Juddmonte Farms' Hofburg put in a “good work” at Saratoga Race Course on Friday morning as he prepares for the Grade 1 Belmont Stakes on June 9, Hall of Fame trainer Bill Mott said.
Hofburg breezed six furlongs on the Oklahoma training track, officially going in 1:13.43 just past 9:45 a.m. after the track was harrowed, making the track a little bit deeper, according to Mott.
“I thought it was a very good work on the training track,” he said. “The best part about it was he looked like he was moving very well. We went six furlongs with him and from the half-mile pole, he was: 48 1/5; 1:00 3/5; 1:13 3/5; galloped out good and came home in good order. It looked like he took a couple of deep breaths and caught his breath in a hurry.”
Forge joined Hofburg in the stretch during the breeze, which Mott said contributed to a solid finish.
“Forge joined him for a short ways in the stretch to just make sure he completed his work in good order,” he said. “He didn't quite get up on equal terms with him, but Forge did his job, and ensured a good work for Hofburg.”
With just four career starts, Hofburg will be looking for his first career stakes win. After breaking his maiden at second asking on March 3 at Gulfstream Park, the Tapit colt ran second to Audible in the Grade 1 Florida Derby on March 31 in his stakes debut, setting up a seventh-place finish in the Kentucky Derby on May 5.
Mott gave the Kentucky homebred a break following the “Run for the Roses” before ramping up his training leading into the final leg of racing's Triple Crown on Big Sandy. Friday marked his second breeze in as many weeks in Saratoga, with one more scheduled there before being shipped to Belmont, where Mott said he could arrive no later than Tuesday, June 5.
“I'm pleased with what I'm seeing. He came out of the Derby in good order. We gave him an easy week after the Derby and after two weeks, we gave him his first work and today he had his second one,” Mott said. “He'll have another one next weekend and then go on down to Belmont and get familiar with his surroundings.”
Mott said he decided to skip last week's Preakness with no chance to win the Triple Crown. That distinction belongs to Justify, who will look to become just the 13th horse to earn that distinction in the “Test of the Champion.” Mott said the rest will improve Hofburg's ability to play spoiler.
“Visually, he looks like he's carrying his flesh as well as he did heading into the Derby,” Mott said. “I didn't think we had that much to gain by going to the Preakness. We felt like [since] we didn't win the Derby and had no chance to be a Triple Crown winner, we wanted to take our best shot at the Belmont Stakes.”
Mott has one Belmont Stakes win on his ledger, saddling Drosselmeyer in 2010. He had kind words for Justify, who will be looking to give fellow Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert his second Triple Crown in three years should he win the 1 1/2-mile Classic.
“Justify is a very good horse, and I would have been one of the first skeptics when he came into the Derby. Being a horse who hadn't run as a 2-year-old; I've always been a believer that horses need to run as 2-year-olds in order to the win the Derby,” Mott said.
“You have him to give him credit. We have a lot of respect for Justify, but on the same token, we don't want to hand him the Belmont on a silver platter. If he wins it, we're going to make him work for it.”
Trainer Dale Romans said a decision on whether to run Free Drop Billy in the 150th Belmont Stakes won't be made before Albaugh Family Stables' colt has a timed workout Sunday at Churchill Downs. Free Drop Billy worked a bullet half-mile in 47.60 seconds on Monday, the fastest of 51 workouts at that distance.
Romans has said the longer the distance the better for Free Drop Billy, which makes the 1 1/2-mile Belmont particularly appealing. But he also believes the colt will excel on the turf.
“We're pointing that way as of now,” Romans said of the Triple Crown finale. “We'll just see how it goes the next few days. We'll see how he works this weekend and we'll all talk about it.”
Free Drop Billy won last fall's Grade 1 Breeders' Futurity at Keeneland, then was a disappointing ninth in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile at Del Mar. In his four starts this year, he was second in Gulfstream Park's Grade 2 Holy Bull to eventual Florida Derby winner and Kentucky Derby third-place finisher Audible, third in both Aqueduct's Grade 3 Gotham and Keeneland's Grade 2 Blue Grass before finishing 16th in the Kentucky Derby.
“He's a Grade 1 winner. He doesn't have to apologize to anyone for being there,” Romans said. “He's a good horse. I don't think he liked that muddy track in the Derby. He seems to be a little sensitive to surface.”
If Free Drop Billy runs in the Belmont, he'll be ridden by Robby Albarado. Another option is to wait for the Belmont Derby Invitational on grass on July 7, Romans has said.
Churchill's all-time winningest trainer also is looking at the Woody Stephens for 3-year-olds at seven furlongs for Gulfstream's Grade 2 Fountain of Youth winnerPromises Fulfilled and the $150,000 Easy Goer at 1 1/16 miles for King Zachary. Both races are on the Belmont Stakes card.
“They're both good horses. King Zachary is a horse I think you'll be hearing a lot from,” he said. “He's as talented as anybody we have.”
Romans said he believes King Zachary has the talent to compete in the Belmont Stakes but doesn't think the son of two-time Horse of the Year and 2007 Belmont runner-up Curlin has the physical foundation to tackle 1 1/2 miles at this time.
“It's not the caliber of horse,” he said. “He's not ready for a mile and half… .Promises Fulfilled is just a fast horse. We'll shorten him up and see what he does. I'm going to nominate to the Easy Goer with him, too. There's a chance we can show up with two in that race.”
Free Drop Billy went out at 9:30 a.m. for a routine gallop under regular exercise rider Juan Segundo.
Preakness runner-up Bravazo, who would join Justify as the only horses to run in all three legs of the Triple Crown this year, galloped Friday morning with Danielle Rosier aboard at the special 7:30 a.m. training slot reserved for Belmont Stakes horses training at Churchill.
Tenfold, who finished third in the Preakness by a total of a half-length, went to the starting gate to stand, as is trainer Steve Asmussen's norm on Thursdays. The son of Curlin jogged to the gate under Angel Garcia while accompanied by assistant trainer Scott Blasi and his pony. After backing out of the gate, Tenfold had a light gallop.
Tenfold resumed training by jogging around the track Wednesday, a day earlier than the other Belmont contenders at Churchill. Blasi said they prefer to send the horses back to the track after three days off following a race and then give them some easy days such as Tenfold had Friday.
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