BALTIMORE, MD – Kentucky Derby (G1) winner Justify was installed as the odds-on 1-2 morning-line favorite for Saturday’s 143rd Preakness Stakes (G1) at Pimlico Race Course after receiving the No. 7 stall in the starting gate at Wednesday’s Post Position Draw for the Middle Jewel of the Triple Crown.
Owned by WinStar Farm, China Horse Club, Head of Plains Partners and Starlight Racing, Justify scored a 2 ½-length victory in the May 5 Kentucky Derby at Churchill Downs, giving Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert his fifth Kentucky Derby triumph and his 13th overall win in a Triple Crown event.
“He looks no different than he did before the Kentucky Derby, so we’re pretty happy where we are right now,” said Baffert, whose Preakness favorite registered a dominating front-running Derby triumph over Good Magic on a sloppy track. “He looks healthy.”
Should Justify live up to his odds-on favoritism and prevail over seven rivals in the 1 3/16-mile spring classic, the 3-year-old son of Scat Daddy would give Baffert his seventh Preakness success, tying him for the record for most wins with Hall of Fame trainer Robert Wyndham Walden, who set the record between 1875 and 1888. A victory by Justify would also put him in a tie with Hall of Famer D. Wayne Lukas for the most wins (14) in Triple Crown races.
“I never think about breaking records or anything like that. I’m like, we live for the moment and right now, the moment is this race,” said Baffert, whose Derby winner arrived at Pimlico Wednesday afternoon following a flight from Louisville, Ky. “I got a little (New England Patriots coach) Bill Belichick in me. I’m like, ‘On to Baltimore.’ I don’t want to talk about this.”
Justify earned his Preakness favorite’s role by winning all four of his career starts by a combined 21 ½ lengths. The Baffert trainee debuted with a maiden victory Feb. 18 at Santa Anita, where he proceeded to win an allowance and the Santa Anita Derby (G1) before venturing to Churchill Downs and becoming the first horse since Apollo (1882) to win the Kentucky Derby without any racing experience as a 2-year-old.
Baffert’s first four Kentucky Derby winners – Silver Charm (1997), Real Quiet (1998), War Emblem (2002) and American Pharoah (2015) – all went on to win the Preakness, and American Pharoah went on to become the 13th Triple Crown champion by rolling to victory in the Belmont Stakes (G1). Baffert also saddled Point Given (2001) and Lookin At Lucky (2010) for Preakness victories after Derby losses.
Mike Smith, who has been winless on 13 Preakness starters since winning aboard Prairie Bayou in 1993, has the mount aboard Justify.
Good Magic, owned by e Five Racing Thoroughbreds and Stonestreet Stables, was rated second in the morning line at 3-1 after drawing Post No. 5 for his Preakness rematch with Justify.
The son of 2007 Preakness winner Curlin, who will be ridden by Jose Ortiz, made a strong challenge to Justify at the top of the stretch in the Derby before coming up short in the run to the finish line.
“He’s a very impressive horse, a remarkable horse,” trainer Chad Brown said of Good Magic, who was honored with the Eclipse Award as the outstanding 2-year-old colt or gelding in 2017 after breaking his maiden in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile (G1). “I’m excited again to try him in the Preakness.”
Good Magic has allayed any concerns Brown may have had about running him back in the Preakness just two weeks after the Derby.
“He really had to bounce out of the race really well and gain his weight back quickly. I also wanted to see a horse that was moving as well as he was going into the Derby. I also wanted to see his energy level get back to what it was before the race,” Brown said. “I would think that after a hard race like the Kentucky Derby in those kind of conditions it would have been a bit of a longshot to do all that and have him look the way I wanted him to look. And lo and behold, he looked terrific coming out of the race, just a week removed. That was remarkable. I was very taken aback by how well the horse came out of the race and how strong he galloped at Belmont.”
Brown experienced his first success in a Triple Crown race last year with Cloud Computing, who scored a narrow decision over Classic Empire in the Preakness.
