BALTIMORE – Justify, who followed up his May 5 Kentucky Derby (G1) victory with a gutsy half-length triumph in Saturday’s 143rd Preakness Stakes (G1) at Pimlico Race Course, will have the opportunity to follow in the footsteps of American Pharoah and provide trainer Bob Baffert a second Triple Crown sweep in the June 9 Belmont Stakes (G1).
“I don’t see why we wouldn’t go to the Belmont as long as he stays like this. He looks good. He looks pretty bright. He ate everything,” the Hall of Fame trainer said Sunday morning. “No foot issues today.”
The 3-year-old son of Scat Daddy certainly showed no ill effects of a minor foot issue that surfaced on the morning after his Kentucky Derby score while extending his perfect race record to 5-for-5 in the Middle Jewel of the Triple Crown. Ridden by Hall of Fame jockey Mike Smith, Justify faced a stiff challenge throughout the 1 3/16-mile race that was run over a sloppy, sealed track.
Derby runner-up Good Magic took his best shot at turning the tables on Justify, taking it to him after an alert break from the starting gate. Good Magic, on the inside, and Justify, on the outside, raced head-to-head along the front stretch, around the first turn, along the backstretch, around the far turn and into the stretch. In early stretch, Justify emerged from a shroud of fog that at times obscured the view of the heated battle and appeared on his way to a commanding victory. Bravazo made a late surge to his outside, but Justify held on gamely.
“He did something totally different yesterday. He got challenged early. Good Magic was pushing him out the whole way,” Baffert said. “He had a five-eighths run, so that’s probably why he didn’t have a lot of kick at the end. But Mike said he could have won by more. When he knew he had it he just coasted to the wire. When he was pulling up and the horses came to him, he takes off again. It was close, but for him, what he’s done – fifth race – it’s pretty incredible.”
Justify’s performance under fire Saturday gives Baffert a lot of confidence going into the Belmont Stakes.
“I think the Belmont will be easier on him, the way it’s set up,” said Baffert, who trains Justify for WinStar Farm, China Horse Club, Starlight Racing and Head of Plains Partners.
Baffert made three failed attempts to pull off a sweep of the Triple Crown with Derby and Preakness winners Silver Charm (1997), Real Quiet (1998) and War Emblem (2002) before getting the job done in 2015 with American Pharoah, who ended a 37-year Triple Crown drought that followed Affirmed’s successful bid in the 1978 Belmont. American Pharoah’s success makes the Triple Crown challenge somewhat less daunting.
“I think it’s a little bit different. Before we’d go there thinking it’s going to be so difficult. Something always goes wrong. I just feel with this horse, he’s so talented, something can go wrong and he’d still win,” Baffert said. “He’s a superior horse. Yesterday, they tried something different and he handled it. He’s not one-dimensional.”
Justify already put Baffert in the record books with his victory in the Preakness, which gave his trainer seven wins in the Middle Jewel of the Triple Crown, placing him in a tie for most Preakness victories with 19th century trainer Robert Wyndham Walden, who saddled seven winners between 1875 and 1888. In addition to his four previous Derby/Preakness winners and Triple Crown hero American Pharoah, Baffert scored Preakness victories with Point Given (2001) and Lookin At Lucky (2010).
Baffert also equaled the record of 14 victories in the Triple Crown series held by Hall of Fame trainer D. Wayne Lukas, who came within a half-length of winning his 15th when Bravazo’s late drive fell short.
“I remember when I first got in, I remember Wayne Lukas’s record [in the Triple Crown]. He had like 12. ‘Well, no one is ever going to touch that, it’s ridiculous.’ I’ve never given it any thought, it’s never been a goal of mine,” Baffert said. “I did have a goal to win the Triple Crown. It felt a little empty. When somebody (else) would go for the Triple Crown, I had to see all my losses repeated over and over and over. When American Pharoah won, the first call I got was from (owner) Mike Pegram. He said, ‘I’m glad you won, because I don’t want to see any more reruns of Real Quiet getting beat.’”
