Kentucky Derby (G1) hero Justify galloped over the wet track at Pimlico for the first time on Thursday, one day after arriving at the Baltimore track ahead of Saturday’s 143rd edition of the Preakness Stakes (G1). Humberto Gomez was aboard for the exercise.
“We took him out there and we backed him up to near the half-mile pole and just went easy around there,” trainer Bob Baffert said. “We didn’t want to do too much because of the condition of the track. There is so much water on it, but (Gomez) said it was soft. He’s a really smart horse and will do whatever you want him to. He’ll go slow, quick, fast, whatever. He never gets really tough.
“I’m just happy with the way he went around there,” Baffert added. “He was just getting warmed up. He was ready to do a lot more, but we didn’t want him to do too much. We’ll basically do the same tomorrow when we go out.”
The unbeaten chestnut flew in from Kentucky on Wednesday, accompanied by fellow Preakness contenders Lone Sailor and Quip. Later on Wednesday, the field was drawn for the second jewel of the Triple Crown, with Justify assigned the 7 post, the same spot from which he broke at Churchill Downs in the Derby.
“He’s had a tough schedule,” Baffert admitted, referring to the fact that Justify has racked up five career wins from as many starts since mid-February. “He’s been running every three weeks. But he looks good. The main thing is, he’s a really good horse. That’s what makes him so great. He’s a superior horse, just like (2015 Triple Crown champion) American Pharoah. What he’s done in that short 75 days to win the Kentucky Derby, to go, go, go – and he ran with some good horses – he makes my job a lot easier.
“He comes in here pretty ready. It’s too late if I want to get him fit, two days out. We just want to keep him happy. If he just stays that way he will be fine. We know what he does in the afternoon.”
There was some concern one day after the Derby when Justify showed discomfort in his left hind leg while turning, but Baffert dismissed the issue as being minor, promptly treated and of no concern.
“I think it’s behind us,” he said. “He had that one day, but after that he’s been good on it. I put a full shoe back on it and he went out there today and he didn’t feel anything. Those things, you don’t know when they are going to sneak up on you, but right now, I’m not really worried about it.”
Among those lining up against Justify in the Preakness is Kentucky Derby runner-up Good Magic. That Chad Brown-trained son of Curlin visited Pimlico’s track for the third straight day Thursday morning, once again braving muddy, sloppy conditions as a drizzle turned into a steady downpour.
The 2017 champion juvenile male didn’t pay the slop any attention, traversing the track twice under exercise rider Walter Malasquez. Traveling assistant Baldo Hernandez wryly pointed out that the rain stopped almost as soon as Good Magic finished his training.
“Look at it now,” Hernandez said, gesturing to the drizzle that was falling outside the stakes barn as Good Magic was being walked around the shedrow. “It was a good gallop for him.”
Jose Ortiz, aboard for all but one of Good Magic’s career starts thus far, has the call on Saturday and is confident his mount can overtake Justify this time around.
“It’s a small field and if we have a clean trip, I’m sure we could turn the tables on (Justify) on Saturday,” Ortiz said by phone from New York. “We just have to make up 2 1/2 lengths. It’s not like he beat us 10 or 20 lengths.
“(A wet track) is not a disadvantage for me or for my horse,” he added. “We ran in the Derby and we were beaten 2 1/2 lengths on a sloppy track. Both horses like it; Justify just had a better day that day.”
Ortiz is already plotting scenarios for the Preakness.
“Hopefully, someone else goes (to the early lead). If Justify goes, and I have to be the one putting pressure on him, I will be,” Ortiz said. “I will have to turn it into a match race. It looks like a match race on paper. You can’t give Justify an inch.”
Like Justify, Quip and Lone Sailor also check out Pimlico Thursday one day after arriving from Kentucky.
Trainer Rodolphe Brisset was up on Quip as the Grade 2 winner jogged on the wet track.
“Lucky me. I’ve been on a lot of very good horses,” said Brisset, a former assistant to Hall of Famer Bill Mott before going out on his own last year. “Quip was sent to me because he was not easy in the morning when he was two. They decided to keep him with me, because I got along with him pretty good.
“We’ll see how it goes (Friday),” he added. “It will be 5:30 (a.m. [ET]) training, for sure. I’ll want to get it done on a tight track. We’ll have more rain coming in. He’ll gallop a mile or something like that.”
The horseman isn’t too concerned about Quip handling the likely sloppy conditions on Saturday.
“Until you run on it, you don’t really know how they handle it,” he said. “Lucky enough, the weather at Fair Grounds (where Quip was based) over the winter wasn’t very good. We needed to get him ready, so twice we breezed on a sloppy, tight track. He breezed pretty good. It will be the same thing for everyone.”
Regular rider Florent Geroux will be aboard for the Preakness.
The Tom Amoss-trained Lone Sailor had no trouble with the sloppy conditions while exercising on Thursday, though exercise rider Maurice Sanchez did find the way under the grandstand to the paddock blocked when attempting to get in a schooling session after jogging. Sanchez merely turned Lone Sailor around and galloped him 1 1/2 miles as planned.
“That’s our regular gallop,” Sanchez said. “Mr. Amoss said to just give him a good mile and let him check out the racetrack. He hit it good; he was striding over it big time. He liked it over that funny going.”
Lone Sailor has experience winning on off tracks, breaking his maiden by 11 lengths in his second try at Saratoga in an off-the-turf maiden special weight last September.
“He won by 11 at Saratoga on the wet. Let it rain,” G M B Racing manager Greg Bensel said. “When we were sitting in our suite on Kentucky Derby Day and we saw a slight break in the weather, I got depressed. I was like, ‘No! Rain! Rain! Don’t quit now!’”
D. Wayne Lukas saddles a pair of runners in the 143rd Preakness Stakes in Bravazo and Sporting Chance, and the Hall of Fame trainer admits they have a daunting task in overcoming Justify.
“He’s the best horse. It’s that simple. He looks terrific. He’s doing well. I watched him all week. He’s going to be very, very hard to handle,’’ Lukas said. “I think the same horses that were up in front (in the Derby) will be there again. I hope to be a little closer with both of mine but we may not be able to do that.
“The thing that makes Justify so tough is that he has the ability to dictate the race and make his own luck,” he added. “While some of us have to have a little luck, he has the ability to do it when he wants. He’s the best horse.”
Bravazo exercised over the track on Thursday while Sporting Chance walked the shedrow, but plans are for both to visit the main surface on Friday morning.
Tenfold, fifth while making his stakes bow last out in the April 14 Arkansas Derby (G1), was the first to step hoof on Pimlico’s soggy track Thursday. The Steven Asmussen pupil galloped what assistant trainer Scott Blasi called “an easy mile” with exercise rider Angel Garcia aboard, schooled during the races later in the afternoon and will visit the starting gate on Friday.
The remaining member of the 2018 Preakness field, Federico Tesio Stakes hero Diamond King, jogged two miles in his first trip over Pimlico’s track since arriving from Parx Racing on Wednesday.
“I was going to gallop him but with the track the way it was, I just jogged him. He’s doing good,” trainer John Servis said. “He looked good. He was reaching, he was bucking and playing. He was happy.”