Racing enthusiasts are eagerly looking ahead to the June 9 Belmont Stakes when Justify goes for Triple Crown glory. Super J will be trying to become the 13th Thoroughbred in history to sweep the Kentucky Derby, Preakness Stakes and Belmont.
In Justify’s first recorded workout since the May 19 Preakness, he effortlessly zipped four furlongs Tuesday in :46.80 at Churchill Downs. He was timed galloping out five furlongs in :59.60, according to Churchill Downs clocker John Nichols. Justify’s trainer, Bob Baffert, was on hand for the drill.
“I’m really happy,” Baffert was quoted as saying in the Churchill Downs barn notes. “It’s what you want to see…American Pharoah looked like that.”
Justify’s workout came 10 days after the Preakness. In 2015, 10 days after American Pharoah won the Preakness, he worked four furlongs at Churchill in :48.00. Six days later on June 1, American Pharoah worked five furlongs at Churchill in 1:00.20. And then on June 6, American Pharoah won the Belmont by 5 1/2 lengths to end a 37-year Triple Crown drought.
In 1973, Secretariat won the Belmont to end a 25-year Triple Crown drought. Secretariat, like American Pharoah, had two recorded workouts between the Preakness and Belmont.
Eight days after Secretariat won the Preakness, he worked six furlongs in 1:12.20 at Belmont Park. Just five days after that, Secretariat had a sizzling mile workout at Belmont. It was so fast that many wondered if perhaps it was too fast.
On June 1, Secretariat worked one mile in 1:34.80. The track record at that time for one mile on Belmont’s main track was 1:34.40.
In the book “Big Red of Meadow Stable: Secretariat, the Making of a Champion,” William Nack quoted Secretariat’s trainer, Lucien Laurin, as saying of the 1:34.80 workout: “He went faster than I really wanted. But he did it so easily that I am very pleased.”
Nack went on to note that after Secretariat’s 1:34 and change workout, “there were murmurs from other trainers at the track that Laurin had worked his horse too fast.”
Eight days after Secretariat’s 1:34 and change drill, he won the 1 1/2-mile Belmont by 31 lengths in 2:24 to obliterate Gallant Man’s track record set in 1957 by 2 3/5 seconds. Many regard Secretariat’s Belmont to be the greatest performance in the history of American racing.
JUSTIFY HAS BEEN UNSTOPPABLE
No horse has been able to stop Justify so far. Even the calendar has been no match for this grand equine athlete. Nobody who makes his first career start so late in the game as Feb. 18 is supposed to win the Kentucky Derby on the first Saturday in May. But Super J did it. He ended a streak of 135 straight Kentucky Derby winners who had raced as a 2-year-old. The only other horse to win the roses at 3 without having raced at 2 was Apollo in 1882.
Justify also became first horse in more than 100 years to win the Kentucky Derby when having previously raced at only one track. Prior to the Run for the Roses, Justify had made each of his three career starts at Santa Anita Park. The last horse to do this was the great filly Regret, whose three career starts before the Kentucky Derby had all been at Saratoga the year before.
Additionally, Justify became just the third horse to ever win the Kentucky Derby having made three or fewer career starts. The only two to do it previously were the aforementioned Regret in 1915 and Big Brown in 2008.
Justify splashed his way to a 2 1/2-length victory on a sloppy track in the 1 1/4-mile Kentucky Derby while leaving 19 rivals in his wake. As an encore two weeks later, he won the 1 3/16-mile Preakness by a half-length when never tested like that before, as Baffert put it. Justify defeated seven foes in Baltimore.
If Justify wins the Belmont, he will make more history. He will have the fewest lifetime starts prior to the Belmont of any Triple Crown winner. He also will have begun his racing career later than any Triple Crown winner.
Justify goes into the Belmont having made five previous career starts. Of the 12 Triple Crown winners, American Pharoah, also trained by Baffert, made the fewest previous career starts prior to the Belmont. American Pharoah had raced seven times before the Belmont.
If the track happens to be something other than fast for the Belmont, Justify also will make history by becoming the only Triple Crown winner to win all three races on wet tracks.
Justify is three for three when competing on a wet track. He’s two for two when racing on a fast track, including a convincing three-length win in the 1 1/8-mile Santa Anita Derby on April 7.
