April 16, 2024

Justify has ‘muscle on muscle… looks like a giant Quarter Horse’ ahead of Preakness 143

Justify visited the sloppy track at Pimlico on Friday, May 18, 2018, one day ahead of the 143rd Preakness Stakes (G1) (c) Jim McCue/Maryland Jockey Club

Kentucky Derby (G1) winner Justify is ready to continue his Triple Crown quest on Saturday at Pimlico in the 143rd edition of the Preakness Stakes (G1).

Trainer Bob Baffert usually exercises his charges later in the morning, but sent out Justify early on Friday for a 1 1/2-mile gallop over the track. Training hours ended much earlier one day before the Preakness due to the Black-Eyed Susan Day Friday card, which began with an 11:30 a.m. (ET) post time.

“We wanted to beat the rain,” Baffert said. “It quit raining when we went out there. It always does. It always quits.”

Baffert, a top trainer in the Quarter Horse racing world before shifting to Thoroughbreds, was full of praise for his star.

“He’s so beautiful. He looks like a giant Quarter Horse,” Baffert said. “He has muscle. He’s almost the same size as (2015 Triple Crown hero American) Pharoah, but he’s just muscular. He’s got muscle on muscle and he has this presence about him. He is a big, fast son of a gun. He’s quick, though. Light on his feet.”

Justify will face similar circumstances in the Preakness as the Derby in terms of track condition. The Run for the Roses was contested over a sealed, sloppy surface, and unending rain showers at Pimlico all week have yielded another sealed, sloppy track.

“I think he just has to stay the way he is,” Baffert said. “He ran hard early and fast (in the Derby). We’re all sort of in the same boat. We’re coming back. It’s muddy. The break still is so important. The main thing is that you have a good horse. That’s the main ingredient.

“The Derby is a completely different mindset,” he added. “Here, everybody is trying to run first, second or third. I don’t think anybody is going to be in a real big hurry. With 20 horses, you have to be in a hurry to stay out of danger.

“I’ve had a lot of confidence in him ever since we worked him the first time,” Baffert concluded. “He showed us what a truly gifted horse he was. We’re here again.  What he’s done in a short period of time, it takes a really special horse to do what he’s done.”

Champion Good Magic pleased trainer Chad Brown Friday morning at Pimlico, as the horseman saw his charge for the first time since the colt left Belmont Park on Monday. The Kentucky Derby runner-up jogged over the sloppy track.

“I love what I see,” Brown said. “The horse’s weight continues to hold very well. I just decided to jog the horse this morning. He’s had three good gallops over an off track here at Pimlico. He’s very fit. He looks fit. As you can see, as he came off the gap, he’s full of himself. His energy level is where we want it to be.”

While Brown admits the task of beating Justify is a tall one, he doesn’t think it’s impossible.

“There’s still the opportunity here to close the gap on (Justify), if our horse moves forward and this horse regresses in anyway,” he said. “(Regression) is a lot to ask for a horse like Justify who has moved forward with every one of his starts. You have to be optimistic that you have a situation where you might be able to make up some ground on him. He’s going to have five races in just over 12 weeks, which is hard to do. And we’re going to have three races in six weeks, which is hard to do. We have our work cut out for us. But our horse is doing very well.”

Tampa Bay Derby (G2) winner and Arkansas Derby (G1) runner-up Quip galloped one mile Friday with former French jockey-turned-trainer Rodolphe Brisset in the saddle.

“One more day. He’ll walk this afternoon and walk tomorrow morning,” Brisset said. “It’s a waiting game after that.”

The bay colt will break from post 1 under regular rider Florent Geroux in the Preakness on Saturday.

“Quip can do whatever – that’s why I’ve been saying the draw doesn’t matter to us,” Brisset said. “From the ‘1,’ people think we have to go, but we don’t. I’m going to let Florent see how we break and see how the other horses break.

“It takes all the pressure off when you know you have a good gate horse,” Brisset added “He broke his maiden from the ‘1’ hole. He’s got enough tactical speed to be right up there. We’ll see what happens. The main thing for me is to make sure the saddling goes all right in the paddock. He schooled perfect yesterday. We are lucky enough that the paddock at Oaklawn is pretty much the same as here. We schooled twice at Oaklawn and he ran very good there.”

Lone Sailor jogged to the starting gate, stood in a stall, then backed out and jogged home under exercise rider Maurice Sanchez on Friday at Pimlico.

The Tom Amoss trainee, a neck second in the Louisiana Derby (G2) two back, is looking for his first stakes victory in Preakness 143.

“The job is done,” Amoss said. “We’ve got one day to the race. Today was simply practicing in the starting gate to make sure he was calm and cool to make sure when the gates do open that he’s standing correctly. It’s very common for horses to go to the starting gate the day before they run. A very easy day. The big work is tomorrow.

“I think it’s important to note that both Good Magic and Justify looked really good on the track. I’m in the barn with them now, I can see them up close. I can see them gallop. They look really good,” he added.

“I’d say that for the rest of us, our task is formidable. Look, those horses were dominant in the Derby over the rest of the field, and the Preakness typically plays toward how the Derby plays. The fact that Justify is the heavy favorite and Good Magic is the second choice makes plenty of sense. To turn the tables on those horses, we have to get into position to run a better race and avoid traffic to hopefully be a part of that finish.

“I think the most interesting horse is Quip, who is jointly owned by the people who own Justify,” he concluded. “So Quip has drawn the ‘1’ hole, and his only chance really to win the race is to get out and get going early. To do that, I think, has the chance of compromising Justify, who is outside him. But to me, in the post-position draw, that was the only unusual post position that could be a factor.”

Federico Tesio Stakes winner Diamond King jogged two miles over Pimlico’s muddy track Friday just after 6 a.m. for trainer John Servis, who was pleased with the exercise.

“He went good, and he’s feeling good,” Servis said. “As a matter of fact, I had to walk over and tell (trainer D.) Wayne (Lukas) and them to watch out because he was firing at a couple people in the shedrow. That’s a good sign. He’s happy. He’s a happy boy.”

Javier Castellano will be in Diamond King’s saddle for the first time on Saturday while seeking a second straight Preakness victory. The Hall of Fame rider captured last year’s second jewel of the Triple Crown aboard Cloud Computing at odds of 13-1.

Tenfold schooled in the Pimlico starting gate before galloping approximately 1 1/4 miles under exercise rider Angel Garcia on Friday for trainer Steve Asmussen. The dark bay colt is by Curlin, another Asmussen pupil who scored in the 2007 Preakness by a head over that year’s Kentucky Derby winner Street Sense.

“It will be interesting to see how the racetrack plays that late, with this many races already run over it, if they’re poking through or if the bottom stays firm,” Asmussen said in regards to the muddy main track. “It was very firm this morning underneath, but we’re looking at 20-some races between now and the Preakness, and the weather doesn’t appear to be letting up. (But) with the way that they maintain it, and all that’s going on, I feel it will get either faster or slower. It’s not going to stay the same. That will be the curious part, and whose feet sting if they’re going to the bottom.”

Grade 2 hero Bravazo and Grade 1 victor Sporting Chance had a relatively light day for Lukas on Friday, each visiting the track for a one-mile jog.