“That was a big breakthrough win for us. To get that first Classic win out of the way…it was the one we were looking for,” said Brown, who has been honored with the Eclipse Award as outstanding trainer the past two years. “We had been working toward a win like that for a long time. It was a big relief to finally win one.”
Wayne Lukas has won more Triple Crown races than anyone, but the fire still burns in the 82-year-old Hall of Fame trainer, who is scheduled to saddle Bravazo and Sporting Chance in the Preakness Stakes.
“I’m excited because I like the big arena. I like to compete,” said Lukas, whose most recent Triple Crown success came with longshot Oxbow in the 2013 Preakness. “You hope that you have the one. Sometimes you get lucky. Oxbow came in here a couple of years ago and nobody knew he was here. But you go over there optimistic that your horses are going to run well.”
Like Baffert, Lukas has six Preakness victories to his credit, scoring with Codex (1980), Tank’s Prospect (1985), Tabasco Cat (1994), Timber Country (1995), Charismatic (1999) and Oxbow.
Bravazo, who captured the Risen Star (G2) at Fair Grounds in February, finished a troubled sixth in the Kentucky Derby. Calumet Farm’s son of Awesome Again is rated at 20-1 in the morning line.
Robert Baker and William Mack’s Sporting Chance, who captured the Hopeful (G1) at Saratoga last year, most recently finished fourth in the Pat Day Mile (G3) on the Kentucky Derby undercard. The son of Tiznow was set at 30-1 in the morning line.
Luis Saez has the mount aboard Bravazo, while Luis Contreras will ride Sporting Chance.
Trainer Steve Asmussen will seek his third success in the Preakness with Tenfold, who will be programmed at 30-1 in the morning line. The Hall of Fame trainer has visited the Preakness winner’s circle with Curlin (2007) and Rachel Alexandra (2009).
Winchell Thoroughbreds’ Tenfold, a son of Curlin, most recently finished fifth in the April 14 Arkansas Derby (G1) after winning the first two starts of his career, a Feb. 9 maiden race and a March 18 optional claiming allowance race. Ricardo Santana Jr., who was aboard for the two wins, returns to the irons Saturday.
Trainer John Servis is among the five Preakness-winning trainers who will participate in this year’s Middle Jewel. Servis, who saddled 2004 Kentucky Derby winner Smarty Jones for an record-setting 11 ½-length romp in the Preakness, will return to Pimlico with Diamond King, who was rated 30-1 in the morning-line.
Cash is King, LC Racing and D.J. Stable’s Diamond King has won four of six starts, including the April 21 Federico Tesio at Laurel Park, a Preakness ‘Win and You’re In.’ race.
Hall of Famer Javier Castellano, a two-time Preakness-winning jockey who scored aboard Cloud Computing last year, will ride Diamond King.
Rodolphe Brisset will be the least experienced Preakness trainer, having gone out on his own last year after assisting Hall of Famer Bill Mott for several years. Brisset has enjoyed considerable early success, having saddled Quip for a triumph in the March 10 Tampa Bay Derby (G2). Quip went on to finish second in the Arkansas Derby to earn enough points to qualify for the Kentucky Derby field, but Brisset opted to give the son of Distorted Humor more time and point him to the Preakness. Quip is owned by WinStar Farm and China Horse Club, who visited the Kentucky Derby winner’s circle with Justify, as well as SF Racing.
Quip, ranked third at 12-1 in the morning line, will be ridden by Florent Geroux, who has been aboard for all six of his races.
Trainer Tom Amoss, who notched a third-place finish with Mylute in 2013 from three Preakness starters, is set to saddle Lone Sailor in a quest for his first success in a Triple Crown race. G M B Racing’s Lone Sailor, who finished a close second in the Louisiana Derby (G2) at Fair Grounds, came in eighth in the Kentucky Derby after a slow start.
Irad Ortiz Jr., the winningest jockey in the country last year and the current leader in this year’s standings, will ride Lone Sailor for the first time Saturday.
The son of Majestic Warrior was rated fourth at 15-1 in the morning line.
(Pimlico Race Course)