Derby winner Justify takes aim at Preakness crown next

Justify, ridden by jockey Mike Smith, crosses the finish line to win the 144th running of the Kentucky Derby
AFP

Washington (AFP) – Undefeated Kentucky Derby winner Justify will race in the second leg of US flat racing’s Triple Crown at the Preakness in two weeks, trainer Bob Baffert said Sunday.

Baffert said the three-year-old colt had abundant energy the morning after defeating Good Magic by 2 1/2 lengths to conquer a 20-horse field over 1 1/4 miles on a muddy Churchill Downs track.

“He looks phenomenal,” Baffert said. “He’s full of himself. He knows he’s a stud. He came back and he really wasn’t that tired.

“He ate up last night and today he has been a handful. When I got him out of the stall he was pulling me around. Usually they are a little bit tired.”

Justify, who has won all four of his starts, is expected to arrive three or four days before the second leg of the Triple Crown is contested over 1 3/16 miles on May 19 at Pimlico in Baltimore, Maryland.

The third race of the treble is June 9 at the Belmont Stakes in New York. Only 12 horses have won all three races in the same year, the most recent being Baffert-trained American Pharoah in 2015.

Justify became only the second horse to win the Derby after not racing as a two-year-old, the other being Apollo in 1882.

Baffert has trained five Derby winners, one shy of the all-time record, and no Derby winner of his who has raced the Preakness has failed to win it.

The fact Justify was still frisky to run after the sixth-fastest opening quarter-mile in Derby history at 22.24 seconds and a muddy race spoke volumes to Baffert in terms of winning style and what the future might bring.

“For a horse to do what he has done he has to be really great,” Baffert said.

“It was just an awesome performance. We were hoping he had that in him. At the three-eighths pole I thought, ‘Man, he better be a really good horse.’ We saw another gear that we hadn’t seen yet. That’s where the greatness comes in.

“He has got that big, long stride and he’s just so efficient. He does it so easily.”

But pressed on whether the horse has what it takes to complete a Triple Crown sweep, Baffert adopted a more conservative mood.

“I’m not thinking about that at all, not yet,” he said. “Right now I’m just thinking about keeping him healthy. We still have another one in a couple of weeks if all’s well. We won the toughest and most important one. If he wins the Preakness then we’ll see.”

– Who else for Preakness? –

What sort of rivals will show up in Baltimore is anyone’s guess.

Good Magic was sired by 2007 Preakness winner Curlin, but trainer Chad Brown won’t commit to the Preakness just yet. 

“I want him back in New York and that gives me time to decide what’s next,” Brown said. “I want to provide the owners with as much information as possible about what I see and then let them decide.

“You run a horse back in two weeks off an effort like this, even if he’s not going to run for a while, it doesn’t mean it’s good for the horse long-term. That said, his sire came back in two weeks and won the Preakness.”

Trainer Todd Pletcher, whose four Derby horses included third-place Audible, gave no indication of Preakness plans.

Bravazo, sixth in the Derby, might be the top Derby foe to challenge Justify over the shorter distance in Baltimore.

“He ran beyond our expectations,” said Bravaso trainer D. Wayne Lukas. “I’d say we’ll probably go.”

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