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BALTIMORE, MD – Almost on cue, the rain stopped falling when Kentucky Derby (G1) winner Justify made his first visit to the Pimlico Race Course track at 8:30Thursday morning. The unbeaten son of Scat Daddy had a 1½-mile controlled gallop over the wet track that will play host to the 143rd Preakness Stakes (G1) on Saturday.
Justify shipped in from Churchill Downs in Louisville, Ky. Wednesday and will try to become trainer Bob Baffert’s fifth Derby winner to add the Preakness to his resume, following Silver Charm (1997); Real Quiet (1998); War Emblem (2002) and Triple Crown winner American Pharoah (2015). Baffert also saddled Point Given (2001) and Lookin At Lucky (2010) for Preakness wins after Derby losses.
Justify drew Post No. 7, the same number he wore in the May 5 Derby. Mike Smith will ride the colt co-owned by WinStar Farm, China Horse Club, Head of Plains Partners and Starlight Racing.
Baffert said the plan was for an easy piece of exercise under Humberto Gomez Thursday morning.
“We took him out there and we backed him up to near the half-mile pole and just went easy around there,” he said. “We didn’t want to do too much because of the condition of the track. There is so much water on it, but (Gomez) said it was soft. He’s a really smart horse and will do whatever you want him to. He’ll go slow, quick, fast, whatever. He never gets really tough.
“I’m just happy with the way he went around there,” he added. “He was just getting warmed up. He was ready to do a lot more, but we didn’t want him to do too much. We’ll basically do the same tomorrow when we go out.”
The trip to the track allowed the colt to stretch his legs a bit and get a look at Pimlico.
“He comes in here pretty ready,” Baffert said. “It’s too late if I want to get him fit, two days out. We just want to keep him happy. If he just stays that way he will be fine. We know what he does in the afternoon.”
Though Justify did not compete as a 2-year-old and did not make his debut until Feb. 18, Baffert said the chestnut colt should not be described as “lightly raced” going into the Preakness.
“He’s been running. This is going to be his fifth race,” Baffert said. “He’s been running every three weeks. He’s had a tough schedule. But he looks good. Flesh-wise, he looks healthy. The main thing is, he’s a really good horse. That’s what makes him so great. He’s a superior horse, just like American Pharoah. What he’s done in that short 75 days to win the Kentucky Derby, to go, go, go, – and he ran with some good horses – he makes my job a lot easier.”
The morning after the Derby, Justify appeared to have some discomfort in his left hind leg while turning. Baffert described it as a minor issue that was treated promptly and is of no concern.
“I think it’s behind us,” he said. “He had that one day, but after that he’s been good on it. I put a full shoe back on it and he went out there today and he didn’t feel anything. Those things, you don’t know when they are going to sneak up on you, but right now, I’m not really worried about it.”
Different day, same story for Good Magic, the Kentucky Derby runner-up, Thursday morning. For the third consecutive morning since his arrival from New York on Monday, Good Magic trained over a track that was labeled either muddy or sloppy.
As soon as the Chad Brown-trained Good Magic hit the Pimlico racing surface at 7:30 a.m., the drizzle turned into a steady downpour. Going around the track twice, with exercise rider Walter Malasquez in the saddle, Good Magic looked very comfortable as he navigated the sloppy going.
Back at the barn, Brown’s traveling assistant, Baldo Hernandez, wryly noted that the rain abated, almost as soon as Good Magic completed his training.
“Look at it now,” Hernandez said, gesturing to the drizzle that was falling outside the stakes barn as Good Magic was being walked around the shedrow. “It was a good gallop for him.”
Brown is expected to arrive in Baltimore on Friday, perhaps in time for Good Magic’s training.
Good Magic’s jockey, Jose Ortiz, is expected to arrive late Thursday evening, as he is named to ride in several stakes at Pimlico on Friday, including Indy Union in the Xpressbet Black-Eyed Susan Stakes (G2).
The 2017 Eclipse Award-winning rider won his first Classic race last year aboard Tapwrit in the Belmont Stakes (G1). Ortiz finished 10th and last aboard longshot Term of Art in last year’s Preakness, which marked his first time riding in the Middle Jewel of the Triple Crown.
Ortiz, 24, said he is optimistic that he and Good Magic can get the better of Justify, the 1-2 morning-line favorite, in the Preakness, even though it’s a real possibility that Justify will get the same wet conditions that propelled him to a 2 1/2-length victory in the Kentucky Derby.
“It’s a small field and if we have a clean trip, I’m sure we could turn the tables on [Justify] on Saturday,” Ortiz said by phone from New York on Thursday morning. “We just have to make up 2 1/2 lengths. It’s not like he beat us 10 or 20 lengths.
“[A wet track] is not a disadvantage for me or for my horse,” he added. “We ran in the Derby and we were beaten 2 1/2 lengths on a sloppy track. Both horses like it; Justify just had a better day that day.”
As far as race tactics go, Ortiz has a specific plan in mind for e Five Racing Thoroughbreds and Stonestreet Stables’ Good Magic, the second choice at odds of 3-1 who will break from Post No. 5.
