Odds are it’s going to be another wet race for this evening’s second jewel in the triple crown, as Pimlico Park is mired in the same weather we’ve seen here in South Florida throughout the week.
With that in mind, Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert stepped away from questions about how the race will develop and who might challenge his speedy colt. Justify will start from Post No. 7 in the field of eight with Mike Smith aboard.
“Nobody knows. When it’s muddy like that, nobody knows,” Baffert said. “I see a horse like Quip, Wayne’s (D. Wayne Lukas) horse Sporting Chance. Wayne says he’s going to be out there. Who knows? We know we have a quick horse and he’s fast. The first quarter is going to be fast. It always is, especially when you have mud.”
Justify won the Derby over a sloppy sealed track at Churchill Downs by 2½ lengths over Good Magic, and Baffert is not worried about whether he will handle the surface Saturday. Justify broke his maiden on Feb. 18 and has been impressive in all four of his starts. Baffert isn’t looking for him to make a big step forward in the Preakness.
“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.”
Since the Preakness always has a far smaller field than the Derby, the race dynamics and strategy tend to be consistent with two-turn dirt races throughout the year.
“Everyone is trying to ride, they want to get a piece,”Baffert said. “The Derby is a completely different mindset. 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.”
Baffert said he realized that Justify, a massive, chestnut son of Scat Daddy, was above average when he arrived at his barn at Santa Anita. The eye-opener came during a five-furlong breeze in 1:01 1/5 on Jan. 29.
“I’ve had a lot of confidence in him ever since we worked him the first time,” Baffert said. “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.”
Even though the colt was getting a very late start by the usual Derby prep timetable, Baffert thought Justify had a chance to make the start of the Triple Crown on May 5.
“When he worked that one day, I thought ‘We have a shot,’” Baffert said. “But you can’t miss anything. Then when he broke his maiden … I knew he was going to win that day, but he didn’t win the way I wanted him to win. He was a little rank. We took the blinkers off and then Mike rode him on the wet track (March 11 in an allowance victory).”
Baffert said he had the colt wear blinkers in the first race because it was so vital to his chance to make the Kentucky Derby to win that race.
“We knew we had something special, we had a chance,” Baffert said. “When he broke his maiden, I thought, ‘I have two really good horses, him and McKinzie.’ We had Solomini, too. When McKinzie got hurt it was like, ‘The backup horse is pretty good, too.’ But they still have to prove themselves.”
Justify subbed for McKinzie in the Santa Anita Derby (G1) and beat the formidable Bolt d’Oro. Since then, he has brought comparisons to Baffert’s 2015 Triple Crown winner American Pharoah.
“What he has done since February, you have to be a superstar,” Baffert said. “He’s like Pharoah. They are superstars.”
And Baffert said that American Pharoah also had a wow factor to him during his early months in his barn in 2014.
“They are superstars,” he said. “What they have in common is that they are extremely fast. They both could have won the Breeders’ Cup Sprint and the Breeders’ Cup Classic. They are just good horses. They are superior horses.”
Baffert grew up in Arizona and was a star trainer in the Quarter Horse racing world before moving to training Thoroughbreds. He said he was struck by Justify when he saw him for the first time.
“He’s so beautiful. He looks like a giant Quarter Horse,” Baffert said. “He has muscle. He’s almost the same size as 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.”
Brown Loves What He Sees in Good Magic
Trainer Chad Brown had not seen Good Magic since he left his Belmont Park barn early Monday morning on a van bound for Pimlico Race Course. On Friday morning, the two-time Eclipse Award winning trainer was reunited with the Kentucky Derby runner-up and was delighted in what he saw when he laid eyes on the son of Curlin.
“I love what I see,” a relaxed and smiling Brown said after Good Magic jogged over the sloppy track. “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.”
Brown, who won his first Preakness last year with Cloud Computing, knows Good Magic, who was beaten 2 1/2 lengths by Justify in the Kentucky Derby on a sloppy and sealed track, will need to fire his best to turn the tables on his rival. And Brown noted that the near-certainty of an off track is not the optimal situation to achieve a different result.
“We’re looking to make up a couple of lengths on this horse, for sure, or more,” Brown said. “I feel like the off track is really a push for both horses. That’s not one area where we are probably going to make up the difference. I would like to see a dry track just for the sake of something different. A different scenario that maybe we can improve on a little bit.
“There’s still the opportunity here to close the gap on [Justify],” he added, “if our horse moves forward and this horse regresses in anyway. [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.”
Brown believes Justify and his rider, Mike Smith, who drew Post 7, are in a sweet spot to spurt away to an early and unpressured lead. Good Magic, with Jose Ortiz aboard, drew Post 5.
