ELMONT, NY — Trainer Bob Baffert said "that's what you want to see" after undefeated Triple Crown hopeful Justify turned in a bullet half-mile work on May 29 at Churchill Downs, covering the distance in 46 4/5 seconds and galloping out five-eighths of a mile in 59 3/5.
Jockey Martin Garcia, who regularly works Justify while Hall of Famer Mike Smith is aboard for the races, was up for the move, the fastest among the 43 works at that distance of the day. His gallop-out time was surpassed only by two five-eighths of a mile works.
"I was hoping for that kind of work," said Baffert. "Like [his 2015 Triple Crown winner] American Pharoah came back here and looked like that. I wish the race were this week. We've got another week to go, but I think we're in great shape. I feel pretty strong that he's not going backward on us, he's moving forward.
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"I was surprised at the time and how easy he was doing it," he added. "We let him gallop out a little bit just to make sure he pulled up down there where Jimmy [assistant trainer Jimmy Barnes on his pony] was. He stopped, took a deep breath and he was happy when he turned around."
Baffert said the Kentucky Derby and Preakness winner will have one more work, perhaps on June 4, before the Grade 1, $1.5 million Belmont Stakes on Saturday June 9.
Justify is scheduled to fly to New York on Wednesday, June 6.
Justify's official splits were 12 seconds for the first eighth-mile, 23 3/5 for the half-mile and 35 1/5 for three-eighths of a mile, according to Churchill clockers.
"It went really well," said Baffert, who is going for his second Triple Crown. "I was worried about the rain and the weather. The track man did just an outstanding job in having it ready for us. It had some bounce to it. He went around there really nice. He warmed up really nice and I was talking to [Garcia] on the radio the whole time. I basically didn't say anything to Martin at all during the work. He just had him down in a nice little groove. You can see the way he's held his weight. He's just a big massive horse."
Earlier, Baffert had said Justify would be going out for a "little breeze."
As well, Gary and Mary West's Restoring Hope worked seven-eighths of a mile in 1:26 shortly after 6 a.m., with splits of 12 1/5, 25 3/5, 37 2/5, 1:01 4/5 and 1:13 4/5, then galloping out the mile in 1:40 1/5 under Florent Geroux, who will ride him in the Belmont Stakes.
Baffert said that while the $150,000 Easy Goer at 1 1/16 miles on the undercard was being considered, his first choice would be to run Restoring Hope in the Belmont Stakes. In his last start, Restoring Hope was 12th in the Grade 3 Pat Day Mile on the Derby undercard. The son of Giant's Causeway finished third in Aqueduct's Grade 2 Wood Memorial off a maiden victory at Santa Anita.
"He worked nice," Baffert said. "He's like a one-paced horse. Belmont is my first choice, because I think he can hit the board. I've always been high on him. Like in the Wood Memorial, he ran a good third there."
Co-owner Jason Loutsch said by phone on May 29 that Free Drop Billy will run in the Belmont Stakes. Albaugh Family Stables' colt had a walk day after working five-eighths of a mile in 59 3/5 seconds a day earlier with a strong gallop-out. Trainer Dale Romans, who has finished third in the Belmont Stakes four times, said after the work that he thought Free Drop Billy deserved to run but that the decision would be left up to the owners, with Loutsch both racing manager and partner in the horses with his father-in-law, Iowa industrialist and philanthropist Dennis Albaugh.
"I guess our main thing coming out of the Kentucky Derby was, obviously, we were really disappointed," said Loutsch of Free Drop Billy's 16th-place finish. "We feel he's a better horse than that, and we're going to cross that one off. We wanted to see how he bounced back after that race, and yesterday he showed us he has a lot of energy and is a happy horse. He galloped out really strong, and Dale's been really happy with his training.
"This is a huge race, a big stage, and this is what we're in the game for: to run in big races. This is a great opportunity. We know it's going to be a very tough challenge. But if we can get a piece of it, even hitting the board is a huge accomplishment, and we're excited for the opportunity."
Loutsch said it didn't take much discussion with Albaugh.
"No, no," he said. "He loves the big races. I just had to point out the pros and cons to him, try to educate him as best I could about all the circumstances. In the end, he's like, 'This horse only gets one chance to run in the Belmont. He deserves the opportunity; let's give it to him.' [Free Drop Billy's] dad [Union Rags] was a Belmont winner, and he's out of a Giant's Causeway mare. He's bred to go the distance. We just hope he runs to his breeding."
Preakness runner-up Bravazo had another lively gallop under exercise rider Danielle Rosier at Churchill Downs.
"He's had a good week," said trainer D. Wayne Lukas, a four-time Belmont Stakes winner. "Good energy, bucking and jumping during his gallops, which is kind of unusual."
Lukas said Bravazo will have one work between the Preakness and Belmont but had not decided when.
Lukas, who was on the track on his pony, got a close look at Justify's work, joking, "I tried to keep Bravazo from looking at him because I didn't want him to go off his feed and be intimidated, so we had to be careful. I told Danielle, 'When he goes by, just kind of cover that right eye.'"
Asked if Bravazo gets a close look at all the motivational signs Lukas has hanging in his barn while walking the shed row, he said more seriously, "He's actually buying into what we're doing pretty good. He's a much better horse than I took to the Preakness, I know that. He'll have to be."
Of Justify's work, Lukas said, "His efficiency of motion is so good and so effortless. That work today, I thought he could have gone in :50 the way he did it. It was just effortless, there was no effort at all. When you have that efficiency of motion like that, I think the mile and a half is well within his scope."
Winchell Thoroughbreds' Tenfold had a walk day after galloping two miles on May 28. Scott Blasi, assistant trainer to Steve Asmussen, said the Preakness Stakes third-place finisher is expected to have his one pre-Belmont work on June 2.
Post Positions for the 150th Belmont Stakes will be drawn Tuesday, June 5 at 5:30 p.m in the Foxwoods Club at Citi Field prior to the New York Mets game against the Baltimore Orioles.
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