Workouts That Just May Work Out For You: Justify Ready After Final Belmont Work; Restoring Hope Cranks It Up; McCraken Impressive, Too — More Quotes Added

(Restoring Hope works at Churchill Downs this morning / Photo by Holly M. Smith)

Every day, we scour the work tabs at racetracks all over the country.  We are looking for workouts that may be of interest and helpful to you — as both race fans and handicappers.  Some of the horses we will be tracking, you will know.  Some of them, you may not know — as of yet.  We will keep a keen eye and stopwatch to see who may be working their best and ready for a key race.  Here is a look at today’s top works:

  1. Justify, the undefeated winner of both the Kentucky Derby and the Preakness Stakes and now set to attempt to become the next Triple Crown winner this Saturday, got his last work in preparation for the 11/2-mile Belmont Stakes this Saturday. On Monday morn, the son of Scat Daddy went 5 furlongs over the Churchill Downs’ main dirt surface in an easy-as-can-be 1:01.40. That was the 8th best time out of 14, and now sets the colt up perfectly for the attempt at history. American Pharoah, the last Triple Crown winner and one of the all-time greats trained by Bob Baffert, took the exact same course through the Triple Crown run as has Justify. After winning the Kentucky Derby, Pharoah trained at Churchill Downs the entire time before being shipped to each of the other venues for the race itself. Justify has duplicated that trend. In addition, American Pharoah also worked five furlongs on the Monday before the Belmont, just like Justify did today. In Pharoah’s case, he went the 5 furlongs distance in a time of 1:00.20, and galloped out six furlongs in 1:13. “He’s (Justify) become a rock star like Pharoah. Let’s see if he can do it,” Baffert said. From the Media Team at Churchill Downs:“It was a really nice breeze and exactly what we were looking for,” Baffert said. “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.”

    Immediately following Justify’s work, stablemate and fellow Belmont Stakes contender, Restoring Hope, breezed six furlongs in 1:13 under jockey Florent Geroux (splits: :12.60, :24.40, :36.20, :48.40 and 1:00.20 with a gallop out of 1:26.40).

    “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.”

    Justify and Restoring Hope are scheduled to make the two-hour flight to New York on Wednesday from Louisville and will leave Churchill Downs’ Barn 33 between 8-8:30 a.m.

    Only 12 horses have swept the Triple Crown: Sir Barton (1919), Gallant Fox(1930), Omaha (1935), War Admiral(1937), Whirlaway (1941), Count Fleet(1943), Assault (1946), Citation(1948),Secretariat (1973), Seattle Slew (1977), Affirmed (1978) and, most recently, the Baffert-trained American Pharoah (2015).

    “I think the Triple Crown brings a lot more people into the game,” Baffert said. “It also brings a lot of new owners. I saw a lot of new faces in the game after Pharoah won the Triple Crown. It’s no walk in the park to win but it’s very important to our sport when we have a Triple Crown possibility on the line.”

    Regular jockey Mike Smith is scheduled to ride Justify in the Belmont Stakes while Geroux has the call on Restoring Hope.

    “Mike, just like any other rider, has to have the horse underneath him to succeed,” Baffert said. “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 one 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.”

