CRAWFORD | Justify wins foggy, soggy Preakness, sets date with Triple Crown
Justify powered through the fog and the slop to win the Preakness Stakes and set up a bid for a Triple Crown in three weeks in the Belmont.
BALTIMORE, Md. (WDRB) – Did you see the Preakness Stakes? Don’t worry. Nobody else did either.
Just when you think you’ve seen everything at Pimlico Race Course, the stifling heat, a severe thunderstorm just as Triple Crown winner American Pharoah stepped into the starting gate, six straight days and nights of rain leading up to the 143rd Preakness, you saw this. Or tried to.
Fog. Thick fog. I don’t know how race announcer Larry Collmus called the race on the back stretch, cameras or not. And who knows how Bob Baffert’s Justify, winner of the Kentucky Derby, splashed home to hold off a furious rally from D. Wayne Lukas trained Bravazo to win the second jewel of the Triple Crown, and set up a potential encore for Baffert in the Belmont Stakes in three weeks.
This was no dominant romp. Justify was pressed by 2-year-old champion and Kentucky Derby runner-up Good Magic. He jumped a bit the first time they passed the finish line. He showed some fatigue late in the race.
“But these great horses, they just define themselves when they get in that situation,” Baffert said. “And today he just showed not only is he a big, beautiful, gorgeous horse, but he is all racehorse, and that's what it took to win.”
Justify could be a great one. His victory gave Bob Baffert a seventh victory in the Preakness, matching a race record set back in the 1800s. It gave him his 14th Triple Crown race victory, tying Lukas for the record. It kept him perfect, 5-for-5, in Preakness Stakes races when he has come in with the Kentucky Derby winner.
And now, after a return to Kentucky for a bit of rest and to resume training, Justify should be on to the Belmont, if he comes away healthy.
“He was blowing today,” Baffert said. “He was in a fight. We’ll just get him back to Kentucky and see how he does. But I don’t see why not.”
The dense fog gave the post-race celebration a surreal feeling. Jockey Mike Smith pumped his fists and looked at the sky. He was surrounded by a cloudlike mist as they draped the garland of Black-Eyed-Susans over him.
“It’s a dream come true to be honest with you,” Smith said. “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 (his 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.”
Elliott Walden, president and CEO of racing operations for co-owner WinStar Farms, was like every other co-owner, trying to get a glimpse of what was going on.
“It seemed like an eternity, but when they went into the fog, I was like, where are they, where are they?” he said. “Just the anticipation of them coming out, and you knew when they went in that he was in front, so you were hoping to see those white stilts coming out. I was a little concerned there were three or four horses around him, a little more than I would have hoped, but it was just exciting to see those white stilts out, and I thought he ran really well.”
To bring it home, Smith had to edge a bid from Bravazo, trained by the Triple Crown’s other most dominant active trainer, Lukas. And Lukas liked what he saw.
“I want them to extend it another 50 yards,” Lukas said. “He was running on in the end. Luis Saez did a good job. A very good horse won the race, a very good horse. We ran at him. We kept him honest just like we said we would. Bob’s tough in these and if he gets the right horse, he’s really tough. But kudos to him, and we’ll see what happens in the next one.”
Justify won by a half length over Bravazo, who was a neck in front of Tenfold. After his early match-race, Good Magic finished fifth.
It was the fifth win in five starts for Justify, who has won three of those over off tracks, including both the Kentucky Derby and Preakness. Justify paid $2.80 to win as a 1-5 favorite. Justify covered the 1 3/16 miles on a sloppy, sealed track in 1:55.93.
“I think he's had a lot of races right in a row, and he reminded me of American Pharoah's Derby win,” Baffert said. “American Pharoah was coming off a huge race, Oaklawn, and he had to fight. It was sort of the same thing, like he had to really dig deep and he was running with some good horses, and I think coming back in the two weeks, ran so incredible in the Derby, and you know, the Derby was sort of like that, a big effort. You can only get away with that when you have a superior horse like he is. Sometimes as a trainer and as a jockey, we have to count on that horse to make up for -- I can only do so much in two weeks. I went really easy with him. And you know, it was showing up there at the end.
“Good Magic, he really put it to us. It was almost like the Sunday Silence, Easy Goer type. They didn't give it away. He was going to make us earn it, and I wasn't liking it down the backside.”
But he was loving it at the finish. Baffert is always looking for signs, omens of victory. He liked having the No. 7 post, after having the No. 7 post in Louisville, when going for Preakness victory No. 7. Now, he’ll send Justify back to his barn at Churchill Downs.
Barn No. 33.
Baffert has one triple. Will he be able to get another?
“What we're going to do is like we did for this race,” Baffert said. “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. And so we'll just -- he'll dictate.”
Through the first two legs of the Triple Crown, he’s done just that.
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