NEW YORK – Triple Crown contender Justify glided over the track in his first trip over the Belmont Park strip on Thursday morning.
The strapping chestnut colt is the odds-on favorite to complete the series sweep on Saturday in the $1.5 million Belmont Stakes following victories in the Kentucky Derby and the Preakness.
Justify arrived here Wednesday afternoon after a flight from Kentucky. Bob Baffert, his Hall of Fame trainer, was delighted with how well the horse handled the shipping and the unfamiliar surroundings on an overcast morning.
“He looked like he was getting over it really well,” Baffert said after the gallop. “It looked like he was happy. He was a little aggressive, a little fresh. He couldn’t have looked any better.”
Justify went 1 3/8 miles, keen and eager as he flashed by the grandstand.
Baffert said he omitted the customary ear plugs, which might have put Justify slightly on edge. The plugs will be back in for a final gallop on Friday. Justify uses them only for training, not racing.
Baffert has decided against schooling Justify in the paddock or the starting gate.
“Everywhere he’s gone, it’s like he’s been there before,” Baffert said. “He went around there today like he’s been here. He’s a very intelligent horse.”
The Belmont is the longest of the Triple Crown races at 1+ miles over a demanding surface known as “Big Sandy”.
That shouldn’t be a problem for Justify, according to Baffert.
“We’ve been training over a deep and tiring track in California,” he said. “My horses, when they come here, just float over this. It was really nice.”
With a Belmont victory, Justify would be the 13th Triple Crown winner, and the second conditioned by Baffert. He took the Crown with American Pharoah in 2015.
Mike Smith was also impressed. Smith, who rides Justify on Saturday, watched as exercise rider Humberto Gomez was aboard for the gallop.
“He looked very nice going over the ground, looks really good,” Smith said. “He should like the track.”