By Dick Downey
Justify galloped a mile and a half this morning at Churchill Downs with Humberto Gomez again in the saddle. It was his third gallop since winning the Preakness last Saturday on a sloppy, foggy track at Pimlico.
“I couldn’t be happier with the way things are going,” Bob Baffert’s assistant Jimmy Barnes said. “Once again Bob told me to take it easy with him, but he’s doing really well. We backed him up a little further in the stretch to begin his gallop this morning and went a good 1 1/2 miles. You have to get Bob a lot of credit. He’s stocked the pond well every year. You have to have the horse and the horsepower to compete in these classic races. We keep coming up with them and are very lucky. You do have to pinch yourself because you don’t know if you will have it every year.”
Baffert is expected to be at Churchill Downs on Monday to watch Justify and Restoring Hope train.
Also training Saturday during the 7:30 training window for Belmont Stakes horses was Preakness runner-up Bravazo, who galloped 1 1/2 mile with exercise rider Danielle Rosier aboard for D. Wayne Lukas.
"The heat's picking up a little bit earlier in the morning now, so I want to be careful. I have to keep that energy level up," Lukas said. "I keep tweaking it every day I'm out there. But I think I'll work him one time, but I'm going to go at least 10 days and then I'll pick a day. That's the minimum. I might go 11th day, 12th day, but I'd like a cool day on a nice track. They don't lose their fitness in three weeks, especially with the heat and everything."
Preakness third finisher Tenfold galloped about 1 1/2 mile with Angel Garcia for Steve Asmussen.
"We'll do a little more with him as the week goes on, probably just breeze him one time before the race," said assistant trainer Scott Blasi. "I don't think we'll overdo it. The horse is plenty fit. He's come out of his race really well. He's starting to wake up a little bit. (The Preakness) was only his fourth lifetime start. I've seen a change in him since he came from Oaklawn, through the Preakness and until now. He's starting to show more personality, has a little more life to him, whereas before he was just very laid back. I just expect this horse to continue to improve as the year goes on. We were happy with his effort in the Preakness. I think he's just going to continue to develop."
Free Drop Billy, Restoring Hope
Other Belmont Stakes possible contenders based at Churchill Downs are Free Drop Billy and Restoring Hope.
Free Drop Billy is scheduled to breeze Sunday. Trainer Dale Romans has indicated he'll probably make a decision about the Belmont Stakes following the work.
Restoring Hope is expected to breeze Monday or Tuesday, according to Barnes. Restoring Hope last breezed on Tuesday at the track.
Blended Citizen, Gronkowski
Blended Citizen was sent out early on a tight track at Belmont Park and breezed a bullet four furlongs in 47.70 (1/35) half mile. Mike Welsch of Daily Racing Form got him in 23.60 for the first quarter-mile, then out five furlongs in 100.60, six in 115.02
“He finished up nicely without really being asked and galloped out nice,” Heather Smullen told DRF's David Grening. “On the typical track, it would have been 48 and change, 49; with it being a little bit faster, it makes it a little fast, but he did it the right way.”
"He's always worked well on the dirt," trainer Doug O'Neill said via email. "I think the blinkers (first time in the Jeff Ruby Steaks) helped him focus and not run immaturely or spotty. The blinkers also helped the rider place him in his races easier, more early speed away from the gate."
Later in the morning, Chad Brown sent out Gronkowski for his first ever breeze in the United States. He's been with Brown for over two weeks since being shipped from Jeremy Noseda's barn in England, some of that time during rainy weather when serious training was difficult.
Now that Gronkowski is acclimated, Brown is giving him two works before the Belmont. He went four furlongs in 47.99, breezing (3/35) in company with Engage, who got the same time. The out time was 100.51 for five furlongs on Welsch's watch, six furlongs in 1:13.55 per Grening's report.
Brown is expected to make a final decision about the Belmont next weekend, but for now Gronkowski is still on course. Jose Ortiz, who handled today's work, would ride Gronkowski in the Belmont.
"Not having had the horse very long, I'm limited to what I can do and what kind of training regimen I can set up," Brown said. "Based on this unique situation, I set up a plan that I feel is fair to try and get him to the race if he's fit enough and good enough. It takes a special horse to get there, and based on what I saw today, he looked good out there. I'm excited to see what he does next weekend. He came to me in outstanding condition. He's very sound and easy to transition into what we're doing here. The horse is smart and all class, he has true signs of a really good racehorse."
The Belmont Stakes field could possibly be comprised of the following 12 horses: Bandua (trainer Dermot Weld), Blended Citizen (Doug O’Neill), Bravazo (D. Wayne Lukas), Free Drop Billy (Dale Romans), Gronkowski (Chad Brown), Hofburg (Bill Mott), Justify (Baffert), Noble Indy (Todd Pletcher), Restoring Hope (Baffert), Seahenge (A. O'Brien), Tenfold (Steve Asmussen) and Vino Rosso (Pletcher).