Hall of Fame trainer Bill Mott issued an upbeat bulletin June 3 following Hofburg's five-furlong workout in company with Good Samaritan over the Oklahoma training track at Saratoga Race Course, his final preparation for the $1.5 million Belmont Stakes presented by NYRA Bets (G1).
Ridden by Neil Poznansky and working outside of Good Samaritan, who remains on target for the $1.2 million Runhappy Metropolitan Handicap (G1), Hofburg completed the breeze in 1:01.03 before drawing away from his stablemate past the wire.
"We wanted to do a little bit more with Hofburg than with Good Samaritan," Mott said. "We let them both work under the wire, then I wanted to make sure Hofburg had a good gallop out. Both horses went well, and I was very pleased. Hofburg couldn't have worked better."
A Juddmonte Farms homebred, Hofburg broke his maiden in March at Gulfstream Park in his second start before finishing second to Audible in the Xpressbet.com Florida Derby (G1). The son of Tapit finished seventh—8 3/4 lengths behind Justify—in the Kentucky Derby Presented by Woodford Reserve (G1) after steadying twice on the far turn.
"We loved him as a 2-year-old a year ago at this time, and we liked his chances going into the Kentucky Derby," Mott said. "I know he wasn't very seasoned and he had only three races going into it, and there were probably a few people who were quite skeptical about us running him in the Derby off only three races, but I felt very confident in him, and I think he ran a good race. He didn't get the desired trip, and he had a little traffic problem during the course of the running of the Derby. If you are going to run in the Kentucky Derby, that can happen if you are a closing kind of horse who has to come through traffic."
Mott said he is hopeful that having five weeks between the Kentucky Derby and Belmont Stakes will help Hofburg turn the tables on Justify.
"Justify is a very good horse," Mott said. "We have a lot of respect for him. He's very talented, he's got a lot of speed. His advantage, probably, is that he gets away from the gate good and shakes loose from the field. Whether that's going to happen or not, I don't know. He has a lot of natural speed.
"We've had a good time to recover from the Derby, which probably makes it a bigger challenge for Justify. I don't think there's any doubt about it. We didn't hit the board in the Derby and didn't see any big advantage to running in the Preakness. We just pointed for the Belmont. We have to do what's best for us, and that's what we did."
Mott is seeking his second Belmont Stakes victory since winning with Drosselmeyer in 2010.
"I have a lot of confidence in (Hofburg)" Mott said. "I feel very good about him. It's no walk in the park. You got to go run around Belmont, a mile and a half. We don't take the challenge lightly, but that's what we're here for."
Mott said Hofburg will ship to Belmont Park on Monday or Tuesday.
"I don't think we have regressed any," added Mott. "I think we have moved forward. The main thing is that he comes out of this work in good shape. We'll get down to Belmont and get him familiar with his surroundings down there, and if that goes well, we will be ready to go."
Albaugh Family Stables' Free Drop Billy also turned in a workout Sunday morning in advance of the Belmont Stakes. The son of Union Rags worked five furlongs in :59 1/5, with splits of :23, :46 4/5 through a half-mile, and a six-furlong gallop out in 1:12 4/5.
"He worked really well today," trainer Dale Romans said. "He did it all on his own and worked fast, galloped out strong and looks healthy and happy walking back. I wanted him to run along (and) stretch his lungs a little bit, but (there was) no time we had to have. But it looked perfect. He had a lot of horse, and he did it easy on his own. It was fast but under control."
Romans doesn't take it personally if Free Drop Billy isn't getting a lot of respect.
"Nah, he flopped in the Derby. We really don't know why," he said of Free Drop Billy's 16th-place finish. "But I've seen him bounce back before. He didn't run real well in the (Sentient Jet) Breeders' Cup Juvenile (G1), and he came back and ran well all spring.
"He's training so well. He's always been consistent. Throw out the two races, and he's hit the board every time, and the mile and a half might be the difference-maker. You don't know if the others will like it, and his pedigree says he should. But you don't know until you try."
Free Drop Billy is scheduled to fly to New York on Wednesday. Robby Albarado has the Belmont Stakes mount.