Baffert Ready for NY, Bourbon War to Derby

Baffert Contingent Bound for NY
Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert won’t have an entrant in the 151st running of the Grade 1 Belmont Stakes a year after sweeping the Triple Crown series with Justify, but he will send a pair of formidable entrants to compete on the June 8 undercard.

Multiple graded stakes winner McKinzie’s pointing for the star-studded Grade 1, $1.2 million Metropolitan Handicap and Much Better to the Grade 1, $400,000 Woody Stephens.

“I really wish we had a runner ready for the Belmont, but it’s going to be a great day of racing,” Baffert told horseracingnation.com. “We’re going to send two east that we like to compete in some tough races. Martin Panza [NYRA’s Senior VP of Racing Operations] always does a great job putting together great cards on big days, and this looks to be another one.”

McKinzie is pointing for the Met Mile following an impressive 4 ¾-length victory in the Grade 2 Alysheba on May 3 at Churchill Downs. Baffert said McKinzie was in good order following his most recent workout on Monday at Santa Anita, where he completed six furlongs in 1:11.80 handily.

“He’s doing great,” said Baffert. “I thought he really had a nice work the other day and we’ll work him one more time this weekend before we send him to New York on Tuesday.”

An onslaught of graded stakes winners are expected for the Runhappy Metropolitan, a Breeders’ Cup Challenge Series “Win and You’re In” event to the Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile at Santa Anita Park Nov. 2, including Coal Front, Firenze Fire, Mitole, Promises Fulfilled, Pavel and Thunder Snow.

Bourbon War Set for Belmont
The prospective Belmont Stakes field swelled to 10 on Friday morning when trainer Mark Hennig announced Bourbon War will run. The news was reported following the colt’s half-mile workout in 48.74 seconds at Belmont Park.

By a top Belmont Stakes sire in Tapit, Bourbon War will have Mike Smith aboard and breezed with blinkers off after donning the equipment for an eighth-place finish in the May 18 Preakness Stakes. Earlier this season, the Bourbon Lane Stable and Lake Star Stable runner contended with some eventual top finishers in the Kentucky Derby, running second to Code of Honor in the Fountain of Youth and fourth behind the disqualified Maximum Security in the Florida Derby.

Tacitus and War of Will are the likely Top 2 betting choices for the Belmont. They’ll be joined in the entry box by Everfast, Intrepid Heart, Master Fencer, Sir Winston, Spinoff and Tax. Joevia is also likely to run assuming positive results from Saturday’s final workout. Post positions will be drawn Tuesday.

Derby Winner Returns to the Track
In most other years, the first weekend of June is a big one for the Kentucky Derby winner. It’s the weekend before the Belmont Stakes, and a final pre-race breeze is typically in order. And so it was that 2019 Derby winner Country House went out for a one-mile jog Friday morning at Churchill Downs as if he were just another horse. When the chestnut colt walked out of Barn 19 with exercise rider Marianne Scherer in the saddle, there were no photographers, no reporters, no sightseers.

It was a marked contrast to some recent run-ups to the Belmont, such as when considerable fanfare surrounded five-furlong workouts at Churchill by eventual Triple Crown winners American Pharoah on June 1, 2015, and Justify on June 4, 2018. Country House’s future plans are unknown.

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