BALTIMORE – Kentucky Derby (G1) hero Justify had his final scheduled walk day Wednesday at Churchill Downs before resuming training Thursday in preparation for the 143rd Preakness Stakes (G1) at Pimlico Race Course.
Assistant trainer Jimmy Barnes said that trainer Bob Baffert’s plans call for Justify to gallop Thursday morning at 7:30, after Churchill’s first track renovation break. Barnes said everything is good with Justify, who came out of the Derby with a hind foot condition that Baffert has termed a “non-issue.”
Three of Justify’s owners through the Starlight Racing partnership arrived at Baffert’s Churchill Downs barn Tuesday, still finding it hard to believe they were heading to Baltimore with the Kentucky Derby winner.
Starlight co-managing partner Jack Wolf, Tom Mueller and Clinton Glasscock are among those becoming the first current Louisville residents to own the Derby winner since H.C. Applegate won with Old Rosebud in 1914.
“I still haven’t figured out that we have part of the horse that won,” Wolf said. “I woke up this morning going through what I needed to plan to do to get the partners everywhere, thinking it still hadn’t been done yet. So it hasn’t even sunk in yet on me.
“I think I read that Bob is undefeated with his Derby winners at Baltimore. You’d think the track and the distance would suit this horse, not that any track and distance would not suit this horse,” he added.
Justify will be Wolf’s fourth Preakness starter. He took fourth with Harlan’s Holiday in 2002 and 13th with Take the Points in 2009. With Starlight subsequently expanding its partnership, Mueller and Glasscock were part of the ownership that also was fourth in 2014 with General a Rod, a horse Starlight bought into before the Derby.
“To go with the favorite is a pretty awesome experience,” Mueller said. “I think the coolest part is having friends and family from around the country saying now, ‘I want to go to the Preakness. I want to be in Maryland. Meet you in Baltimore.’ I’m sure our entourage will not get smaller. It will only grow.”
Starlight forms partnerships that invest in modest-sized yearling crops but also on occasion has bought into a horse. With its 2017 2-year-olds appearing to be late-developing types, Wolf said some of his partners asked about trying to buy into a “made” horse. After Audible won Gulfstream Park’s Holy Bull Stakes in late January, Wolf worked on buying into that colt, who is trained by Starlight’s main trainer, Todd Pletcher. A deal was made to buy SF Bloodstock’s share of Audible for racing purposes only, with SF maintaining its breeding interest.
“Once we negotiated a price and terms on him, SF asked if we wanted the same deal on this one (Justify),” Wolf said. “He had just broken his maiden.”
Wolf said Starlight owns 15 percent of Audible, who went on to win the Florida Derby (G1) and Justify. Their partners are WinStar Farm, China Horse Club International and Head of Plains Partners’ Sol Kumin. Audible finished third in Saturday’s Kentucky Derby.
Glasscock admitted he “was maybe a part of that” push to try to buy into a possible Derby horse.
“Back in January, we made a run at probably nine or 10 horses. For different reasons, it obviously didn’t work out,” he said. “Then we lucked into these two…. All of our group really cares about the racing side. Obviously, WinStar and China Horse Club are into breeding and racing. We thought it might be a win-win if we could get in there and just get the racing rights.”
Glasscock was part of the Starlight entourage watching the Derby from Churchill Downs’ turf course. “I was already really drenched from walking over from the backside,” he said. “I’ve never watched the Derby from over there. It’s almost like they’re singing My Old Kentucky Home at you before the race, which gave you chills. The Preakness, you do sometimes watch it from the infield — not the crazy part of the infield.
“The Preakness is definitely a festive, party atmosphere, like the Derby. But it is a different experience. For me, it’s so more relaxed. It’s not as hectic,” he added.
Asked if he has allowed himself to think about a Triple Crown sweep, should Justify win the 1 3/16-mile Preakness and then the 1 1/2-mile Belmont Stakes, Glasscock said: “He obviously came in as the prohibitive favorite, overcame the ‘Apollo curse,’ and I think he was very, very impressive Saturday, overcoming all those obstacles. So yeah, you start dreaming about it. Hopefully we get through next Saturday and then on to New York.”
