Although Justify has been retired, his Triple Crown form was advertised in three key races over the weekend.
Sunday’s $1,010,000 Haskell Invitational (G1) at Monmouth Park was dominated by colts who’d placed to Justify in the first two jewels of the Triple Crown. Last year’s champion two-year-old colt Good Magic, the runner-up in the Kentucky Derby (G1), rolled to a convincing three-length victory over Bravazo, who’d finished second in the Preakness (G1). Another Triple Crown veteran, Derby and Preakness also-ran Lone Sailor, was a further six lengths back in third.
Trained by Chad Brown and ridden by Jose Ortiz, Good Magic stalked the early leader, easily struck the front on the far turn, and drew off. The 1-2 favorite negotiated 1 1/8 miles in 1:50.01 and guaranteed himself a spot in the starting gate for the November 3 Breeders’ Cup Classic (G1), with the Haskell being a “Win and You’re In” event.
“When I asked him to run I pushed the button and he was there for me,” Ortiz said. “It was a really easy trip. He made it easy for me.
“All the credit to Chad for having him ready to come into a huge race like the Haskell off a 10-week layoff (since his fourth in the Preakness). He had him ready, 110 percent ready to go.”
“I am so proud of this horse,” Brown said of last year’s Breeders’ Cup Juvenile (G1) hero. “He put everything together today. He showed his ability, his agility and his class today. It’s not easy to win these races.
“Winning the Haskell here means a lot. To finally win this race is special. I got my start here. I took my trainer’s test here the day after the Breeders’ Cup in 2007.”
Interestingly, that Breeders’ Cup Classic at Monmouth was won by Good Magic’s sire, Curlin.
“You have to come with the right horse,” Brown added, “and this is a really good horse.”
Good Magic will now aim for the August 25 Travers (G1) at Saratoga, where he’s bound to meet several contenders who prepped in the Spa’s 1 1/8-mile stakes on Friday and Saturday.
After prompting the pace set by Derby also-ran Flameaway, Tenfold took command in the stretch and appeared ready to forge clear, only to veer out badly. Jockey Ricardo Santana Jr. tried his best to get the wayward colt to straighten up, and he cajoled enough forward progress to hang on by three-quarters of a length. Both his margin and final time of 1:50.49 would have been better if he’d kept his concentration.
"I'm glad we ran him over this racetrack (in preparation for the Travers), because he does find something new all the time," said Hall of Famer Steve Asmussen, who also trained Curlin. "Ricardo said when he moved away from that horse he got a view of the screen in the infield and he couldn't get him to quit looking at it.
"I wasn't happy until they put his number up. I watched it from down the stretch a bit because he has lost concentration. Ironically, he has jumped back to his left lead and laid in his previous races. It's obviously concerning. I'm glad he still won the race. But we all know we have work to do."
At least Tenfold was moving forward off his recent fifth to Justify in the Belmont (G1).
"This is the type of horse we thought we'd have for the Belmont," Asmussen noted. "He was away cleanly today. He's got a big rhythm. He's a horse who is capable of being fast. That's how he's most effective."
Belmont fourth Vino Rosso, the slight 6-5 favorite over Tenfold’s 8-5 odds, was not competitive until the final sixteenth of the Jim Dandy. Finally striking top gear too late, he just missed catching runner-up Flameaway by a head.
In a postscript to Flameaway’s effort, trainer Mark Casse indicated that his star filly Wonder Gadot is likely to contest the Travers.
On Friday Saratoga staged the Curlin S., in honor of the Hall of Famer, and the depth of the Triple Crown was once again on display.
Hofburg, third to Justify in the Belmont after a troubled seventh in the Derby, outclassed his Curlin rivals. Hall of Fame trainer Bill Mott opted for this easier spot in order to get the Juddmonte blueblood back in the winner’s circle, and the race unfolded according to plan. The 1-5 favorite went last to first and galloped by five lengths, covering 1 1/8 miles in 1:50.18 over a sloppy track.
"He really was much the best in this field," winning rider Irad Ortiz Jr. said. "He came from the Belmont Stakes, came back good, and if he came back 95 percent, 90 percent, he was going to be tough in the race, and he was 100 percent today. He looked awesome. He's a nice horse."
Hofburg was pitched straight into Grade 1 company off his maiden win, finishing runner-up to now-sidelined Audible in the Florida Derby (G1) on the way to Churchill Downs. Now he’ll go back up to the highest level in the Travers.
"I think the timing is right (for the Travers), he's had a race over the track, a win over the track and it gives the trainer some confidence," Mott said. "I don't know if the horse needed it, but the trainer did."
Photo of Good Magic winning the Haskell courtesy of Mark Wyville/Equi-Photo