Jared Welch of Racingdudes.com recently texted me to ask this question: “How many times, if ever, have all three legs of the Triple Crown been run on wet tracks?”
It took a fair amount of time to do the research. I found that only once have all three legs of the Triple Crown been run on wet tracks. It happened 120 years ago.
In 1898, the 1 1/4-mile Kentucky Derby was run on May 4 at Churchill Downs. The 1 3/8-mile Belmont Stakes was run on May 26 that year at Morris Park in New York. And the 1 1/16-mile Preakness Stakes also was held in New York that year. The Preakness was run on June 11 at Gravesend, a track in Brooklyn.
Plaudit won the 1898 Kentucky Derby by a nose. The track condition was good.
Bowling Brook won the 1898 Belmont Stakes by eight lengths. The track condition was heavy.
Sly Fox won the 1898 Preakness Stakes by three lengths. The track condition was good.
Of the 12 Triple Crown winners, Citation in 1948 is the only one who headed to the Belmont after having won the previous two legs on wet tracks. The track condition was sloppy for the Kentucky Derby and heavy for the Preakness before he won the Belmont on a fast track.
The NYRA press office’s Belmont Stakes racing festival notes on May 25 stated that the track was muddy for the 1948 Kentucky Derby. But I believe that is incorrect.
According to the chart of the 1948 Kentucky Derby, the track was sloppy. Citation’s past performances in the Daily Racing Form book “Champions” also have the track listed as sloppy for that race. Two books also say the track was sloppy for the 1948 Kentucky Derby. Those books are “The Kentucky Derby, Preakness and Belmont Stakes,” written by Richard Sowers, and the BloodHorse’s “Thoroughbred Champions: Top 100 Racehorses of the 20th Century.”
Secretariat and Affirmed are the only two of the 12 Triple Crown winners to have won all three races on a fast track.
According to the past performances in the DRF book “Champions,” these are the track conditions for the 12 Triple Crown winners:
2015 American Pharoah (fast Derby, sloppy Preakness, fast Belmont)
1978 Affirmed (fast Derby, fast Preakness, fast Belmont)
1977 Seattle Slew (fast Derby, fast Preakness, muddy Belmont)
1973 Secretariat (fast Derby, fast Preakness, fast Belmont)
1948 Citation (sloppy Derby, heavy Preakness, fast Belmont)
1946 Assault (slow Derby, fast Preakness, fast Belmont)
1943 Count Fleet (fast Derby, good Preakness, fast Belmont)
1941 Whirlaway (fast Derby, good Preakness, fast Belmont)
1937 War Admiral (fast Derby, good Preakness, fast Belmont)
1935 Omaha (good Derby, fast Preakness, sloppy Belmont)
1930 Gallant Fox (fast Preakness, good Derby, good Belmont)*
1919 Sir Barton (heavy Derby, fast Preakness, fast Belmont)
*The Preakness was run before the Kentucky Derby and Belmont in 1930
A victory in the Belmont also would make Justify just the second horse to sweep the Triple Crown with a perfect record. Super J would join Seattle Slew, who did it in 1977.
Justify will be only the fifth undefeated horse to run in the Belmont with a Triple Crown on the line. These are the five:
Year Horse (finish in the Belmont)
2018 Justify (?)
2008 Big Brown (pulled up)
2004 Smarty Jones (second)
1977 Seattle Slew (won)
1969 Majestic Prince (second)
ACCELERATE DOES JUST THAT AT SANTA ANITA
Because Baffert has had the likes of American Pharoah, Arrogate and now Justify in recent years, it seems many have forgotten just how good Lookin At Lucky was for the white-haired Hall of Fame trainer.
Lookin At Lucky was voted Eclipse Awards as champion 2-year-old male of 2009 and 3-year-old male of 2010. He is one of only two 2-year-old male champions to also be a champ at 3 since Spectacular Bid in 1979 and 1980. The other was American Pharoah in 2014 and 2015.
Baffert had to settle for second in last Saturday’s Grade I Gold Cup at Santa Anita with Dr. Dorr, a 5-year-old son of Lookin At Lucky. The 1 1/4-mile affair was won by Accelerate, who likewise is a 5-year-old son of Lookin At Lucky.
Siring the top two finishers in the Gold Cup at Santa Anita was part of a big day for Lookin At Lucky. Money Multiplier, a 6-year-old son of Lookin At Lucky, won last Saturday’s Grade II Monmouth Stakes on the grass at Monmouth Park.
