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2018 Belmont Stakes Thursday Morning Photos

Justify waits with his pony Sunny to go on the track after the break at Belmont Park on Thursday morning.
Date: 06/07/2018

The Belmont Stakes Racing Festival runs from Thursday to Saturday, highlighted by the 150th Belmont Stakes run on Saturday June 9 with Kentucky Derby and Preakness Stakes winner Justify trying to become the 13th Triple Crown winner. The weather is currently looking pretty good on Belmont Day, mostly cloudy with temperatures in the upper 70's.

horse racinghorse racingJustify took his first tour around spacious Belmont Park on Thursday morning with a strong 1 3/8-mile gallop in preparation for Saturday's 150th running of the Grade 1, $1.5 million Belmont Stakes. With Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert and Hall of Fame jockey Mike Smith looking on, along with a large media contingent, Justify winner took to the track looking full of energy. "He just floated over this track. He was happy. He was aggressive," said Baffert, who is seeking to become only the second trainer to win two Triple Crowns.

horse racinghorse racingBaffert continued, "He went about 1 3/8 miles and jogged back the wrong way [opposite direction]. He was just getting over the track really well. He couldn't have looked any better coming around there. He looks like a horse that is flourishing. He went around there like he's been here before. He's a very intelligent horse."

Justify takes on nine rivals in the 1 1/2-mile Belmont, and was made the morning-line 4-5 favorite after drawing the No. 1 post.

horse racinghorse racingBlended Citizen - galloped once around. Leandro Mora, assistant to trainer Doug O'Neill said, "We were always hoping to run him in a longer race, and this is it. So if he doesn't do any good, at least we tried it. We got the shot." He looks to be the 8th horse to sweep the Peter Pan-Belmont double, the last being Tonalist in 2014.

horse racinghorse racingBravazo - galloped once around on Thursday. Trainer D. Wayne Lukas looks to become the oldest Belmont winning trainer at 82, after Sunny Jim Fitzsimmons won the 1955 edition with Nashua at the age of 81.

horse racinghorse racingFree Drop Billy - galloped 1 lap under exercise rider Juan Segundo. Trainer Dale Romans said, "I thought he looked good, real good. He looked excellent, about as good as he's ever looked - ears up, happy, content. He just kind of bounced around there. The hard part's behind us now. It's just a matter of keeping him happy," Romans said. "We'll do the same thing tomorrow, but we'll go through the paddock. We'll just give him a chance to look around."

horse racinghorse racingGronkowski - ga;loped once around the 12f main track. Trainer Chad Brown said, "He's going good and looks terrific. He looked fine today. It's less pressure, no one expects this horse to win. I feel like he has a legitimate chance."

horse racinghorse racingHofburg - galloped 1 1/2 miles. Trainer Bill Mott said, "Knowing his half-sister, who we trained and won several Grade 1s with - we won Grade 1s on the turf, Grade 1s on the synthetic, and also a maiden and allowance on the dirt - that's always in the back of your mind. Which way is he going to go? Once you get the horse ready, you wonder what's going to be best for him. He always worked very well on the dirt. As far as I can remember, we only breezed him once on the turf and it probably wasn't as good as his dirt works had been. So, we went back to the dirt with him and that's where we've been ever since."

horse racingNoble Indy galloped once around. Trainer Todd Pletcher spoke about his first Triple Crown race win with Rags to Riches in the 2007 Belmont. "Of course, it was special with her being a filly, but it was a remarkable race. There were so many different emotions going through your mind, starting with her stumbling badly at the start, and thinking you've lost all chance right at the beginning, to regaining some hope midway through, to thinking you might win it at the top of the stretch and then fearing you might get passed late [by Curlin] ... it was one of those races that really gave you every conceivable emotion during the course of one race. It was a mile-and-a-half roller coaster ride, for sure."

horse racinghorse racingRestoring Hope - stablemate of Justify also galloped 1 1/2 miles. Trainer Bob Baffert said, "He's doing well."

horse racingTenfold galloped once around. Owner Ron Winchell said, "I am hoping not for rain. I want a fair, even track, a nice level surface on which Tenfold can gallop everybody into the ground. "Look at his pedigree. He has a high cruising speed, and in the Preakness he had to be used a little bit on the final turn to get position, and he was playing against the grain of the track that day, which favored frontrunners. In the stretch, he looked like he had a chance to win, but he changed leads and lost momentum. If he can get into an even pace, he can cruise and get the distance."

horse racinghorse racingVino Rosso went out for a 12f gallop. Trainer Todd Pletcher said, "They've had a good five weeks [since the Derby], they've had two good breezes, and I like the way they've been galloping over the main track. At the same time, we know how challenging this race is and how formidable Justify is. You feel good about the way your horses are doing, but still mindful of how difficult it would be to win."

horse racinghorse racingHoppertunity (left) will race in the 1 1/2 mile Brooklyn Invitational (G2) on the Belmont undercard. Traienr Bob Baffert said, "He likes a mile and a half. He feels more comfortable (and) gets in his own little groove," Baffert said. "Those shorter races—he has trouble closing. He needs a certain kind of pace. We've been training over a really deep, tiring track in California, and for some reason my horses, when they come here, they float over this surface. So it feels really nice."

Abel Tasman (right) looks for her fifth Grade 1 in Saturday's Ogden Phipps Stakes, off a 4th place finish in the La Troienne (G1) on the Kentucky Oaks undercard. Trainer Bob Baffert said, “I was really disappointed with the way she ran, but she came back well. I think she just needed a race in her. She was away for a while, but I think she should get better. I wanted her to run off a bit, and I think Mike (Smith) should have let her go. I think she really needed that race.”

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