BALTIMORE — They’ve all had to deal with the slop in the mornings this week, but dodging rain showers makes wading through the Sea of Pimlico slightly more palatable.
Kentucky Derby (G1) Justify was fortunate to do just that Thursday morning as he got his first feel for the main track, the condition of which, if the forecasts are correct, is unlikely to change much through early Saturday evening when the Preakness (G1) is run.
By the time Justify hit the track after 8:30 a.m. (EDT), a break in the steady showers that poured down on some of his rivals earlier in the morning, namely Good Magic, appeared. It was a potentially a good omen.
“I remember when I was training American Pharoah, at Churchill Downs it’d be raining and the minute we brought him out it stopped raining,” Baffert said. “I don’t know if it has anything to do with it, but it was nice to go out there and it wasn’t raining.”
Justify was kept out in the middle of the track in his jog around the oval, seemingly enough work for a horse to proved quickest over 1 1/4 miles less than two weeks earlier.
“Every trainer, that’s all we hope for. ‘Let my horse show up,'” Baffert said. “When they hit the three-eighths pole, that’s when we know ‘Is he going to show up?’ I feel good. By now I feel real confident that he’s going to show up.”
Hall of Fame trainer D. Wayne Lukas has one-fourth of the Preakness field, bidding in his own right to tie R. Wyndham Walden’s 19th-century record of seven Preakness wins with Bravazo and Sporting Chance, but even he acknowledges Baffert has the inside edge in attempting to tie the record before him on Saturday.
“It’s a man among boys,” Lukas said of Justify at the Alibi Breakfast later Thursday morning. “I was staying in my chair at the end of the barn [watching Justify get off the van Wednesday] and here he comes ‘Lead me.’ I’ll tell you what, reality hit real fast. I thought, ‘Whoa, what are we in for here?’
“He is really a special horse. We could have a treat here and maybe get another really special one on the heels of American Pharoah. He’s in the right hands, the right barn, the right breeding, the right ownership, the right rider. A lot of things [for us] to overcome.”
We’re 48 hours and 1 3/16 wet miles away from determining whether anyone can.