The following appeared in The Paulick Report May 19th. Justify will go for the Triple Crown win June 9th at Belmont. Be at a Virginia Bets OTB that day for what could a memory making day.
A dense fog enveloped the sloppy Pimlico course just before the main event on Saturday, but neither the weather nor the bold strategy of Good Magic could stop Winstar, China Horse Club, Starlight Racing and Head of Plains Partners’ heavily-favored Justify in the 143rd running of the Preakness Stakes. The 3-year-old son of Scat Daddy was hounded by the Kentucky Derby runner-up all the way down the backside, but Justify’s ever-steady jockey Mike Smith never turned a hair.
Turning for home, Justify put away Good Magic and stayed on to hold off another pair of challengers, scoring a half-length victory over Bravazo and Tenfold. Good Magic wound up a close fourth against the rail. Completing 1 3/16 miles in 1:55.93 over Pimlico’s rain-drenched course, Justify gave trainer Bob Baffert his record-equaling seventh win in the Preakness and 14th victory in the Triple Crown.
“It was a nail-biter,” said Baffert. “They put it to us. That was a good horse [Good Magic] and it was like they had their own private match race. Somebody had to give, and I’m glad it wasn’t us. I’m so happy that we got it done. He’s just a great horse, to handle all that pressure and keep on running. He had to really work for it and I’m happy for the horse and Mike and all the connections that we pulled it out. They ran fast; I’ve never had one run that fast here. It took a lot out of me but I’m just glad … everybody came to see a good horse race. It was a great horse race. Good Magic, I tip my hat to him. He made us really work. He’s a really good horse.”
Justify heads to New York with the chance to become Baffert’s second Triple Crown winner in just three years.
“It’s unbelievable,” Smith said. “It’s a dream come true, to be honest with you. It’s been 25 years since I was blessed to win my first one, which was here, and to go into it with Bob and [wife] Jill and the whole crew, WinStar and China Horse Club and everyone who’s involved, Jack Wolf, I’m just so blessed to be riding for these people right now. I’m on cloud nine.”
The Preakness Stakes was a spectacle made up of quiet moments. On the turf course before the call for “riders up,” Justify and his groom Eduardo Luna paused in the middle of their walking circle. Taking in the atmosphere, the colt remained completely relaxed, even as assistant trainer Jimmy Barnes gave Smith a leg into the saddle and through the post parade.
Justify woke up a bit as the warm-up began, but his mind remained focused as the fog swallowed the pair of horses and riders into the far turn. A tense crowd awaited the announcement that the horses were approaching the starting gate, but none of that anticipation seemed to be able to break through the fog to the horses. The silence briefly ended with the sound of the gates popping open, and the eight sophomores were greeted by the cheers of a barely visible crowd as they pounded down the stretch for the first time.
As expected, Justify broke extremely sharply and Smith sat chilly, letting the speedy colt stretch toward the lead. Immediately joined by Good Magic on his inside, Justify got distracted briefly and jumped the tire tracks entering the first turn. Smith said the move cost him some traction in the mud, but the colt had regained his stride down the backstretch.
Meanwhile, on his inside, jockey Jose Ortiz refused to make the Preakness an easy race for Justify. The 2017 Eclipse Award winner had a plan in mind for the entire week leading up to the race, and kept the pressure on the Derby winner all the way down the backstretch. Fractions flashed on the board: :23.11, :47.19, 1:11.42. The rest of the field was strung out three lengths behind the leaders, with Bravazo and Quip in front of Tenfold and Diamond King.
“I thought it was [Quip] for a second there it was so foggy, but then when I saw it was Good Magic, I knew we were in for a good horse race early on,” Smith said. “I knew he was going to probably push me really early. At that point they were just going to test his fitness, and this is a race he’s going to get fit off of.”
Neither rider would give an inch; every time Justify would put his nose in front, Ortiz would urge Good Magic on and take the lead right back. Throughout the far turn, Justify and Good Magic were head-and-head on the lead, staying well off the inside rail. Bravazo and Tenfold were both beginning to wind up too, making up ground inch by inch.
