“The horse has just been training very well since the Derby,” Brown said. “He bounced out of the race in great condition and I think he deserves a chance in the race. He’s doing great.
“I think it’s a great opportunity for the horse. I really don’t have anything else planned for him before, say, either the Haskell (G1) or the Jim Dandy (G2) anyway. That said, I wouldn’t do it just because he’s going to get a bit of a freshening. He has to be doing well, and he’s doing exceptionally well.
“He’s doing far better than I expected exiting the Derby. It’s remarkable to see how well the horse is moving and his energy level. He already has his weight back. He just looks great. I’m excited about it.”
Good Magic, currently at Brown’s Belmont Park base, is set to travel Monday and will get his first feel of Pimlico during training hours Tuesday.
Co-owned by e Five Racing Thoroughbreds and breeder Stonestreet Stables, Good Magic is taking a page from sire Curlin’s playbook. Curlin, himself a Stonestreet colorbearer, improved from a third in the 2007 Derby and beat Street Sense in the middle jewel of the Triple Crown.
But Brown is well aware of the challenge Good Magic faces to engineer a similar form reversal with Justify.
“It’s a tall order,” the trainer said. “The horse (Justify) is unbeaten and to a degree untested. He ran a great race in the Derby and he is clearly the horse to beat.
“We’re going to need to close the gap on him somehow. We’re going to need to improve. Even though our horse ran an excellent race in the Derby and earned a lot of respect from everybody, he needs to again move forward and we need to have Justify come back to us a little bit. I think that the margin that I saw between the two horses is not out of the question that we’ll be able to make up that difference.”
Justify, for his part, continues to make a fine impression since resuming his routine on track at Churchill Downs. His Sunday morning activity included schooling in the starting gate as well as a gallop.
“He stood in the gate, we jogged down the stretch a little ways and then galloped a mile and a half,” said Jimmy Barnes, longtime assistant to Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert.
“It’s an awesome position to have, and I’m just blessed to be here,” Barnes said of his role in the all-star Baffert barn. “I can’t imagine doing anything else. These horses are like once in a lifetime horses coming through the barn. We just keep enjoying it while they come, because you never know when you might have a slow year.
“I’ve trained on my own; it’s a tough go. I like dealing with this caliber of horses, prefer to be at this level. So I’d rather just stay right here. You put in a lot of hours. It’s a dedication thing.
“Luckily my wife (exercise rider Dana) works with us, so I get to spend a lot of time with her. Maybe not at home, but we’re at the barn every day together. It’s worked out for us, we’ve been married 32 years. Just keep going along here as long as it lasts.”
Another Derby alum, eighth-placer Lone Sailor, has also been confirmed for the Preakness by Mrs. Gayle Benson’s G M B Racing. Irad Ortiz Jr. picks up the mount aboard the Tom Amoss trainee, who just missed in the Louisiana Derby (G2) two starts back.
Greg Bensel, senior vice president for communications for Benson’s New Orleans Saints and Pelicans in addition to serving the racing operation, commented on the rider change.
“We called on Irad Ortiz here. No disrespect to James Graham. We love James Graham; he’s been great to us. But we’re going to try something a little different here and take our chance,” Bensel said. “We’ve got a horse with a big engine, who is healthy, who’s sound, who’s full of energy. And why not?”
Bensel added that Lone Sailor is a hardier type than Mo Tom, who was eighth in the 2016 Derby for the same connections.
“Mo Tom was a guy who’d lose a lot of weight and couldn’t really bounce back. This guy, Tom Amoss gave us a good report Derby night, a great report the next day. I’m talking about him eating his whole tub, lively, got the look in his eye, went out for a full gallop a couple days later, full of energy, full of spunk. So no reason to not think about the Preakness.
“Then you want to take a peek at the field,” Bensel added. “You want to see what Justify is doing; you want to see who else is entered; you want to see how big the field is because he’s a deep closer. You saw how he got held up by (a stopping) Free Drop Billy in the Derby, and then he lost a shoe. So he was running against all odds in that Derby, and still he came fighting hard in the slop to be eighth. We’re hearing that we’re probably going to have a lot of wetness and moisture in Baltimore this week. We hear the field will be somewhat lighter. Justify or no Justify, we are on go. All systems point to go for us.”
Amoss offered his rationale for heading to Baltimore.
“The caveat here is that it was a very sloppy track Derby Day,” the trainer said. “But having said that, it’s hard to not want to take a chance against a group that didn’t come home very fast in the Kentucky Derby. Our horse, like many others, got in trouble in the race and we’d like another shot at this group.
“I have great respect for the group, and I thought going into the Kentucky Derby that the race went through California – which it turned out to do. But I’m looking forward to getting another chance at what hopefully is a fast track, although looking at the weather ahead, it looks like more rain.”
One Derby competitor ruled out of the Preakness Sunday was Bolt d’Oro, with owner/trainer Mick Ruis reportedly favoring the Metropolitan Mile (G1) versus older horses on Belmont Day. Ruis believes that his multiple Grade 1 winner did not handle the sloppy track when a subpar 12th in the Derby.
Likewise removed from the list of possibles was multiple Grade 3-placed Pony Up. Trainer Todd Pletcher indicated that the Calumet homebred will instead go in the Sir Barton on the undercard, and keep Hall of Fame jockey John Velazquez aboard.