Sidelines with John Clay

All systems go for Justify heading to Saturday's Belmont Stakes

Five days out from his bid to be the sport's 13th Triple Crown champion, Justify continues to look primed for his run at history.

The Kentucky Derby and Preakness winner was again impressive in his final work for Saturday's Belmont Stakes, covering 5 furlongs in 1:01.40 at Churchill Downs.

The son of Scat Daddy did so under the watchful eye of trainer Bob Baffert, who was pleased with the effort.

“It was a really nice breeze and exactly what we were looking for,” said Baffert, according to Churchill Downs. “He relaxed nicely and seemed very happy. Martin was very happy with him as well so I was happy, too. He was a little fresh earlier in the week so it was good to see him relax nicely.”

Baffert is expected to have two Belmont entries. Restoring Hope, who breezed 6 furlongs in 1:13 on Monday, is also expected to run. Restoring Hope finished third in the Grade 2 Wood Memorial before finishing 12th on a sloppy track in the Pat Day Mile on Kentucky Derby day.

“Restoring Hope went really well,” Baffert said. “He’s always been a really good work horse. He’s sort of a one-paced horse. He went a little faster than Justify but I thought overall the work was very good.”

Both Justify and Restoring Hope will leave Louisville for New York on Wednesday. Post time for Saturday's race at Belmont Park is scheduled for 6:46 p.m.

Mike Smith will ride Justify, who is a perfect 5-for-5 in his career. Florent Geroux will ride Restoring Hope.

“Mike, just like any other rider, has to have the horse underneath him to succeed,” Baffert said of Smith. “A good rider’s job is to keep the horse out of trouble and make split-second decisions if he needs to. Really the biggest part of the race is breaking cleanly from the gate. With Pharoah, he broke about 1 length slower than the field. It could’ve been a bad situation but he got into a good position early. After the gate break, you just have to see how the race plays out.”

Tenfold, who finished third in the Preakness for trainer Steve Asmussen, breezed 5 furlongs in 1:01.60 on Saturday at Churchill Downs. He is scheduled to ship to New York on Tuesday.

Free Drop Billy, trained by Dale Romans, worked 5 furlongs in :59.20 on Sunday at Churchill. He is scheduled to be on the same flight for New York with Justify and Restoring Hope on Wednesday morning.

Bravazo, who finished second in the Preakness, was to van to New York on Monday for trainer D. Wayne Lukas, who has won the Belmont four times — 1994 with Tabasco Cat; 1995 with Thunder Gulch; 1996 with Editor's Note and 2000 with Commendable. Baffert has won the Belmont twice, in 2001 with Point Given and 2015 with Triple Crown winner American Pharoah.

According to Dave Grening of the Daily Racing Form, Calumet Farm said over the weekend that Bandua will be pointed toward the June 30 Irish Derby. He had been under consideration for the Belmont.

The Belmont Stakes draw is scheduled for Tuesday at 5:30 p.m. at Citi Field on Long Island.

Video of Bob Baffert courtesy of JR Communications and NYRA.

Belmont Stakes possibles


HorseTrainerLast out
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
SeahengeAidan O'Brien7th in Pat Day Mile
TenfoldSteve Asmussen3rd in Preakness
Vino RossoTodd Pletcher9th in Kentucky Derby


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