Mueller also watched from the turf course, the ruination of his pants and shoes a small price to pay.
“It was almost a little surreal,” he said. “I remember bits and pieces, not the whole thing. And it wasn’t like I was drunk or anything.
“The winner’s circle, itself, was complete chaos. Once you got into it, the number of people, you’re sinking into the mud. I had mud up almost to my knees. I just dropped my pants off at the dry cleaner and they said, ‘These might be done.’ I said, ‘I want them either way. I might get them framed.’ It was a ton of fun, it was awesome. But it was a bit surreal. Being aware of the 104 years (since a Louisville resident owned the Derby winner), as well, certainly made it more surreal.”
Bravazo, Sporting Chance Return to Track for Lukas
Calumet Farm’s Bravazo and Robert Baker and William Mack’s Sporting Chance trained on the Churchill Downs track Wednesday for the first time since their respective starts on Saturday’s Kentucky Derby program.
Bravazo, sixth in the Kentucky Derby, and Sporting Chance, fourth in the Pat Day Mile (G3), jogged once around the track and up the mile chute. Hall of Fame trainer D. Wayne Lukas has confirmed both horses for starts in the Preakness, in which he will seek a record-tying seventh win in the Middle Jewel of the Triple Crown.
After a troubled start, Bravazo raced wide along the first turn and backstretch before making a solid run on the far turn and into the stretch before tiring. Sporting Chance was caught in traffic on the backstretch and was forced to race eight-wide on the turn on his way to a fourth-place finish in the one-turn Pat Day Mile.
Lukas has yet to name riders for Bravazo, the Risen Star (G2) winner, or Sporting Chance, the 2017 Hopeful (G1) winner.
Lone Sailor, Givemeaminit Play Waiting Game
Lone Sailor returned to the Churchill Downs track Wednesday for the first time since finishing eighth in the Kentucky Derby. The son of Majestic Warrior galloped 1 ½ miles while showing “good energy,” said Tom Amoss, who trains Lone Sailor for Gayle Benson’s G M B Racing.
“He had a good day on the track today. I mean, one day doesn’t make a decision [about Lone Sailor’s Preakness status],” said Amoss. “We’ll kind of wait and see. I don’t think it’s any secret we’re all looking to see where Justify lands. I’m sure a lot of trainers are interested in how he’s doing.”
Still, he continued, “I think it’s contingent on how our horse trains and how the conversation goes with Mrs. Benson on Saturday. I feel pretty confident that we’ll make a decision by Saturday evening.”
The Equibase chart footnotes reported that Lone Sailor “was stymied in traffic from the seven-sixteenths to inside the three-furlong marker, got through and stayed on the rail to the stretch, shifted out late and kept on to the wire” in finishing 1 1/4 lengths out of fifth and 2 1/4 out of fourth.
“I thought (his Derby) was a good one,” Amoss said. “Look, he didn’t break well – he never does. He went straight to the rail, got through all the way to the half-mile pole, got up to about sixth or seventh. Then Free Drop Billy was done in front of us and backed up, and unfortunately we had nowhere to go. So we backed up with him, backed up to a point where we were beating only a couple of horses. He rallied, got up to fourth at the top of the stretch and it was just too much. It’s the Derby. You can’t tell everybody, ‘Hey, here’s a head start. We’ll catch up to you.’ It just doesn’t work like that. I liked his race, though.”
No decision has been made on who would ride if Lone Sailor runs in the Preakness, Amoss said.
Valene Farms’ Louisiana-bred Givemeaminit, third in the Pat Day Mile after finishing fourth in the Louisiana Derby (G2), is also a possibility for the Preakness Stakes, though trainer Dallas Stewart said the seven-furlong Woody Stephens (G2) on the Belmont Stakes undercard in New York is more likely.
“If it’s a short field we might think about it,” Stewart said. “We jogged that horse this morning, and he jogged good. He looks great coming out of the race. We’ll see. The distance is something we’ve got to think about.”
Other horses under Preakness consideration are Quip, who was a confirmed for a start Tuesday, Good Magic, the Kentucky Derby runner-up, and Tenfold, the fifth-place Arkansas Derby (G1) finisher.