LOUISVILLE, Ky. (AP) — Justify has begun preparing for the Belmont Stakes and pursuit of the Triple Crown with an energetic gallop around Churchill Downs.
Back at work since returning from last weekend’s muddy half-length victory over Bravazo in the Preakness, the unbeaten chestnut colt galloped 1 3/8 miles under a clear sky on a dry, fast surface Thursday morning. Justify won the Kentucky Derby under sloppy conditions here on May 5. Jimmy Barnes, assistant trainer to Hall of Famer Bob Baffert, said the horse “really seemed to enjoy it” this time.
Justify aims to follow muddy wins in the Kentucky Derby and Preakness with a Belmont victory on June 9 to become the 13th Triple Crown champion and the first since American Pharoah in 2015. Baffert has trained both colts and has guided Justify to a 5-0 start as a 3-year-old.
Baffert is expected to return to Louisville early next week. He’ll see a horse that looked none the worse for wear after winning the first two legs of the Triple Crown in sloppy conditions.
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Barnes’ hope is for improved conditions at the Belmont, where he believes Justify can run even better. The 1 1/2-mile race, the Triple Crown’s longest leg, poses a distance challenge against a likely field of fresher, rested horses out to deny a bid for history.
Justify is enjoying something of a break as well after two races in three weeks. In his first work since the Preakness, the horse looked lively with exercise rider Humberto Gomez aboard. Hall of Fame jockey Mike Smith will ride Justify in the Belmont.
“I saw just what I needed to see,” Barnes said. “Had a good bounce in his step, very happy. Just took it easy with him out there, went about a mile and three-eighths, just give him a nice, easy first day back out, which we did.”
Barnes added, “The horse does run in the mud well, but you ought to see him on a dry track.”
Justify walked the shed row for several days in Baffert’s barn before hitting the track to a small crowd of onlookers. The remaining training schedule will be determined, but the son of Scat Daddy by Stage Magic will likely travel to New York on June 6.
If Thursday offered any indication, Justify was glad to have dry footing for a change.
“The horse’s energy level was still good,” said Starlight Racing managing partner Jack Wolf, whose operation is teamed with three other ownership groups. “I was talking to Mike Smith after the race and he was commenting on how he eased the horse up at the end. I asked him if he could feel the other horse (Bravazo) closing, and he said he could feel him but didn’t feel he was in any danger of losing.
“According to Mike, he thinks this last race will really help prepare him to run a good race at the Belmont.”