  2. Ax Man, a teammate of Justify’s and yet another star from the barn of Team Baffert, worked on Monday morning at Churchill Downs, as well. The son of Misremembered breezed 5 furlongs faster than his more publicized and glorified stablemate, Justify. Ax Man went the distance in 1:00.80, which was the 5th best time of the day. This one has three wins in four starts this year, and is coming off an easy, front-running victory in the LARC Sir Barton Stakes on the Preakness Stakes Day undercard. Fast as can be.
  3. McCraken, a talented son of Ghostzapper and trained by Ian Wilkes, tuned up for his next run in the Met Mile this weekend with a breeze this morning at Churchill Downs. He went an easy half mile in :48.80, which was the 7th best time. Now a 4YO colt, McCraken made his 2018 debut at Churchill Downs with an easy and impressive victory in allowance company at a mile’s distance. His connections have a huge 2018 campaign mapped out for this guy, whose only loss at Churchill Downs came in the 2017 Kentucky Derby — when he was injured leaving the gate. We caught up with Ian Wilkes a bit after the work. He said “all good,” and that they would leave for New York — the city so nice they named it twice — on Wednesday. All the best to this colt and camp. Ian Wilkes is one of the nicest people you will ever meet, and he trains horses the same way that he treats other people — with class, dignity, and professionalism par excellence.
  4. Sir Truebadour, a 2YO colt by More Than Ready and trained by Steve Asmussen, will make his next start in the Tremont Stakes at Belmont Park this coming Friday. The colt has made only one start to date, but he made it an impressive winning one at Churchill Downs. Today, he tuned up with an easy 3-furlong blowout in :38.20. That was the 17th best time out of 22 to go that distance.
  5. Bee Jersey, another colt from the barn of Asmussen, has been so impressive of late. He has ripped off three straight wins this year, the latest coming impressively in the G3 Steve Sexton Mile at Lone Star Park on May 6. He worked this morning at Churchill Downs, going a half mile in an easy :49.40. That was the 18th best time out of 39 to go that far.
  6. Title Ready, another son of More Than Ready in the barn of Asmussen, worked at Churchill Downs this morning. This one tried the Derby Trail earlier this year, but after running fourth in the Rebel Stakes, he was pointed elsewhere. He has since come back to run fourth in the Northern Spur Stakes at Oaklawn Park, and, most recently, a second to the brilliant Ax Man in the Sir Barton at Pimlico. He went a maintenance half mile in :53.60. That was 37th of 39.
  7. Cosmic Burst, a 3YO filly by Violence and trained by Donnie K. Von Hemel, worked this morning at Churchill Downs. She went 5 furlongs in 1:02.20. That was 12th out of 15 to go that far. This one hasn’t run since finishing 4th in the G3 Fantasy Stakes at Oaklawn Park on April 13. Before that, though, she won the G3 Honeybee Stakes with an impressive victory over Amy’s Challenge, Sassy Sienna, and Red Ruby. In her career to date, she has put up a stellar record of 4-1-1 in 7 lifetime starts. Keep an eye on this beauty.
  8. Lookin at Lee, runner-up to Always Dreaming in the 2017 Kentucky Derby, got his first win since winning the Ellis Park Juvenile Stakes way back on Aug. 6, 2016 when he won an allowance at Churchill Downs on Derby Day. Trainer Steve Asmussen changed his running style that day, putting the son of Lookin at Lucky on the lead. And, the new strategy worked for the former deep closer. He breezed 5 furlongs on Monday in 1:01.20. That was the 8th best time out of the 15.
  9. Kowboy Karma, a 3YO colt by Kodiak Kowboy and trained by J. Larry Jones, has not won a race since he captured the Strike Your Colors Stakes at Delaware Park last August. That was the second win in a row to start his career. Since then, he has been very competitive, but not back in the winner’s circle. He ran 2nd in the Sapling Stakes; fourth in the G1 Champagne; and second in the James F. Lewis Stakes to finish up the 2YO campaign. He started 2018 with a 5th in the G3 LeComte — behind Instilled Regard (4th in this year’s KY Derby at a huge price). He most recently ran a game second in an allowance at Keeneland. He looked super impressive this morning at Churchill Downs, churning out 5 furlongs in a bullet time of :59.40. Look for this one’s return to the races soon. Looks sharp now.
  10. Restoring Hope, a son of Giant’s Causeway who trainer Bob Baffert has said he will also enter for Saturday’s Belmont Stakes, worked 6 furlongs at Churchill Downs today. He went the distance in 1:13 flat. That was the only time of the day at the distance. This highly touted 3YO had a win, a second and two thirds going into the G3 Pat Day Mile on Derby Day. Including in that mix was a third to Vino Rosso in the G2 Wood Memorial. But he obviously didn’t like the slop he encountered at Churchill Downs on Derby Day. He ran 12th in that event. Now, he will get a chance to match strides with his stablemate — Justify — in the Belmont.

The trainer told me to go to the lead and hold on. When I asked my horse, he just took off again. He was impressive today. He ran the whole race. He broke great and was ready, the trainer was right.”

Irad Ortiz, Jr., winning rider on Promises Fulfilled
  • Gene McLean

    Gene McLean

    Gene McLean began his professional career in 1977 as a sportswriter and columnist for the Lexington Herald-Leader in Lexington, Ky., and was recognized as one of the state’s best writers, winning the prestigious “Sportswriter of the Year” honor in 1985. Now the President and Publisher of The Pressbox, McLean sets ...

    Full Bio >

More From Gene McLean