Justify wins in fog, keeps Triple Crown bid alive
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.
Justify with Mike Smith riding wins the Preakness Stakes horse race at Pimlico on Saturday.