The 143rd Preakness Stakes is set for Saturday and has drawn a field of eight. You may think that is a small field for a prestigious event like the Preakness, but the presence of Justify has scared many owners and trainers away. The Kentucky Derby champion will be a heavy favorite in this spot, and rightfully so after his historic victory.
The morning after the Kentucky Derby became the biggest story of last week when trainer Bob Baffert took Justify out of his stall for the media to see. Many following online quickly analyzed the video and noticed that the horse was noticeably favoring his left hind leg. It was quickly determined that the horse had minor scratches and he was swiftly treated that same morning. The scare was only temporary, and it now looks like all things are perfectly normal leading up to the Preakness.
“I just loved the way he went around there,” said Baffert, who flew back to California the day after the Derby. “He looks no different than he did before the Kentucky Derby, so we’re pretty happy where we are right now. He looks healthy. He didn’t lose an ounce of weight, which is important. That’s one thing about him. The next day (after the Derby) when I brought him out, he was so bright and full of energy, I was pretty impressed myself. Usually, all my Derby winners, it takes them about five days to really snap out of it. But he was pretty sharp the whole time. You can tell by their eyes, their body language that he’s enjoying it out there. He wanted to go faster than the rider (allowed). That tells me he’s still on ‘go.’
“Any time you run horses on a wet track, it’s very abrasive, especially that day. It burns their heels and that’s when bruised feet come out. I looked at it and said, ‘Start treating it,’ because when you get heat, you’ll get ‘scratches’ or cracked heels. But we jumped on it right away. He looked much better in the afternoon. You have to get on it. We deal with these issues constantly in horse racing.”
Baffert also mentioned that he would have stayed with Justify in Kentucky if he thought that the foot issue was a major problem.
Even though Baffert seems confident in Justify’s ability to run just as well this Saturday as he did two weeks ago, trainer Chad Brown is also confident in his horse. Good Magic was extremely solid while finishing second in the Kentucky Derby, and many believe that this will be a two-horse rematch. Brown, like most trainers, does not run traditionally horses back in two weeks, but he says that his horse has shown signs of being ready to run in this spot.
“I think it’s a great opportunity for the horse,” he said. “I really don’t have anything else planned for him before, say, either the Haskell or the Jim Dandy anyway. That said, I wouldn’t do it just because he’s going to get a bit of a freshening. He has to be doing well, and he’s doing exceptionally well. He’s doing far better than I expected exiting the Derby. It’s remarkable to see how well the horse is moving and his energy level. He already has his weight back. He just looks great. I’m excited about it.”
As for tackling Justify, Brown knows that the this will be a tough task.
“It’s a tall order,” he said. “The horse is unbeaten and to a degree untested. He ran a great race in the Derby and he is clearly the horse to beat. We’re going to need to close the gap on him somehow. We’re going to need to improve. Even though our horse ran an excellent race in the Derby and earned a lot of respect from everybody, he needs to again move forward and we need to have Justify come back to us a little bit. I think that the margin that I saw between the two horses is not out of the question that we’ll be able to make up that difference.”
The full field from the rail out: Quip, Lone Sailor, Sporting Chance, Diamond King, Good Magic, Tenfold, Justify, Bravazo
#7 Justify – There is no doubt that this could be the next Triple Crown winner, and there is also zero question that his chances are astronomically higher compared to the horses that have tried in the previous two years. He has put himself in this position in just four lifetime starts, which is absolutely incredible. He became the first horse since 1882 to win the Kentucky Derby without having raced at age 2 and just the third horse in 144 years to win the race while making three or fewer lifetime starts. More often than not, the best horse wins the Preakness, and he is the best horse in this crop. The pace dynamics should set up much better for him here than in the Derby, and if they do, then he could put on a show on Saturday. Everything seems to be in place for him to romp in this spot and move on to Belmont Park, where he could place his name among the all-time greats in horse racing history.
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#5 Good Magic – He proved that he is for real in the Kentucky Derby, keeping closer than normal to a hot pace and still being able to give Justify a brief scare down the stretch while holding on for second. Even though his second-place finish in the race was only by a nose, considering the pace dynamics, it was still an amazing performance for him. He must bounce back in two weeks, which is scary, but Brown says that he is doing incredibly well. He likely won’t be as close to Justify as he was in the Kentucky Derby, and the hope will be that Justify backs up a bit more than he did last time out. Brown is very good at picking out a main objective for horses and getting them to fire in a big way, but can he wheel them back in two weeks and be successful? We are about to find out.
#8 Bravazo – At first glance, he reminds me very much of Oxbow, the Preakness winner in 2013 for trainer D. Wayne Lukas. The problem for Bravazo is that he has to face the mighty Justify, while Oxbow had to tangle with the not-so-mighty Orb. Bravazo outran his Derby expectations to finish sixth while racing wide for most of the race and should be more forwardly placed in this spot with only eight horses in the race. If he can show up with a solid effort again, then he can have a say in things underneath.
#3 Sporting Chance – This is the second of the two Lukas horses aiming for an upset here. No trainer can pull off an upset quite like D. Wayne, but this is going to be quite the test. Sporting Chance has been considered the better of the two Lukas horses all year long but has been his own worst enemy in many of his races. If he can run straight and stop his crazy antics, he can hit the board here at a big price. Finding a longshot to hit the board is key because the winner is likely to be very chalky.
#1 Quip – You have to respect what this horse did off of a layoff when he won the Grade 2 Tampa Bay Derby this year. He kept it going with a solid runner-up finish in the Grade 1 Arkansas Derby, but he was well-beaten by Magnum Moon. From a speed figure standpoint, he must improve, but this is his third start off of the bench, so he might be ready to run a career-best race. He will likely factor into the pace, but you must remember that he and Justify are owned by the same people. In no way will this horse mess with anything Justify might be doing on the front end.
NONE – No upsets here. Justify is going to be ultra-tough to beat, and if he loses, then Good Magic will get the job done. Neither would be considered a party crasher. The Lukas duo certainly would be considered party crashers, but in the end, they may not be good enough to actually win the race.
#2 Lone Sailor – Something about this horse makes me think that he will pull off an upset at some point this year, but I do not think that it will be here. After nearly winning the Grade 2 Louisiana Derby, he came back to run an average eighth in the Kentucky Derby. The problem is that he has only one win in nine lifetime starts, so it is hard to envision him winning a race like this one.
#6 Tenfold – Earlier in the year at Oaklawn Park, he looked like an up-and-comer after back-to-back victories to start his career. He then jumped up to the Arkansas Derby and was able to finish fifth, only a 1/2-length behind Quip. He could move forward a bit off of that race, but I’m not sure that it will be enough to compete with this solid field. Keep an eye out for him, though, as he could blossom during the summer.
#4 Diamond King – The winner of the $125,000 Federico Tesio Stakes always takes a shot at the Preakness. This year’s winner, Diamond King, was impressive, but this is a whole other level of class. From a speed figure standpoint, he doesn’t seem to match up with many horses in this race. This horse might also be a bit better when going shorter. This is a tough task for him.