Justify tunes up for Triple Crown try with impressive gallop

Leave a comment

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.”

Baffert sweeps Grade 1 two-year-old races at Los Alamitos

AP Images
Leave a comment

LOS ALAMITOS, Calif. — Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert swept the CashCall Futurity and Starlet for 2-year-olds, winning the Grade 1 races for the second straight year at Los Alamitos.

Improbable won the $300,345 Futurity by five lengths as the 1-5 favorite and 3-2 favorite Chasing Yesterday won the $300,345 Starlet by a head on Saturday. Drayden Van Dyke became the second jockey to win both races in the same year.

Baffert earned his fifth straight victory in the Futurity and his 11th overall, having won it six times at old Hollywood Park.

Improbable ran 1 1/16 miles in 1:41.18 and paid $2.40 to win. The colt’s ownership includes most of the group that owned Triple Crown winner Justify.

In the Starlet, Chasing Yesterday ran 1 1/16 miles in 1:42.59 and paid $5 to win. She is a half-sister to 2015 Triple Crown winner American Pharoah, also trained by Baffert.

Victor Espinoza aims for January comeback

Getty Images
Leave a comment

DEL MAR, Calif. — Hall of Fame jockey Victor Espinoza is aiming to return to riding in January, six months after he was seriously injured in a training accident.

The 46-year-old rider says he had an MRI recently and “it came out perfect.” Espinoza says he doesn’t need surgery and his spinal cord has healed “perfectly,” which was his main concern.

He fractured a vertebra in his neck at Del Mar last July when the horse he was exercising fell.

Espinoza was back at Del Mar on Saturday for the first time since the accident. He presented the trophy to the winning connections in the Grade 1 Hollywood Derby. He has been recuperating at his Del Mar home.

Espinoza says he hopes to return sometime in January at Santa Anita. The track opens its winter meet on Dec. 26.

He rode American Pharoah to a Triple Crown sweep in 2015.