“Hopefully, someone else goes [to the early lead]. If Justify goes, and I have to be the one putting pressure on him, I will be,” Ortiz said. “I will have to turn it into a match race. It looks like a match race on paper. You can’t give Justify an inch.”
Tampa Bay Derby (G2) winner Quip jogged over Pimlico’s rain-soaked racetrack Thursday morning under trainer Rodolphe Brisset after arriving from KentuckyWednesday afternoon.
“We’ll see how it goes (tomorrow). It will be 5:30 [a.m.] training, for sure. I’ll want to get it done on a tight track. We’ll have more rain coming in. He’ll gallop a mile or something like that,” said Brisset, whose trainee was rated third in the morning line at 12-1 after drawing Post No. 1 Wednesday.
Brisset, who trains the son of Distorted Humor for WinStar Farm, China Horse Club and SF Racing, said he won’t be overly concerned should the track come up sloppy for the Preakness Stakes.
“Until you run on it, you don’t really know how they handle it. Lucky enough, the weather at Fair Grounds over the winter wasn’t very good. We needed to get him ready, so twice we breezed on a sloppy, tight track. He breezed pretty good,” Brisset said. “It will be the same thing for everyone.”
Although he acknowledges there are certain advantages for a trainer who gallops and breezes his horses, Brisset won’t go as far as saying that trainers that don’t get on their horses are at any disadvantage.
“Lucky me. I’ve been on a lot of very good horses. Quip was sent to me because he was not easy in the morning when he was 2. They decided to keep him with me, because I got along with him pretty good,” said Brisset, a former assistant to Hall of Famer Bill Mott before going out on his own last year. “But look at Bob Baffert and those guys who don’t gallop their horses. They do pretty good. They win many, many races from the grandstand.”
Florent Geroux, who has been aboard Quip for all five of his races, including a runner-up finish in the Arkansas Derby (G1) last time out, has the mount in the Preakness.
G M B Racing’s Louisiana Derby (G2) runner-up Lone Sailor, whose first victory came in the slop at Saratoga last summer, was introduced to the very wet Pimlico track Thursday morning after flying to Baltimore from Louisville Wednesday afternoon.
Accompanied to the track by a pony at 6:30 a.m., exercise rider Maurice Sanchez jogged Lone Sailor clockwise about three-quarters of mile to the paddock entrance with the intention of schooling, only to find a barrier preventing entry to the paddock under the grandstand. Sanchez then turned Lone Sailor around and executed the planned 1 1/2 miles gallop.
“That’s our regular gallop,” Sanchez said. “Mr. Amoss said to just give him a good mile and let him check out the racetrack…. He hit it good; he was striding over it big time. He liked it over that funny going.”
Trainer Tom Amoss was to arrive in Baltimore from Louisville later Thursday morning. After Wednesday evening’s post-position draw, in which Lone Sailor drew Post 2, he called the track a considerable “unknown.”
“Is it going to be good down the inside? A few paths off?” he said, adding of 2016 Preakness winner Exaggerator rolling to victory in the slop on the rail, “I think back to Exaggerator’s Preakness, and Kent Desormeaux’s comments after the race that he was on the best part of the racetrack. That is on my mind. We will definitely pay attention to that during the course of the day. I think everybody else will, too.”
Lone Sailor finished eighth in the Kentucky Derby, but his trouble had nothing to do with the sloppy track at Churchill Downs but rather getting held up in traffic. Even though he said he ruined a $1,000 jacket from getting soaked, G M B Racing manager Greg Bensel said he welcomed the rain then and for Saturday.
“He won by 11 at Saratoga on the wet,” said Bensel. “Let it rain. When we were sitting in our suite on Kentucky Derby Day and we saw a slight break in the weather, I got depressed. I was like, ‘No! Rain! Rain! Don’t quit now!’”
On paper, Hall of Fame trainer D. Wayne Lukas has two chances to win the 143rd Preakness Stakes (G1) at historic Pimlico Race Course on Saturday – Calumet Farm’sBravazo and Robert Baker and William Mack’s Sporting Chance.
Realistically, rain or shine (rain, likely), at least according to the six-time Preakness winning trainer, there’s little hope for any horse to beat Kentucky Derby winner Justify.
“He’s the best horse. It’s that simple. He looks terrific. He’s doing well. I watched him all week. He’s going to be very, very hard to handle,’’ Lukas said.
If it’s a rainy day, like it was on Derby Day, Lukas says he doesn’t think the outcome will be any different than it was two weeks ago when Justify, Saturday’s 1-2 morning-line favorite, finished ahead of Good Magic, rated second in the Preakness morning line at 3-1.
“I think the same horses that were up in front will be there again,’’ he said. “I hope to be a little closer with both of mine but we may not be able to do that.
“The thing that makes Justify so tough is that he has the ability to dictate the race and make his own luck,” he added. “While some of us have to have a little luck, he has the ability to do it when he wants. He’s the best horse.”
Lukas sent Bravazo out to the track Thursday morning for some light exercise, while Sporting Chance, walked the shedrow at the stakes barn. Lukas said he plans to have both of them out on the track Friday morning.