“Mike (Smith) broke very well as we expected,” Ortiz said, “and he stayed in the middle of the track which I knew he was going to do. I tried to take back a little but the pace wasn’t too fast. He was relaxed but Mike was just sitting chilly on his horse. We were going very easy. I made my run the same time he did, but I didn’t have horse underneath me.”
Justify got his head in front at the top of the stretch, his bright blue shadow roll emerging from the fog like a beacon. Smith switched his stick to his left hand and urged Justify toward the rail a bit, putting a little bit of pressure on the still-fighting Good Magic on his inside. A length in front of Good Magic, Justify would have to give even more to keep his lead all the way through the wire.
Both Tenfold and Bravazo were closing quickly down the center of the course, making up several lengths in the final sixteenth of a mile. Good Magic was beaten but not defeated, and kept on fighting at the inside fence. Smith took a glance over his right shoulder, and got just a little bit lower in the saddle as Justify reached for the wire.
There’s a moment when a jockey asks his mount the question, begs for just a little bit more from the tiring horse. In that quiet, slow-motion-feeling fraction of a second, Justify gave the world his answer.
t was just enough. Justify crossed the finish a half-length in front of Bravazo. It was a short neck back to Tenfold, and just another neck to Good Magic; the top four were encompassed by a single length. Lone Sailor, Sporting Chance, Diamond King and Quip completed the order of finish.
“He got a little tired,” admitted Smith. “This is the hardest race that he’s had, but he was also waiting on competition. It was awful loud out there and the track’s pretty narrow and he was kind of looking and jumping tracks and doing a few things, but it was a good kind of tired. It was that kind of tired I’m hoping, anyway, and I feel like he’ll move forward.”
Bred in Kentucky by John Gunther, Justify is from the penultimate crop of Scat Daddy and out of the graded stakes-placed Ghostzapper mare Stage Magic. He commanded a $500,000 price tag at the Keeneland September Yearling sale, and was sent to WinStar Farm for his earliest education. From there, Justify spent time in the barn of up-and-coming young trainer Rodolphe Brisset before Baffert got him in Southern California.
Even before his first race, Baffert could be heard saying Justify would win the Kentucky Derby. The undefeated colt broke his maiden and won an allowance before taking the Grade 1 Santa Anita Derby. The Run for the Roses followed suit, and Justify’s fifth start saw him remain undefeated through the first two legs of the Triple Crown. He now boasts earnings just shy of $3 million.
Bring on the Belmont and a chance for a Triple Crown.
“What we’re going to do is like we did for this race,” said Baffert. “He has to show us, he has to come out of the race well, and he’s got to be training really well. I did the same thing with American Pharoah, all my horses that ran the Triple Crown, they have to be 100 percent.
“He was blowing today. You could tell he was in a fight the whole way, but we’ll just get him back to Kentucky and just — we’ll see how he trains.”
After the Preakness, trainer Chad Brown was disappointed in the trip his champion juvenile Good Magic had gotten.
“No, I didn’t want the horse on the lead,” Brown said. “The post didn’t help. We were inside [Justify] the whole way. Unfortunately, our horse took the worst of it being on the fence and getting pressed the whole way. He’s just not a horse that runs on the lead, so I’m pretty disappointed. He didn’t give up. I know this horse very well and he’s not a horse to be on the lead. No way.
“You guys asked me all week what I wanted to do – sit off the pace and follow [Justify] around the track. And he’s following us around.”
Good Magic will not go on to the Belmont Stakes, but the following horses could show up in New York: Bravazo, Tenfold, Vino Rosso, Audible, Hofburg, Free Drop Billy, My Boy Jack, Solomini and Blended Citizen.
Quip did appear to have been eased in the stretch, finishing 33 1/4 lengths behind the next-closest rival. Trainer Rodolphe Brisset did indicate that the colt, also owned by the winning connections of Justify, appeared to have exited the Preakness in good shape.