“I feel like Justify drew a really good post position where he is — he’s outside and away from everybody and he doesn’t really have anybody to put any pressure on him,” Brown remarked. “That’s another tall order to overcome.”
When asked if Good Magic would be the one applying the pressure on Justify, if that scenario occurred, Brown responded, “I’m just going to leave it up to the jockey and see. Once the gate opens, you know, it’s out of my hands. Jose and Good Magic get along very well. Jose has very good judgment. I just hope he doesn’t let [Justify] get too far away which, with a clean break, he shouldn’t.”
Brisset: Rail Puts No Pressure on Quip
Tampa Bay Derby (G2) winner Quip galloped a mile Friday morning at Pimlico Race Course under trainer Rodolphe Brisset.
“One more day. He’ll walk this afternoon and walk tomorrow morning,” Brisset said. “It’s a waiting game after that.”
Quip, who is owned by WinStar Farm, China Horse Club and SF Racing, was rated third at 12-1 after drawing Post 1 Wednesday. Although the rail post is often regarded as a disadvantage, Brisset is confident that jockey Florent Geroux will work out a good trip.
“Quip can do whatever – that’s why I’ve been saying the draw doesn’t matter to us. From the ‘1,’ people think we have to go, but we don’t,” the 34-year-old trainer said. “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.”
Brisset was a jockey in his native France before a battle with weight forced his retirement after the 2002 season. He subsequently became the agent for his friend and world-class jockey, Christophe Soumillon, for a year.
“I did it more to help Christophe. He’s one of the best in the world. The fact he asked me helped me, too. It was difficult enough to quit riding. Riding races is a different thing. I needed to find my way and see what I wanted to do,” Brisset said. “The fact that I did that for a year was a good experience.”
Brisset moved on to work for trainer Alain de Royer-Dupre in France before venturing to the U.S. to join trainer Patrick Biancone in 2005 and going on to work for Hall of Fame trainer Bill Mott in 2007.
“One thing I realize after one year on my own is how many habits I took from [Mott],” Brisset said. “I’m far from him, but I’m going to try to keep his ways, that’s for sure.”
Amoss: Justify, Good Magic Make Lone Sailor’s Task Formidable
G M B Racing’s Lone Sailor, eighth in the Kentucky Derby after finishing second by a neck in the Louisiana Derby (G2), jogged to the starting gate, where he stood and backed out before jogging home to complete a mile circuit Friday under exercise rider Maurice Sanchez.
“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. I’d say that for the rest of us, our task is formidable,” he added. “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.”
Amoss has spent considerable time as a racing analyst for the TVG cable network and more recently for the New York Racing Association’s Saratoga Live simulcasting show. Asked to put on his analysis hat in regard to how the Preakness shapes up, he said: “I think the most interesting horse is Quip, who is jointly owned by the people who own Justify. 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.”
Amoss has had three prior Preakness starters, finishing fourth in 1998 with Hot Wells, his first Triple Crown race horse; third in 2013 with Mylute and 10th in 2014 with the filly Ria Antonia.
Bravazo, Sporting Chance Jog Once-Around
Hall of Fame trainer D. Wayne Lukas’s Preakness horses, Bravazo and Sporting Chance, went out for some light exercise on the track at Pimlico Race Course early Friday morning.
Calumet Farm’s Bravazo, who was sixth in the Kentucky Derby, jogged once around the one-mile track. Bravazo will start from Post 8 with Luis Saez in the Preakness.
Sporting Chance, fourth in the Pat Day Mile (G3) on May 5, jogged once around with a pony. He had walked the shedrow Thursday. Co-owned by Robert Baker and William Mack, Sporting Chance has Post 3. Luis Contreras has the mount.
Tenfold Goes to School at Starting Gate
Winchell Thoroughbreds’ Tenfold, fifth in the Arkansas Derby (G1) in his last of three career starts, schooled in the starting gate before galloping about 1 1/4 miles Friday under exercise rider Angel Garcia.
Trainer Steve Asmussen is going for his third Preakness victory, following Tenfold’s sire, Curlin, in 2007 and the filly Rachel Alexandra in 2009. Both of Asmussen’s victories came over a fast track, which appears highly unlikely with this week’s rain and the forecast for more.
“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. “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.”
Asmussen has said that the timing of the Preakness works well for Tenfold and that the race will give them a good read on how he stacks up with the 3-year-old crop.
Diamond King ‘Happy Boy’ at Pimlico
Cash is King, LC Racing and D.J. Stable’s Diamond King was incognito as he went out for a two-mile jog Friday morning over a wet Pimlico strip on the eve of the Preakness Stakes.
