Why Hofburg is running on dirt - and not turf as you might expect

Emollient: Homburg’s half-sister was a G1 winner on turf. Photo: Susie Raisher/NYRA.com

While a cursory search through the pedigree of Juddmonte Farm’s homebred Hofburg might suggest an affinity for turf, trainer Bill Mott – who has enjoyed much success with grass horses during his Hall of Fame career – took a different approach with the chestnut colt who will look to upset Triple Crown hopeful Justify in Saturday’s Belmont Stakes. 

Hofburg’s dam, Soothing Touch, by 1997 Belmont Stakes winner Touch Gold, also produced Courtier, who was G2-placed as a 3-year-old colt on turf, and the millionaire filly Emollient, a daughter of 2003 Belmont winner Empire Maker who recorded four G1s – all over turf or synthetic in 2013-14.

His sire, however, is Tapit, a leading North American stallion who has produced three Belmont Stakes winners, including Tapwrit last year.

“You never know,” Mott said of a horse’s surface preference. “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,” he noted. “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.”

In four career starts, all on dirt, Hofburg was fourth in his unveiling in September of his 2-year-old year, broke his maiden in his sophomore bow in March, and finished second in the G1 Florida Derby before finishing seventh in the Kentucky Derby.

Hofburg, tabbed as the 9-2 second choice on the morning line, will be ridden from post 4 by Irad Ortiz Jr., who won the 2016 Belmont aboard Creator.

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