Justify keeps Triple Crown bid alive
Published 8:20 am Monday, May 21, 2018
BALTIMORE — Justify rounded the final turn and hit the top of the stretch winded but with the lead.
The roar from the crowd was delayed, hushed by the thick fog that enveloped the track. When Justify emerged from the haze in view of the grandstand, trainer Bob Baffert could see jockey Mike Smith’s white silks and knew his horse had been pushed to his limit with 100 yards left to go.
“I knew he was in for a fight,” Baffert said. “I knew this was not going to be easy.”
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It wasn’t easy, but Justify had enough left to hold off several hard-charging challengers and win the Preakness on a sloppy, slippery track Saturday and keep alive the chance for a second Triple Crown champion in four years. After winning the most difficult race of his career, Justify has the chance at the Belmont Stakes in New York on June 9 to accomplish the same rare feat Baffert’s American Pharoah did in 2015.
“We’ll see how he trains,” Baffert said. “Right now, I don’t see why not.”
Just getting through the Preakness was a test for the Kentucky Derby champion and heavy 2-5 favorite. When Smith looked over his shoulder early and saw Good Magic he thought, “Oh man, it’s going to be a match race from this point on,” and Justify held up to the challenge down the backstretch and late as Bravazo and Tenfold chased him down.
“They tested his fitness today,” Smith said after his second Preakness win and first since 1993. “This is his hardest race that he’s had.”
With Baffert praying for the wire at Pimlico, Justify won by a half-length after completing the race in 1:55.93. Bravazo edged Tenfold for third, and Good Magic was fourth.
“What I saw of it, I liked it a lot,” said veteran D. Wayne Lukas, who trains Bravazo. “I want them to extend it another 50 yards. … We ran at him. We kept him honest just like we said we would.”
Good Magic pressed Justify so much, the Derby runner-up faded near the end of the 1 3/16-mile race and fell out of the money for the first time in his career.
“It just wasn’t a good trip,” Good Magic trainer Chad Brown said. “I would have liked to see a different scenario, maybe where we’re just off the pace a little bit, we weren’t getting pressed on the fence the whole way. Disappointing.”