online
Area horse racing fans are invited to watch Belmont Stakes prospects train from the first floor of the facility free of charge. Churchill Downs will open its Paddock Gate entrance between 7:00-8:00 each morning through Monday, June 4 so the public can enter free of charge. Guests may also park free of charge in the Orange and Black Lots outside of the Paddock Gate. Video of the exercises will be shown on the Big Board and infield video screens at Churchill Downs.
Those unable to attend can watch an online live stream of the daily exercises with commentary at https://www.kentuckyderby.com/workouts/live from 7:20-7:45 courtesy of TwinSpires.com. Clips of the activity will be uploaded on the Kentucky Derby YouTube channel.