(Reuters) - Unbeaten Justify headed back to Churchill Downs on Sunday to rest up and train for a June 9 run at U.S. thoroughbred racing’s Triple Crown.
The chestnut colt, the winner of the Kentucky Derby and Preakness Stakes, would become the 13th horse to claim a Triple Crown with a victory in the 1-1/2 mile (12-furlong) Belmont Stakes at Belmont Park in Elmont, New York.
“We’ll just get him back to Kentucky and we’ll see how he trains,” trainer Bob Baffert told reporters in Baltimore as Justify prepared to depart for Louisville.
“He has to be doing really well.”
But there was good news on how the winner of five consecutive races came out of Saturday’s challenging Preakness victory in Baltimore.
“He is good,” Baffert said. “For him, what he’s done, fifth race, it’s pretty incredible really. I’m in awe of the horse.”
And the chances of a run for the Triple Crown?.
“Right now, I don’t see why not,” said Baffert, who with a victory in the Belmont Stakes would earn his second Triple Crown in four years after winning with American Pharoah in 2015.
The Preakness was by far Justify’s toughest race as he endured not only rain and fog but strong competition at Pimlico Race Course.
The three-year-old fought off a lengthy challenge from Kentucky Derby runner-up Good Magic, then withstood hard-charging Bravazo for a half-length victory.
“He really had to work for it and I’m happy we pulled it out,” Baffert said.
“He was blowing. You could tell he was in a fight the whole way. You can only get away with that when you have a superior horse like he is.”
Although Justify did not have his best race and was noticeably tired at the end, Baffert would not necessarily agree that the longer Belmont Stakes would be an opportunity to derail his prized horse.
“I think the next race will be really big,” the trainer said. “You can’t just bring it all the time. This will set him up for the next one.”
Already Preakness runner-up Bravazo and third-place finisher Tenfold are lined up to find out.
Baffert said he planned to train Justify for the Belmont the same way he did American Pharoah.
The colt will work out at Churchill Downs and likely ship to New York three days before the Belmont.
First there will be a few days’ rest.
Reporting by Gene Cherry in Raleigh, North Carolina; Editing by Clare Fallon