In the Gold Cup, Accelerate lurked a close third early. And then, in the vicinity of the eighth pole, Accelerate did just that. Displaying an impressive turn of foot, he blew by Dr. Dorr and City of Light. Accelerate drew out to win by 4 1/4 lengths at 9-5. City of Light finished third as the 6-5 favorite, 1 1/4 lengths behind 7-2 Dr. Dorr.
Ridden by Victor Espinoza and trained by John Sadler, Accelerate posted a final time of 2:01.38. He was assigned a career-best 111 Beyer Speed Figure.
Accelerate carried 125 pounds, four more than both Dr. Dorr and City of Light. With this victory, Accelerate gained a measure of revenge. In the Grade II Oaklawn Handicap at 1 1/8 miles on April 14, City of Light carried 120 pounds and won by neck, with Accelerate finishing second under 123 pounds.
The Gold Cup was City of Light’s first attempt beyond 1 1/8 miles. His performance last Saturday suggests 1 1/4 miles quite possibly is farther than he would prefer to run. Prior to the Oaklawn Handicap, City of Light had won a pair of Grade I races at Santa Anita going seven furlongs, the Malibu last Dec. 26 and Triple Bend on March 10.
Prior to 2014, the Gold Cup was held at Hollywood Park with the exception of when it was run at Santa Anita in 1949. There was no racing at Hollywood Park in 1949 after the grandstand and clubhouse were destroyed by fire. The 1949 Hollywood Park meet was conducted at Santa Anita. Ever since Hollywood Park closed for good late in 2013, the Gold Cup has been run at Santa Anita.
The victory by Accelerate last Saturday was the 10th time that the Santa Anita Handicap and Hollywood Gold Cup/Gold Cup at Santa Anita have been won by the same horse in the same year:
2013 Game On Dude
2007 Lava Man
2006 Lava Man
1977 Crystal Water
1971 Ack Ack
1939 Kayak II
Accelerate finished third behind Collected and Arrogate in Del Mar’s Grade I Pacific Classic last year. If Accelerate can win it this year, he would join Lava Man in 2006 and Game On Dude in 2013 as the only three to sweep Southern California’s three biggest races for older horses in the same year.
THE LATEST NTRA POLLS
Following Accelerate’s impressive win in last Saturday’s Gold Cup at Santa Anita, he moves up to No. 3 in this week’s NTRA Top Thoroughbred Poll after being No. 5 last week. West Coast is No. 1 again this week, while Justify is No. 2.
I really don’t understand why Justify is not quite getting enough support from my fellow NTRA Top Thoroughbred Poll voters to be ranked No. 1. West Coast is winless in two starts this year. Justify has won the Grade I Santa Anita Derby, Grade I Kentucky Derby and Grade I Preakness this year.
If votes were cast today for Horse of the Year, who do you think would get it? Would it be West Coast, who has not won a race this year? Or would it be Justify, who is four for four this year, including wins in the Kentucky Derby and Preakness?
I have been putting Justify at No. 1 on my ballot each week ever since his Kentucky Derby victory. I moved Accelerate up to No. 2 this week, ahead of West Coast. Accelerate has won the Grade II San Pasqual Stakes, Grade I Santa Anita Handicap and Grade I Gold Cup at Santa Anita this year. I think those three 2018 victories by Accelerate trump a winless-in-2018 West Coast in terms of which of these two should be ranked higher right now.
Here is this week’s NTRA Top Thoroughbred Poll:
Rank Points Horse (First-Place Votes)
1. 290 West Coast (10)
2. 289 Justify (20)
3. 245 Accelerate (2)
4. 197 Mind Your Biscuits (2)
5. 118 Unique Bella
6. 116 Army Mule
7. 112 City of Light
8. 69 Backyard Heaven
9. 62 Heart to Heart
10. 46 Yoshida
Here is this week’s NTRA Top 3-Year-Old Poll:
Rank Points Horse (First-Place Votes)
1. 350 Justify (35)
2. 302 Good Magic
3. 261 Audible
4. 201 Bravazo
5. 141 Monomoy Girl
5. 113 Bolt d’Oro
7. 110 My Boy Jack
8. 66 Tenfold
9. 53 Vino Rosso
10. 52 Analyze It