Justify enjoys ‘smooth’ gallop in final Belmont drill

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NEW YORK (AP) Justify turned in another strong gallop Friday in his final preparation for a Triple Crown bid in the $1.5 million Belmont Stakes.

The chestnut colt will be the odds-on favorite Saturday to become the 13th horse to sweep the Kentucky Derby, Preakness and Belmont.

Similar to Thursday, Justify went 1 3-8 miles in what Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert calls “another smooth, good day.” He says Justify has been “moving over the track really well,” adding “this is what a trainer hopes to see the day before his horse runs.”

Baffert will be looking to saddle a second Triple Crown champion following American Pharoah in 2015.

Ron Turcotte was among those watching Justify’s final Belmont drill. Turcotte rode Secretariat to the Triple Crown in 1973 and now needs a wheelchair since a racing spill in 1978.

Victor Espinoza plans comeback in late December

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ARCADIA, Calif. — Triple Crown-winning jockey Victor Espinoza is planning a comeback in late December after fracturing a vertebra in his neck during a training accident at Del Mar.

That’s according to his agent Brian Beach, who says Friday that Espinoza saw his doctors this week and they are pleased with his progress. However, they’re not yet ready to release the 46-year-old Hall of Fame jockey to ride again.

Beach says on his Twitter account that Espinoza “wants to be 100 percent when he comes back.”

A late December return would allow Espinoza to ride at Santa Anita, which opens its winter-spring meet on Dec. 26.

Espinoza got hurt July 22 when he fell while exercising a horse.

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

Vale Dori scores upset win for Baffert in Zenyatta Stakes

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ARCADIA, Calif. (AP) Vale Dori defeated La Force by three-quarters of a length to win the $300,000 Zenyatta Stakes in an upset at Santa Anita on Sunday.

Abel Tasman, the 1-9 favorite trained by Bob Baffert, finished next-to-last, beaten 10 1/2 lengths. Vale Dori, an 11-1 shot also trained by Baffert, ran 1 1/16 miles in 1:44.88 under Joe Talamo. The Grade 1 victory earned her an automatic berth in the Breeders’ Cup Distaff at Churchill Downs on Nov. 3.

Vale Dori snapped a six-race skid.

Bettors waged $474,683 to show on Abel Tasman, who was fresh off a pair of Grade 1 victories in New York under Hall of Fame jockey Mike Smith. But she broke poorly from the starting gate and never fired.

“I’m as shocked as everybody else, but they’ll do that,” Baffert said. “I’m worried about (Abel Tasman) because Mike said she was lethargic, and she’s up there where all these sick horses are, so I hope she’s not getting sick.”

Vale Dori returned $24.60, $13.20 and $40.60. She earned $180,000, and increased her career earnings to $1,365,567.

La Force paid $8.40 and $14.60. Shenandoah Queen was another 1 1/4 lengths back in third and paid $26.60 to show.