Kentucky Derby winner Justify will attempt to be the 20th horse to win the first two legs of horse racing’s Triple Crown when he goes to the gate as the prohibitive favorite for the 143rd Preakness Stakes on Saturday afternoon at crumbling Pimlico Race Course in Baltimore.
Justify drew post 7 during Wednesday’s draw for the Preakness, the same saddlecloth number he wore in the Run for the Roses and has been established at 1-to-2 in the pre-race odds. Saturday’s race will feature a field of eight horses, 12 less than the Derby two weeks ago, with post time set for 6:48 p.m. ET.
The race covers 1 3/16 miles, a 16th of a mile less that the Kentucky Derby.
Good Magic, runner-up to Justify in the Derby, is the second choice at 3-to-1, with no other horse in single digits.
Quip, owned by WinStar Farm and China Horse Club (who are among the owners of Justify), is the distant third choice at 12-to-1.
Only three horses — Bravazo, Good Magic and Lone Sailor — of the 19 who chased him home in the Derby two weeks ago are back to try again. The other four entrants — Diamond King, Quip, Sporting Chance and Tenfold — are newcomers to the Triple Crown trail.
If all eight start, the field will equal the smallest in the Preakness since 2000. The last time there were less than eight runners in the Preakness was 1986, when seven ran.
Justify, the chestnut son of Scat Daddy out of the Ghostzapper mare Stage Magic, became the first horse to win the Derby without being raced as a 2-year-old since Apollo in 1882. He’s won all four of his career starts, all over the past 17 weeks.
Justify had a sore left rear foot after the win in Louisville and was fitted with a three-quarter shoe to address the situation, which is a common ailment after horses run on sloppy or muddy tracks as occurred in the Kentucky Derby. He’s has since been shod with regular horse shoe, and Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert said the foot is not an issue.
The Derby winner arrived in Baltimore on Wednesday afternoon after a flight from Kentucky, where he had been based since his victory on May 5. Justify was fresh and “really full of himself,” said Baffert.
It was drizzling when Justify arrived at Pimlico, and rainy weather is in the forecast through Saturday’s race, with the chances ranging from a low of 90 percent on Thursday and Saturday to 100 percent on Friday.
Those conditions pretty much mirror the ones for the Derby, and given Justify’s performance in winning in the slop at Churchill Downs, it should not be an issue for him on Saturday.
Justify galloped over the track at Pimlico Race Course for the first time Thursday morning, appearing comfortable despite the mud from a relentless overnight rain. Baffert said he kept the workout light because of the conditions.
“We’re just happy he got around there okay,” Baffert said. “He was just getting warmed up. Right now, I feel confident he’s going to show up. He’s doing really well.”
He was scheduled to work on the track again on Friday.
As he did with 2015 Triple Crown winner American Pharoah, Baffert chose to put Justify in the middle of the Preakness barn rather than in Stall 40, the traditional home of the Derby winner.
“It seems to be that the horse isn’t able to relax because it’s right on the corner and you have lookie-loos all day long and they’re snapping the click of the cameras,” Baffert said of his aversion to Stall 40.
Good Magic’s trainer, Chad Brown, won the Preakness last year with Cloud Computing. Good Magic drew post 5.
“I’m fine with the draw,” said Brown, who won’t arrive in Baltimore until Friday. “We should be close early.”
Of the eight horses entered in the second leg of the Triple Crown, Hall of Fame trainer D. Wayne Lukas has two of them, including Bravazo, who braved an off track in the Derby when finishing sixth behind Justify.
“He handles the off-going really well — he rolls right through it,” Lukas said Wednesday morning of Bravazo. “We’ll keep it interesting, but we’re realistic. We’re facing a good horse. It might be Justify and all the rest.”
Tenfold, a homebred for Winchell Thoroughbreds, has made all three of his starts around two turns at Oaklawn Park in Hot Springs, Ark. He won his Feb. 9 debut and a March 18 allowance race, both at 1 1/16 miles, before finishing fifth in the Arkansas Derby.
“As far as timing-wise, I felt [the Preakness] was good for him,” Tenfold’s trainer Steve Asmussen said. “Hopefully, he’ll move up considerably from the experience of the Arkansas Derby, in that he had two races that went completely his way. I was disappointed with his run in Arkansas, but I think he can move forward from it. Where exactly that puts him with this 3-year-old group is yet to be determined.”
First run in 1873, the Preakness Stakes was named by a former Maryland governor after a winning colt at Pimlico. The race has been termed “The Run for the Black-Eyed Susans” because a blanket of yellow flowers altered to resemble Maryland’s state flower is placed across the withers of the winning colt or filly.
Attendance at the Preakness Stakes ranks second in North America among horse-racing events, only surpassed by the Kentucky Derby.
–By Steve Habel, Field Level Media