Steve Asmussen-trained Tenfold, coming into the Preakness off a fifth-place finish in the Arkansas Derby in his third start, was the first horse on the soggy Pimlico racetrack at 5:30 Thursday morning, accompanied by assistant trainer Scott Blasi on his pony. They walked back around the outside of the track surface to the five-eighths pole on the backside, with Tenfold turning around and galloping what Blasi termed “an easy mile” under exercise rider Angel Garcia. Winchell Thoroughbreds’ homebred was to school in the paddock during the races Thursday and visit the starting gate Friday morning.
Tenfold looked fetching while cooling out afterward in a snazzy camouflage blanket promoting Homes for Our Troops, a charity that builds mortgage-free homes that are specially adapted for severely injured military veterans. The venture is a collaboration with Sentient Jet, which donates funding and marketing resources to Homes for Our Troops, and Tenfold’s owner Ron Winchell.
Asked if Tenfold was in disguise in camo to sneak up on the opposition, Blasi, whose son, Blayne Prochaska, is in the National Guard, said, “I hope so,” adding, “It’s a great cause, Home for Our Troops. It’s very fun to be a part of it.”
Among those visiting Tenfold Thursday was 36-year-old Army veteran Brandon Huff, who lost his left leg to a roadside bomb in Iraq. Homes for Our Troops is building Huff a home in Maryland. Huff, two other wounded veterans and Gen. Richard Cody (Ret.), board chairman of Homes for Our Troops, will be guests of the Maryland Jockey Club at the Preakness.
“I was brought back to the States within 72 hours,” Huff said. “Somewhere in there I had a stroke. So I was learning to walk again on a new leg when I couldn’t move the left side of my body. The stroke is probably more complicated than the rest of it.”
Later, Huff and his wife, Netta, got up close and personal with the amiable Tenfold, petting his head while talking with Blasi, who was holding the colt.
“It’s really exciting. I’m really just so overwhelmed by everything,” Huff said. “It still hasn’t fully set in that we’re getting the house.”
The camouflage blanket actually started at the Kentucky Derby with Tenfold’s stablemate Combatant.
Cash is King, LC Racing and D.J. Stable’s Preakness contender Diamond King jogged two miles through the rain early Thursday morning, his first time over the Pimlico surface since arriving from Parx Racing in Bensalem, Pa. at mid-afternoon Wednesday.
Trainer John Servis watched from high above the track on the press box porch as Diamond King showed good energy during his routine exercise.
“I was going to gallop him but with the track the way it was, I just jogged him. He’s doing good,” Servis said. “He looked good. He was reaching, he was bucking and playing. He was happy.”
Servis, whose last trip to the Preakness came with undefeated Kentucky Derby winner Smarty Jones in 2004, said Diamond King will train in similar fashion on Fridayand race Saturday.
Since 1909, only four trainers have won the Preakness with their first two starters – Thomas Healey (1922, 1923), Jimmy Jones (1947, 1948), Henry Forrest (1966, 1968) and Tom Bohannan (1992, 1993). Servis can become the fifth.
To do that, he and the other seven challengers will have to figure out a way to beat Justify, an impressive 2 ½-length winner of the Kentucky Derby to keep his perfect record intact at 4-for-4. The Derby was contested over a wet track, which is expected to be the case Saturday with rain in the forecast the rest of the week.
Diamond King has won four of six career starts, with stakes victories in the seven-furlong Heft to cap his juvenile season and the 1 1/8-mile Federico Tesio April 21 at Laurel Park, which earned him an automatic berth into the 1 3/16-mile Preakness.
In his final tune-up for the Preakness, Diamond King went five furlongs in 1:01.51 Sunday over a muddy track at Parx. The son of Grade 1 winner Quality Road will break from Post 4 with morning-line odds of 30-1.
“I’m happy with the post. I didn’t want to be in the one-hole,” Servis said. “He worked over a wet track the other day and worked good. He seemed to handle it fine. We’ll just play with what’s dealt. I think he needs to worry more about Justify than he does the track.”
Justify will break from Post 7 with Tampa Bay Derby winner Quip in Post 1. WinStar Farm and China Horse Club shares an ownership interest in both horses.
“They own both horses, so it makes you wonder. The last thing you want to do is have your own horse go out there and beat your other horse up. I don’t know how that’s going to play out, but it’ll be interesting,” Servis said. “I think we’ll probably be sitting off the pace a little bit. Javier’s going to have to judge the pace, that’s all. If that horse is going 22, 45 [seconds], you can’t go after him because he can keep going. We’ll just have to wait. Maybe somebody will go with him.”
Hall of Fame jockey Javier Castellano is named to ride Diamond King in the Preakness, a race he won last year with Cloud Computing. Just six riders have won the Preakness in back-to-back years – Victor Espinoza (2014, 2015), Pat Day (1994, 1995, 1996), Eddie Arcaro (1950, 1951), Fred Taral (1894, 1895), Tom Costello (1881, 1882) and Lloyd Hughes (1879, 1880).
Pimlico Race Course
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