Instead of the yellow Preakness saddlecloth bearing his name he’s worn while training this week, the two-time stakes-winning colt wore a similar towel with ‘Alibi Breakfast’ stitched across the bottom – the same one used as a decoration during Thursday morning’s annual gathering in the Terrace Dining Room.
“My man said they gave it to him yesterday and told him to use it today,” trainer John Servis said. “I may have to register that name now with the Jockey Club.”
For the second straight day, Servis was pleased with the way Diamond King went over the off track. Unlike Thursday’s training, which came in a downpour, there was just a light drizzle when he went out Friday shortly after 6 a.m.
Servis was also encouraged by the energy Diamond King was showing off the track, enough to warn his neighbors in Pimlico’s Stakes Barn – including Hall of Fame trainer D. Wayne Lukas – to keep an eye out.
“He went good, and he’s feeling good,” Servis said. “As a matter of fact, I had to walk over and tell Wayne 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.”
Hall of Fame jockey Javier Castellano, winner of last year’s Preakness with Cloud Computing, will ride Diamond King from Post 4. They are listed at 30-1 on the morning line, sharing the longest odds with Grade 1 winner Sporting Chance, one of two horses trained by Lukas.
Only two horses in Preakness history have won at odds of 20-1 or more – Master Derby (23-1, $48.80) in 1975 and Coventry (21-1, $45.60) in 1925.
Diamond King earned an automatic berth in the Preakness with his victory in its local prep, the 1 1/8-mile Federico Tesio Stakes, April 21 at Laurel Park. Of the previous 36 Tesio winners, only Deputed Testamony in 1983 went on to win the Preakness.
Should Diamond King pull the upset, he would make Servis only the fifth trainer to win the Preakness with his first two starters. He also won with undefeated Kentucky Derby winner Smarty Jones in 2004.
Cash is King, managed by Chuck Zacney, is also 1-for-1 in the Preakness, having won a memorable 2005 edition with eventual Belmont Stakes (G1) hero Afleet Alex. Second in the Kentucky Derby, Afleet Alex clipped heels with leader Scrappy T entering the stretch and nearly went to his knees, but both he and jockey Jeremy Rose were able to recover and go on to 4 ¾-length victory.
“This is my first Preakness horse since Alex. I think I’ve been back once or twice since then,” Zacney said. “Alex was the first horse we ever purchased. [Trainer] Tim [Ritchey] deserves all the credit – picking the horse out, training him, getting him to the big races. We were basically along for the ride.”
Ironically, it was the success of Servis and Smarty Jones the previous year that sparked an interest in racing for Zacney, a Philadelphia-area businessman who sold his medical billing company in November 2016 to Acclara Solutions but continues to hold an ownership share.
“The story goes that in 2004, Joe Lerro and I were at the Super Bowl and I was caught up in the Smarty Jones phenomenon. I said, ‘This looks pretty good, Joe. I’m going to put a group together.’ I knew of Tim Ritchey, but did not know him. A buddy of mine worked with Tim’s brother and was able to reach out to him. He was looking for some new owners. We went to the Fasig-Tipton sale in May and he picked out a colt by Northern Afleet and we named him Afleet Alex. It was cool. It was a great ride from the beginning. I didn’t know a whole lot; as a matter of fact, I’m still learning today.”
Besides Zacney and Lerro, other partners in Afleet Alex were Bob Brittingham, Jennifer Reeves and the late Joe Judge. The champion 3-year-old colt of 2005 was named for Zacney’s son, as well as Lerro’s and Brittingham’s daughters, and Cash is King won a special Eclipse Award that year for their work with Alex’s Lemonade Stand.
“Let’s put it this way. That, in my opinion, is the greatest Preakness race in history,” Zacney said. “Every time you see it you still get ‘oohs’ and ‘aahs’ and goosebumps, just the athleticism of Alex and Jeremy to even stay on. It certainly brings back a lot of memories. It was a really good couple of days down in Maryland.”
Zacney’s partners in Diamond King are Glenn Bennett of LC Racing and Jonathan and Leonard Green of D.J. Stable.
The future of horse racing, and indeed all sports, could be changing as states move towards decoupling, and off track betting becomes more commonplace.
“The state racing and gambling throughout the entire United States (and maybe Canada) changed GREATLY on Monday when the Supreme Court ruled that New Jersey could have sports betting (football, baseball, etc.) overruling Federal Laws,” stated Steven Wolf, Director of Operations for Harnesslink.com.
“Overall, the racing industry continues to decline with the exception of those states that have decent agreements for sharing revenue with their casino owners/partners. The expansion of lotteries, casinos and now online gaming, horse racing has lost its exclusivity as the top gaming sport in the nation that it held for many years.”
What do you think the future of the sport of kings holds? Will you be watching the race tonight?