Grade 1 hero FREE DROP BILLY, who finished 16th when last seen in the Kentucky Derby (G1) on May 5, breezed a bullet five furlongs in :59.20 over Churchill Downs’ fast main track on Sunday in advance of the 150th Belmont Stakes (G1) at Belmont Park on June 9.
Regular exercise rider Juan Segundo guided the Dale Romans pupil through his final major work ahead of the third jewel of the Triple Crown. Free Drop Billy recorded splits of :11.60, :23, :34.40 and :46.80 before galloping out six furlongs in 1:12.80.
“He worked really well today,” Romans said. “He did it all on his own and worked fast, galloped out strong and looks healthy and happy walking back. I wanted him to run along, stretch his lungs a little bit but (there was) no time that we had to have. But it looked perfect. He had a lot of horse, and he did it easy on his own. It was fast but under control.
“I don’t think he got over the track well at all in the Derby,” the trainer continued. “I think he’s coming into the (Belmont) a better horse than when he faced Justify in the Derby. He’s been really training well in the lead-up to the Belmont and today was not any different.
“The Belmont is unique for every horse because they are testing 1 1/2 miles. It will be the only time they’ll ever do this in their entire career. It’s new for every horse. Obviously pedigree is a part of the puzzle in this picture. Free Drop seems like he can run all day so he should be able to handle the distance.”
Undefeated Kentucky Derby and Preakness Stakes (G1) winner JUSTIFY galloped 1 1/2 miles at Churchill with regular exercise rider Humberto Gomez aboard on Sunday, one day before he’s scheduled to breeze for the Belmont Stakes.
“It was another perfect day of training,” assistant trainer Jimmy Barnes said. “We’re very fortunate he has not had a bad day of training. He’s simply a pleasure to be around. If it’s meant to be, we can win the Belmont.”
Justify is going for a Triple Crown sweep in the “Test of the Champion” at Belmont Park. He’s trained by Bob Baffert, who conditioned American Pharoah to end the 37-year Triple Crown drought in 2015.
Baffert is scheduled to be on hand Monday for Justify’s final major Belmont move, which is set for the 7:30-7:30 a.m. (ET) special training period Churchill has set aside for horses readying for the third jewel of the Triple Crown. Martin Garcia is supposed to arrive from California to work the chestnut son of Scat Daddy.
Justify’s stablemate RESTORING HOPE, also headed to the Belmont Stakes, galloped 1 1/2 miles with Humberto Gomez in the irons on Sunday. The Grade 2-placed son of Giant’s Causeway is scheduled to work on Monday as well, but with Belmont jockey Florent Geroux aboard.
Monday will be the final day fans can watch Justify and his fellow Belmont Stakes hopefuls train in person at Churchill Downs ahead of the third jewel of the Triple Crown. Fans can watch during the special period at Churchill from the first floor of the facility free of charge. The track will open its Paddock Gate entrance between 7-8 a.m. and guests may 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, and those unable to attend can watch an online live stream of the daily exercises with commentary at KentuckyDerby.com/Works from 7:20-7:45 a.m., thanks to TwinSpires.com.
Though Monday will be the final day for public viewing, the special training hours will continue on Tuesday as Free Drop Billy is expected to jog. Free Drop Billy, Justify and Restoring Hope are scheduled to fly to New York on Wednesday morning and will leave the grounds at approximately 8-8:30 a.m., according to Director of the Stable Area Steve Hargrave.
Grade 2 scorer and Preakness runner-up BRAVAZO galloped about 1 1/2 miles under regular exercise rider Danielle Rosier on Sunday for trainer D. Wayne Lukas. The dark bay son of Awesome Again is set to van to New York on Monday, leaving at approximately 3:30 a.m. with Lukas riding shot gun.
“He had another good day,” Lukas said, adding of his expected Belmont rivals, “They all look good. That’s the problem.”
Lightly raced Preakness third-placer TENFOLD walked the shedrow of Barn 38 on Sunday for trainer Steve Asmussen. The Curlin sophomore breezed five furlongs on Saturday in 1:01.60 over Churchill’s fast dirt ahead of the Belmont Stakes.
The Winchell Thoroughbreds homebred is scheduled to gallop on Monday and fly from Kentucky to New York on Tuesday morning, leaving Churchill Downs between 10:30-11 a.m.
The field for the 2018 Belmont Stakes will be drawn Tuesday evening. The Dermot Weld-trained Bandua was touted as heading to the “Test of the Champion” but DRF’s David Grening reported Sunday the gray sophomore is targeting the Irish Derby (Ire-G1) on June 30 at the Curragh.
Now expected to show up for the Belmont Stakes are (in alphabetical order with jockeys): Blended Citizen (Kyle Frey), Bravazo (Luis Saez), Free Drop Billy (Robby Albarado), Gronkowski (Jose Ortiz), Hofburg (Irad Ortiz Jr.), Justify (Mike Smith), Noble Indy (Javier Castellano), Restoring Hope (Florent Geroux), Seahenge (Ryan Moore), Tenfold (Ricardo Santana Jr.) and Vino Rosso (John Velazquez).