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Thursday, 07 June 2018 01:32

Justify chases Triple Crown

Justify Baffert 002 Evers

New York: Bob Baffert, who won a Triple Crown with American Pharoah in 2015 and has a chance to add another with Justify on Saturday, held court during the draw for the 150th Belmont Stakes at the Foxwoods Club inside Citi Field on Tuesday.

First he starred in a roundtable with his fellow trainers D Wayne Lukas, Dale Romans and Todd Pletcher, then he did one-on-one interviews with several TV stations before capping the day by throwing out the ceremonial first pitch for the Mets’ game against the Orioles.

He appeared to be enjoying the spotlight, but it was not that simple, he said. Justify drawing on the rail for the 2400m race may not have helped.

“As a trainer you have to work seven days a week to stay at this level,” he said. “I may look like I’m having fun, but it’s stressful.”

After a 2.50-length victory in the slop in the Kentucky Derby and a 0.50-length triumph in similarly soggy conditions in the Preakness Stakes, the unbeaten Justify was installed as the 4-5 morning-line favourite, despite his unfortunate post.

“I never like to draw the rail, but my horses seem to live with it,” Baffert, 65, said. “We have it, we can’t change it, so we just deal with it.”

Nine horses are set to line up against Justify in the 150th edition of the race. Hofburg, who is trained by the Hall of Famer Bill Mott and finished seventh in the Derby, drew No 4 and was made the second choice at 9-2.

The only horse set to face Justify in all three races is Bravazo, who finished sixth in the Derby and second in the Preakness. He drew No 3 and was given odds of 8-1. Lukas, Bravazo’s 82-year-old trainer, subscribes to the old-school theory that you can’t win them if you’re not in them.

“I’ve been clocking them all out there, and they look really good,” said Lukas, who gets on his pony every morning for a close-up of his horses during training. “It would be a big mistake to think Justify isn’t on his game.”

Rain wreaked havoc at both the Derby and the Preakness, and afternoon and evening showers in the forecast threaten to do the same in Elmont on Saturday. Justify, who did not race as a two-year-old and has only five races on his short but impressive resume, has won three times on wet tracks.

The normally stoic Todd Pletcher will saddle Vino Rosso, who finished ninth in the Derby, and Noble Indy, who was 17th. He said he looked forward to being asked about Justify at his children’s soccer games. “When there’s a Triple Crown on the line, there’s nothing better,” he said.

Baffert, while acknowledging his nerves, said he still relished every moment of American Pharoah’s run.

“I’ll never forget the crowd with American Pharoah — the noise, I was in shock witnessing that, knowing I was going to do it,” he said.

Turning his attention to Justify, he added: “It’s exciting, there’s a lot of electricity in the air. I see it in the airports, people wishing me luck. The people who missed Pharoah want to be at this one.”

With attendance capped at 90,000, there are no reserved tickets left, though a limited number of general admission tickets are still available. – New York Times

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