Justify tunes up for Triple Crown try with impressive gallop

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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.”

What to know about the 145th running of the Kentucky Derby

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The Kentucky Derby is one of the most iconic sporting events in the world. Every year, millions of fans tune into NBC to watch top race horses from around the globe compete in “The Most Exciting Two Minutes In Sports.”

What is the Kentucky Derby? The Kentucky Derby, run the first Saturday in May, is one of the most well known Grade 1 Thoroughbred stakes races in the world. First run in 1875, this 1 1/4 mile–or 10 furlongs–race kicks off the American Triple Crown of horse racing.

When and where is the 2019 Kentucky Derby? The 145th running of the Kentucky Derby is on Saturday, May 4, 2019 with a post time of 6:50 p.m. ET.

The Derby is run on the dirt track at Churchill Downs in Louisville, Kentucky, where it has been held since its inaugural running in 1875.

How can I watch the 2019 Kentucky Derby? NBC is home to the 145th Kentucky Derby, providing comprehensive race coverage and analysis live on TV and NBCSports.com before, during and after. NBC will also broadcast the 2019 Preakness Stakes and 2019 Belmont Stakes.

How are horses picked for the Derby? Only 3-year-old Thoroughbreds can qualify for the Kentucky Derby. Eligible horses compete in the Race to the Kentucky Derby, a series of 35 races around the world. Horses win points for finishing in the top four spots, and the 20 horses with the most points at the end of the series gain entry into the Derby.

Who won the 2018 Kentucky Derby? WinStar Farm’s colt Justify, trained by Bob Baffert and ridden by Mike Smith, won the 144th Kentucky Derby. He went on to win the Preakness Stakes and the Belmont Stakes, becoming the 13th horse ever to win the Triple Crown.

What are the biggest Kentucky Derby traditions? Bold formal outfits for both men and women are synonymous with the Kentucky Derby. Celebrities and fans a like go all out, donning creative and colorful hats, bright colors and wild patterns. In fact, hats and outfits are such a big part of the Kentucky Derby that the Derby Museum has a whole exhibit for the most lavished fashions.

The Mint Julep, made with Kentucky bourbon, is the signature drink of the Derby, and Kentucky’s state song “My Old Kentucky Home” is played during the pre-race post parade. After the race, the champion horse is given the iconic garland of roses in the winner’s circle.

What else is there to do during Derby Weekend? The Kentucky Oaks is a Grade 1 stakes race held annually the day before the Kentucky Derby. The Oaks has the same 3-year-old restriction as the Derby but is for fillies only. Additionally, there is a week of events at Churchill Downs, and the month-long Kentucky Derby Festival celebrated across Louisville.

Jockey Craig Perret among nine finalists for HOF

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SARATOGA SPRINGS, N.Y. — Jockey Craig Perret, trainers Mark Casse, Christophe Clement and David Whiteley, and five thoroughbreds are contemporary finalists for the National Museum of Racing’s 2019 Hall of Fame ballot.

The racehorses are Blind Luck, Gio Ponti, Havre de Grace, Rags to Riches and Royal Delta.

Results of the voting on the contemporary candidates will be announced April 22. All candidates that receive majority approval of the voting panel will be elected to the Hall of Fame.

The hall’s induction ceremony will be held Aug. 2 in Saratoga Springs.