Sidelines with John Clay

Sizzling work shows Justify ready and willing for Belmont Stakes

Jockey Martin Garcia worked Triple Crown hopeful Justify at Churchill Downs on Tuesday.
Jockey Martin Garcia worked Triple Crown hopeful Justify at Churchill Downs on Tuesday. AP

After Justify beat Bravazo by just a half-length to win the foggy Preakness Stakes on May 19, I was ready to predict the Kentucky Derby winner would come up short in his bid to be the 13th member of horse racing's Triple Crown club. Now, I'm not so sure.

That isn't just because Audible, a possible prime Belmont Stakes contender, will not run in the June 9 race. It’s also because of the sizzling workout Justify turned in Tuesday morning at Churchill Downs.

The son of Scat Daddy covered 4 furlongs in a brisk :46 ⅘ under the watchful eye of trainer Bob Baffert, who had flown in from California to see Justify gallop Monday.

“What we saw today was pretty incredible,” Baffert told the media gathered for the Derby winner’s first work since the Preakness win.

The work was the fastest of 43 over that distance at Churchill on Tuesday morning. Justify may breeze again next week before leaving Louisville for New York on June 6.

Baffert compared the work to the one American Pharoah did at Churchill after winning the 2015 Derby and Preakness. Pharoah went on to win the Belmont and become the sport’s first Triple Crown winner in 37 years.

“American Pharoah looked like that,” said Baffert, according to Churchill Downs. “That’s what you want to see with another week to go before the Belmont. He looked really good and in great shape. He’s moving forward and held his weight for being a massive horse. I went to see Pharoah yesterday. He got really big and I was really emotional when I was there. I asked him if it was OK if another horse broke his record and he didn’t seem to have a problem with it.”

Meanwhile, Free Drop Billy appears to be a go for the Belmont. Trained by Dale Romans, the son of 2012 Belmont champ Union Rags finished third in the Toyota Blue Grass Stakes on April 7 before running 16th in the Kentucky Derby.

Free Drop Billy is training at Churchill Downs along with other Belmont hopefuls Bravazo, Restoring Hope and Tenfold.

As of now, it appears there could be as many as 11 horses in the Belmont — Justify, Bravazo, Blended Citizen, Free Drop Billy, Restoring Hope, Tenfold, Gronkowski, Vino Rosso, Noble Indy, Hofburg and Bandua.

Restoring Hope is also trained by Baffert. A son of Giant's Causeway, he finished third in the Wood Memorial, won by Vino Rosso, before running 12th on a sloppy track in the Pat Day Mile.

Owned by Calumet Farm and trained by Dermot Weld, Bandua has won a pair of races on the turf at Ireland's Cork Race Course. Weld won the 1990 Belmont with Go And Go. A representative from Calumet told Horse Racing Nation that the son of The Factor was an "outside possibility" to run in the Belmont.

Belmont Stakes possibles

HorseTrainerLast out
BanduaDermot Weld1st in Ireland race
Blended CitizenDoug O'Neill1st in Peter Pan
BravazoD. Wayne Lukas2nd in Preakness
Free Drop BillyDale Romans16th in Kentucky Derby
GronkowskiChad Brown1st in Burradon Stakes
HofburgBill Mott7th in Kentucky Derby
JustifyBob Baffert1st in Preakness
Noble IndyTodd Pletcher17th in Kentucky Derby
Restoring HopeBob Baffert12th in Pat Day Mile
TenfoldSteve Asmussen3rd in Preakness
Vino RossoTodd Pletcher9th in Kentucky Derby