Jus­tify wins in fog, keeps Triple Crown bid alive

Stamford Advocate (Sunday) - - Sports -

BAL­TI­MORE — Though he ranked among the heav­i­est Preak­ness fa­vorites in re­cent his­tory, Jus­tify’s quest to take the sec­ond leg of the Triple Crown car­ried sev­eral notes of un­cer­tainty.

Would the big chest­nut colt be dis­turbed by a ten­der heel that both­ered him the morn­ing af­ter the Ken­tucky Derby?

Would he fi­nally take a step back, or even side­ways, af­ter a me­te­oric rise to the top of his sport?

In­stead, Jus­tify added another chap­ter to the story that be­gan when trainer Bob Baf­fert first saw him work out in Jan­uary. He was an un­known at that point, with less than four months to go un­til the Triple Crown se­ries. But Baf­fert sensed in his gut that he had another cham­pion, akin to 2015 Triple Crown win­ner Amer­i­can Pharoah.

Jus­tify proved him right again Satur­day, win­ning the 143rd Preak­ness Stakes over a sloppy track at Pim­lico Race Course be­fore an an­nounced crowd of 134,487. His win­ning time was 1:55.93.

A hard-charg­ing Bravazo fin­ished sec­ond and Ten­fold was third as Good Magic, who had gone step for step with Jus­tify most of the race, faded.

Jus­tify, a 2-5 fa­vorite when the race started, paid $2.80, Bravazo $7.60 and Ten­fold $6.80.

With his sev­enth Preak­ness vic­tory, Baf­fert moved into a tie for the all-time record with 19th cen­tury trainer R. Wyn­d­ham Walden. He also tied D. Wayne Lukas for the most Triple Crown vic­to­ries with 14. That one car­ried ex­tra weight, be­cause Lukas was the pin­na­cle to which Baf­fert as­pired when he broke into thor­ough­bred train­ing in the 1990s.

Baf­fert has al­ways said the key to mak­ing his­tory as a trainer is be­ing en­trusted with his­tor­i­cally great horses. That was cer­tainly the case here.

“Oh, man. It was a nail-biter,” Baf­fert told NBC af­ter the race. “They put it to us. That (Good Magic) was a good horse, 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.”

In a dizzy­ing 90-day rush, Jus­tify has rolled from his maiden vic­tory to seiz­ing the first two legs of the Triple Crown.

It takes a re­mark­able ta­lent to pull off such an un­prece­dented feat, and he is that — 1,270 pounds of mus­cle on mus­cle com­bined with a sprinter’s quick­ness and an adapt­able mind.

We won’t know for three weeks if he has enough fuel left in his tank to do what Amer­i­can Pharoah did three years ago. NBC an­a­lyst and Hall of Fame jockey Jerry Bai­ley said his su­pe­rior qual­ity will pre­vent us from see­ing vul­ner­a­bil­ity un­til he’s truly asked to reach deep, as he might be over the 11⁄2 miles at Bel­mont Park.

But that’s a con­ver­sa­tion for tomorrow. To­day, Jus­tify is the undis­puted king of his 3-year-old class and a horse Baf­fert rates among the best three — with Amer­i­can Pharoah and Ar­ro­gate — he has trained in his Hall of Fame ca­reer.

He said all week that Jus­tify was primed for another big ef­fort, de­spite the ques­tions that arose when he had dif­fi­culty putting pressure on his left hind leg the morn­ing af­ter the Derby. He was di­ag­nosed with a heel bruise and re­sumed gal­lop­ing four days later with­out ap­par­ent dis­com­fort.

But the in­jury cast some un­cer­tainty on a Preak­ness that was oth­er­wise an eas­ier test than the Derby, with a shorter dis­tance and a smaller, less tal­ented field.

Mike Ste­wart / Associated Press

Jus­tify with Mike Smith rid­ing wins the Preak­ness Stakes horse race at Pim­lico on Satur­day.

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