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.”

Hall of Fame jockey Javier Castellano rides 5,000th winner

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NEW YORK — Javier Castellano won consecutive races to give the Hall of Fame jockey his 5,000th career victory in North America.

The 41-year-old rider won the $200,000 Mohawk aboard Offering Plan in the third race at Belmont Park on Saturday and followed up in the next race aboard Runaway Lute in the $150,000 Hudson to reach the milestone.

Castellano is the 34th jockey in North American history to reach 5,000 wins.

He began his career in his native Venezuela in 1996 before moving to the U.S. a year later and riding his first winner at Calder in Florida.

Castellano is a four-time Eclipse Award winner as the nation’s top jockey. He won the Preakness in 2006 and 2016 and has notched eight Breeders’ Cup victories.

Best Solution, Northern Ireland jockey win Caulfield Cup

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MELBOURNE, Australia — Godolphin stable’s Best Solution won the Caulfield Cup in a photo finish ahead of American-bred Homesman, with The Cliffsofmoher finishing third on Saturday in the 2,400-meter race.

Ridden by Pat Cosgrave of Northern Ireland, Best Solution recovered from a bad start to follow Taj Mahal at 600 meters to go and hold on for the Group One win.

Cosgrave was later suspended by race stewards for 11 meetings for a careless riding charge.

The jockey decided to take his suspension immediately, which means he will miss the Cox Plate, another major lead-up race to the Melbourne Cup, Australia’s richest and most prestigious race on Nov. 6 at Flemington.

Cosgrave plans to ride in Dubai on Nov. 3 before returning to Melbourne to again partner Best Solution in the Melbourne Cup.

Cosgrave pleaded guilty to the charge that he allowed Best Solution to shift in near the 1,800-meter mark of the Caulfield Cup, tightening Japanese runner Sole Impact.

Japanese rider Ryusei Sakai was also suspended for causing interference at the same point of the Caulfield Cup when he too shifted ground when not clear. He was suspended for 11 meetings and is able to ride again on Oct. 31.

The victory gave trainer Saeed bin Suroor and Godolphin their second Caulfield Cup after All The Good won in 2008.

Pre-race favorite Kings Will Dream had a bad start to drop a couple of lengths and never recovered, finishing sixth after being caught in traffic.