American Pharoah’s Triple Crown breakthrough won’t diminish the build-up surrounding Justify’s bid in three weeks, said Baffert.
“New York is a sports town. They love something like [the Triple Crown]. It would be just as important [as Pharoah]. They’re watching the horse, they see this beautiful horse,” he said. “I think this horse has a big audience. Usain Bolt? He was in all those Olympics. But we still watched, to see if he still has it. Can he do it? He’s undefeated, he knows where the wire is, he knows himself he’s pretty good. I think it would be just as exciting.”
Shortly after 8 a.m. Sunday, Justify began his journey back to Churchill Downs, where he will resume serious training next week. Baffert is undecided when his Derby and Preakness winner will ship to Belmont Park.
Lukas Pointing Bravazo to Belmont Rematch with Justify
Hall of Fame trainer D Wayne Lukas said Sunday morning that he expects to take Preakness runner-up Bravazo to New York to the complete the Triple Crown cycle in the Belmont Stakes on June 9.
Calumet Farm’s Bravazo, Preakness sixth-place finisher Sporting Chance and Lukas’ stable pony were on the van that left Pimlico well before dawn for the return trip to Churchill Downs in Louisville, Ky. As usual, Lukas, 82, was riding in the cab of the truck pulling the horse van.
As Lukas predicted in the days leading up to the Preakness, Bravazo improved from his sixth-place finish in the Kentucky Derby with a strong performance in the Middle Jewel of the Triple Crown. He closed to finish second by a half-length to Justify and was a neck in front of Tenfold.
“I was very, very pleased with the way he woke up this morning,” Lukas said. “He was very sharp and we made a few turns around the shedrow. He was very sharp. That part was excellent.
“I just loved the way he ran. We’d like to have won it, but I think we needed another 15 yards and maybe we could have gotten it done,” he added. “After studying the video we were running the fastest of any of them at the end.”
Lukas said he had spoken with Calumet Farm owner Brad Kelley about going on to the Belmont for another rematch with Justify.
“Mr. Kelley wants to and I’d like to take him,” Lukas said. “He’s a tough little horse and I think his pedigree will let him run that far. So we’ll take him on and see what happens.”
Lukas said that Sporting Chance will get a break and then be prepared for some racing at Saratoga.
Though Bravazo was the 15-1 fifth choice in the wagering in the field of eight, Lukas was not surprised that he turned in a big performance. From the moment he arrived at Pimlico, Lukas said that the Derby winner Justify, trained by his pal Bob Baffert, stood over the field.
“I really thought he would run big,” Lukas said. “Bob and I talked and I thought Bob’s horse was definitely going to be a tough horse to beat. But I felt that we would really keep him honest. All week I thought we had a horse that would respond back in two weeks, which he did. I just felt that we would make it really interesting, and we did.”
Lukas chuckled at the suggestion that he was satisfied with Bravazo’s run in the Preakness.
“If you can be satisfied with second, I am,” he said. “I’m so competitive that second is not good enough in my mindset, but having said that, if you can handle second, it was a damn good one.”
Tenfold Belmont Candidate after 3rd-Place Preakness Finish
Happy with Tenfold’s third-place finish in the Preakness Stakes, Hall of Fame trainer Steve Asmussen said the colt owned by Winchell Thoroughbreds is a candidate for the Belmont Stakes on June 9.
“We are definitely considering it. I did decide to move him back to Churchill,” Asmussen said as the colt was prepped for a van ride to Louisville, Ky. “I want to feel as good going into the Belmont as we were coming into here, that you would fire your best shot.”
Asmussen said he expected to take his time and will make his decision on the Belmont about a week before the race.
Tenfold, making his first start since finishing fifth in the Arkansas Derby (G1) on April 14, was the longest shot in the field at 26-1. He made a strong run in the fog-obscured second turn and was in position to challenge the leaders, Justify and Good Magic, in the stretch when the horses came back into view. Justify held off Bravazo by a half-length and Tenfold was a neck back.
