Undefeated Kentucky Derby (G1) and Preakness Stakes (G1) winner JUSTIFY arrived “safe and sound” shortly after 2 p.m. (ET) at Belmont Park on Wednesday for his shot at Triple Crown glory in Saturday’s 150th Belmont Stakes (G1).
Fellow Bob Baffert trainee and Belmont hopeful RESTORING HOPE, as well as a stable pony, joined the chestnut son of Scat Daddy on the flight from Kentucky to New York. Baffert and assistant trainer Jimmy Barnes were on hand at Belmont Park to lead their charges off the van.
“He was, like, ‘Let’s get it on,'” Baffert said of Justify’s attitude upon arriving. “He didn’t get hot. Drank a lot of water when he got off. We feel pretty relieved he made this stage of the journey. He came in here safe and sound.”
Justify walked the shedrow for a half-hour, enjoyed a bath and then bedded down in the same stall occupied by American Pharoah during his successful 2015 Triple Crown bid for Baffert.
“There’s always pressure,” the Hall of Fame conditioner said. “Pharoah was a different type of horse. Pharoah loved human contact. 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.”
“This horse is strong and willing, and as long as he’s strong and willing and able, it’s up to him to get the mile-and-a-half. He started this journey just a few months ago. This horse has brought us along. We’re just riding his coattails. The talent and ability is there; he’s the same type of horse (in that respect).
“He was just dragging me around (the barn),” Baffert added. “All the horses in the barn were screaming and yelling. It’s almost as if they were greeting him.”
“I’d like to see a nice day,” he said. “Things like the weather, how the race is going to play out – I don’t really think about that.”
BRAVAZO also came from Kentucky, but took a van ride from Churchill Downs and arrived at Belmont Park on Monday. The D. Wayne Lukas-trained dark bay has acclimated well and galloped around Big Sandy on Wednesday morning.
“The trip was easy and he had a good day on the track,” Lukas said. “He just galloped and did very well. He won’t do anything of any consequence between now and the race. He’s fit. Now I just need to keep him happy the rest of the way.”
Bravazo has come the closest of any horse to beating Justify, finishing only a half-length back in second in the Preakness last out. The Awesome Again colt was sixth in the Kentucky Derby.
“He had a very good trip in the Preakness,” Lukas said. “What we would change if we could change it, to make the outcome a little better, would be to maybe move a little earlier. When Justify came off the (far) turn (at Pimlico), he moved and then we moved. If we moved when he moved we might have been able to upset him.
“The foundation, just being fit, is going to help his chances,” the Hall of Fame trainer added. “They’re all doing well; I’ve watched them all train. With the big configuration of the racetrack and the sweeping turns, we should have a good trip. I think it’ll get down to which horses have the pedigree and the stamina to finish.”
Florida Derby (G1) runner-up HOFBURG, who skipped the Preakness to ready for the Belmont following a seventh-place run in the Kentucky Derby, made the trip downstate from Saratoga on Monday and has settled in well at Belmont Park, according to trainer Bill Mott.
“We got real lucky with the weather. He had a good trip on a dry road,” Mott said. “We’ve been through the paddock and he’s good. He was on the race track this morning; wasn’t too aggressive, pretty relaxed.
“He’s very good. We went into Churchill Downs with all the hoopla in there and it didn’t seem to faze him. He stays cool and calm. He knows what he’s there for and doesn’t seem to get too overly bothered. Until the race, he’ll just have regular gallops each morning around Big Sandy.”
Grade 1 winner FREE DROP BILLY, 16th when last seen in the Kentucky Derby, joined Justify on the flight from Kentucky to New York on Wednesday. The Union Rags colt will be up close and personal with the chestnut star on Saturday, as he drew directly outside of Justify.
“There’s only limited chances to run in a race like this,” trainer Dale Romans said. “After the Derby we didn’t know what we were going to do with him, but he’s just trained so well and he’s had some good breezes since the Derby. He’s doing great and I just think he deserves a chance to run with the best. We’ll try him out one more time.
“It’s fun and exciting to be a part of something that could be historic, like when we ran third the year Pharoah won,” he added, referring to Keen Ice finishing third in the 2015 Belmont behind American Pharoah. “Just being there and a racing fan, I was glad to be a participant and feel the electricity and energy from all the people and the fans that day. It makes the whole day a little bit more special.”
Breaking from the far outside 10 post in Saturday’s Belmont will be BLENDED CITIZEN from trainer Doug O’Neill’s barn. The Proud Citizen colt galloped around the track Wednesday morning.
“Being outside helps, but it’s a long race so you have plenty of time,” assistant trainer Leandro Mora said. “It really doesn’t matter much. It’s not like the Kentucky Derby where everybody is fighting for position. We’re happy. First of all, it’s a 10-horse field, and he’s going to be the last one to load. Usually there’s less stress and pressure, and now Justify is on the inside, he got the number that nobody wanted to have. So, for us it’s good.”
Blended Citizen makes his Triple Crown debut, having captured the Peter Pan Stakes (G3) most recently on May 12 at Belmont.