Preakness Stakes (G1) third-placer TENFOLD posted his final major move ahead of the 150th Belmont Stakes (G1) on Saturday at Churchill Downs, breezing five furlongs in 1:01.60 over the fast main track with regular exercise rider Angel Garcia in the irons.
The Steve Asmussen-trained son of Curlin clocked splits of :12.60, :25.20, :37.20 and :49.20. Tenfold galloped out three-quarters in 1:15 and seven furlongs in 1:28.80, according to Churchill Downs clocker John Nichols.
“I thought Tenfold worked really nicely today,” Asmussen said. “He gets over the racetrack well, and we’re obviously very excited about his chances in the Belmont. The horse is in a really nice rhythm right now. I feel he’s 100 percent and really like his state of mind going into this.
“He’s always been very talented. He’s a lightly raced horse. He’s had four lifetime races now. I think his Preakness solidified his quality. The fact that he has continued to train well since has a lot of people talking about him that weren’t before. He went into the Preakness the longest shot on the board (at 26-1), and I don’t think that will happen in the Belmont.”
The dark bay colt captured his initial two starts at Oaklawn Park to open his career this year, then finished fifth while making his stakes bow in the Arkansas Derby (G1) on April 14. The Winchell Thoroughbreds homebred showed up for the Preakness Stakes last out, rallying strongly for third while beaten only a neck for second and three parts of a length for the win.
“We were three-quarters of a length from where we needed to be in the Preakness,” Asmussen said. “His best races are ahead of him. I think he deserves the opportunity in the Belmont Stakes.
“I have nothing but respect for the field, not just Justify. It’s a very respectable field with a lot of ability. I think Tenfold is very talented and getting better at the right time.”
“We’d love to be a (Triple Crown) spoiler,” owner Ron Winchell said. “Obviously we’d love to see a Triple Crown winner from the perspective of somebody who loves horse racing, but you have to earn those positions. Triple Crown races are something for me, growing up, we were always kind of chasing Derbys, chasing classic races and never able to get one. So what would it mean? It’s huge. It’s something I’ve chased my whole life.”
Tenfold is the first registered foal out of the Tapit mare Temptress, who is a half-sister to Grade 3 hero Donegal Moon. His third dam is champion turf mare Possibly Perfect and this is the same female family as Grade 1-winning millionaire Eddington, who also finished third in the 2004 Preakness prior to filling the fourth spot in the 1 1/2-mile Belmont Stakes next out.
“Distance is well within his capabilities,” Winchell said. “We’ve got it on both sides of his pedigree.
“I’ve had a lot of success with Curlin and Tapit offsprings,” Asmussen added. “They’ve also done very well in the last four or five runnings of the Belmont Stakes. Even though he’s lightly raced, I think Tenfold is very talented and getting better at the right time.”
Undefeated Kentucky Derby (G1) and Preakness Stakes winner JUSTIFY visited the fast main track at Churchill Downs on Saturday morning, galloping 1 1/2 miles under exercise rider Humberto Gomez as he readies for the third jewel of the Triple Crown at Belmont Park on June 9.
“He went good again. Every day has been a good training day for us,” assistant trainer Jimmy Barnes said. “He was full of energy. Very happy. He goes over the track very nice. It’s nice and quiet out there. It’s good for us to train like that. It makes it much easier for us when there are just a few horses out there.
“He’s looking good. Today was his normal training. We didn’t do much (Friday) and came off a walk day and a jog day, so I expected him to be pretty happy. He was his professional self today.”
The chestnut son of Scat Daddy will gallop again on Sunday and is scheduled to breeze Monday when trainer Bob Baffert arrives in Kentucky from his Southern California base.
“He’ll have one more gallop day tomorrow and I’ll let Bob take over and do his thing,” Barnes said.
Justify’s stablemate RESTORING HOPE, who is also headed to the “Test of the Champion,” galloped 1 1/2 miles on Saturday with Gomez aboard.
“Restoring hope is also doing good,” Barnes said. “He galloped well this morning and has been training forwardly.”
Like Justify, Restoring Hope is set to breeze on Monday. Both horses are scheduled to fly to New York Wednesday.
Also galloping under the Twin Spires on Saturday morning was Grade 1 victor FREE DROP BILLY, who finished 16th in the Kentucky Derby last out. The Dale Romans pupil covered 1 1/2 miles with Juan Segundo holding the reins, and is scheduled to work Sunday morning during Churchill’s special 7:30-7:40 a.m. training period reserved for horses readying for the Belmont Stakes.
Grade 2 scorer BRAVAZO, sixth in the Kentucky Derby but only a half-length back in second in the Preakness most recently, jogged two miles under Danielle Rosier on Saturday. The D. Wayne Lukas trainee had a walk day on Friday following a one-mile breeze on Thursday in 1:42.60 at Churchill.
“I watched some of those others go, and my stomach’s aching a little bit,” Lukas joked. “Boy, Tenfold galloped out pretty. I thought he looked terrific. I don’t know why I go out there and get a stomach ache, subject myself to that stuff, don’t sleep worrying about it. Good thing I don’t see them all.
“The gray area is we’re going to change the game,” he added on a more serious note. “We’re going to change the field, we’re going to change the configuration of the racetrack and change the distance. The distance, I think, is the big factor.
“None of us knows (how the runners will handle 1 1/2 miles). I think Tenfold is going to waltz around there. I think Bravazo will. I think Hofburg will; Vino Rosso will go around there. I think there are horses that have it in their scope. But they’ve got to do it. You got to go out there and show it to somebody. (Justify) has to do it, too. They all will run a mile and a half – some a little faster than others.”
The Hall of Fame conditioner believes one of Justify’s more formidable aspects is his ability to dictate the pace.
“He dominates the race,” Lukas said. “He’ll decide what the first half-mile is going to be, for sure. I think from the start to the quarter-pole, I think Justify tells us what is going to go on. I think he’s going to do whatever he wants. He’s like the gorilla in the room. Where is he going to sit? Wherever he wants.
“After that, it may be a different story. It’s a great superfecta, with so many different scenarios. You can make a superfecta bet up and say, ‘Whoa, I can’t leave that one out.'”
The field for the 2018 Belmont Stakes will be drawn Tuesday evening. Expected to show up in the drawing are (in alphabetical order with jockeys): Bandua (TBD), 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).