Justify Arrives Safely at Belmont Park

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4:28 pm

Bites Baffert

Following an uneventful flight, Kentucky Derby and Preakness winner Justify arrived safe and sound at Belmont Park shortly after 2:00 p.m. Wednesday.

Justify was accompanied on the one hour, 46-minute Tex Sutton charter flight from Louisville, Kentucky to Islip MacArthur Airport by fellow Belmont Stakes entrant and stablemate Restoring Hope and a stable pony, was led off the van by assistant trainer Jim Barnes and trainer Bob Baffert. After walking around the barn for a half-hour or so, the rangy chestnut colt was given a sponge bath and bedded down in the same stall as 2015 Triple Crown winner American Pharoah, also trained by Baffert.

Baffert said Justify, the 4-5 favorite over nine opponents in the 1 1/2-mile Belmont, the final and longest leg of the Triple Crown, signaled his readiness for his task on Saturday the minute he stepped off the van.

"He was, like, 'Let's get it on,'" said the trainer.

"He didn't get hot. Drank a lot of water when he got off," he added. "We feel pretty relieved he made this stage of the journey. He came in here safe and sound. He was just dragging me around there. All the horses in the barn were screaming and yelling. It's almost as if they were greeting him."

Baffert, who had three Triple Crown near-misses before American Pharoah became the first horse in 37 years to win all three races, said he felt as confident in Justify's ability to complete the sweep.

"There's always pressure," he said. "Pharoah was a different type of horse. This horse is strong and willing, and as long as he's strong and willing and able, it's up to him to get the mile-and-a-half.

"He started this journey just a few months ago. This horse has brought us along. We're just riding his coattails. The talent and ability is there; he's the same type of horse."

Baffert said the big difference between American Pharoah and Justify is their personalities.

"Pharoah loved human contact," said Baffert. "This guy will let you love on him for about four seconds, and that's it. He bit me when I was walking him around."

Baffert added he got a text from his 13-year-old son, Bode, saying there would be some rain on Belmont Stakes Day. Justify won the Kentucky Derby and Preakness over sloppy racetracks.

"I'd like to see a nice day," said Baffert. "Things like the weather, how the race is going to play out - I don't really think about that."

The trainer said Justify, who is owned in partnership by China Horse Club, WinStar Farm, Head of Plains Partners and Starlight Racing and who will be ridden on Saturday by 52-year-old Hall of Fame jockey Mike Smith, would go out to Belmont Park's main track to train after the renovation break at 8:45 a.m.

The excitement level, said Baffert, will be the same as it was for American Pharoah.

"American Pharoah brought a lot of excitement to the sport,'' he said. "[As a sports fan] you want to see the Golden State Warriors, you want to see Steph Curry ... you want to see the superstars."

Edited NYRA release