“I was, obviously, pleased with his effort,” Asmussen said. “With the way the race unfolded in the fog, it was extremely difficult to truly assess everything that happened because we saw so little.”
Tenfold was a late-developing horse and did not run at 2. He won twice at Oaklawn Park and he had a promising performance in the Arkansas Derby that wasn’t good enough to get him to the Kentucky Derby. Asmussen said he was concerned about the way the Preakness was unfolding in the first run through the stretch.
“I thought he would be a little closer,” Asmussen said. “He worked himself into a great position down the backside when they went into the turn and out of view. Then what did we see, the last between eighth and sixteenth of the mile of the race? He was beaten three-quarters in the Preakness. The horse has a tremendous frame and physical (build) and is a great mover. I think there are very good things ahead for him.”
Asmussen’s stable had a very successful weekend – winning four stakes to go with two seconds and two thirds – and he earned the $50,000 trainer’s stakes-race bonus for the second straight year. Asmussen had 82 points. Graham Motion was second with 45 points and earned $25,000.
Diamond King, Lone Sailor, Quip Exit Preakness in Good Order
Cash is King, LC Racing and D.J. Stable’s multiple stakes winner Diamond King emerged from his seventh-place finish in the Preakness in good order, trainer John Servis said Sunday morning.
“He came out good, very good. He didn’t look any worse for wear,” Servis said. “It was a big assignment for him, but we got through it. The winner was certainly no surprise.”
Diamond King raced between horses early and, after bumping slightly with eventual third-place finisher Tenfold, made a bit of a run off the rail into the far turn before finishing evenly under Hall of Fame jockey Javier Castellano, beaten a 12 ¼ lengths.
“[Castellano] had to use him a little bit to get position early on and when it came time to quicken, he picked it up but he said he just couldn’t keep up,” Servis said. “I couldn’t see much. Between the people and the fog, it was hard to see anything. We knew what we were up against going in; that was no secret.”
In 2004, Servis took an undefeated Kentucky Derby and Preakness winner to New York, where the popular Smarty Jones was tested all the way around the racetrack and wound up second by a length to 36-1 long shot Birdstone in the Belmont Stakes (G1). Justify remained perfect at 5-0 following his half-length victory Saturday.
“It takes a special horse. Justify had to work hard yesterday,” Servis said. “He looked good last night when he walked by me, but I can tell you from experience they’ll be firing bullets at him at Belmont. Especially with the speed he’s shown, I guarantee you they’re already looking for rabbits.”
Diamond King returned to Parx Racing in Bensalem, Pa. Sunday and Servis said he would be pointed to either the Ohio Derby (G3) June 23 at Thistledown or the Indiana Derby (G3) July 14 at Indiana Grand. Both races carry a $500,000 purse.
“We have a schedule mapped out for him. We’ll see how he comes out of it and whether we’re going to stick to that schedule or go a different route,” he said. “As long as he comes out of it good and he’s training good, I think either the Ohio Derby or the Indiana Derby is probably going to be his next start.”
Trainer Tom Amoss reported that no decision has been made whether Lone Sailor, the fifth-place Preakness finisher, will run in the Belmont.
“It’s way too early to think about the Belmont,” Amoss said. “The horse came back fine and he’s on his way to Kentucky.”
Quip, who finished last after bobbling at the start of the Preakness, was in fine condition Sunday morning, reported trainer Rodolphe Brisset. The son of Distorted Humor was scheduled to return to Keeneland.
Good Magic, who finished fourth, less than a length behind Justify, returned to Belmont Park Sunday morning but is not expected to run in the Belmont Stakes.
“The horse got in about 9:30 and so far the horse looks good,” said trainer Chad Brown. “We put him in a difficult situation in the race and he did the best he could. “It was tough circumstances where he was in the race but that’s horse racing. He tried hard.”
The Haskell at Monmouth Park or the Jim Dandy at Saratoga will be targeted.