JUSTIFY - A theory is ciruculationg that Justify could well hold an advantage heading into the Preakness Stakes because he didn't race last year.
“Could be,” said WinStar Farm president and CEO Elliott Walden. “And the horse is a big, strong horse. That plays in your favor. You see a lot of horses get sucked up with the run to the Derby. And I think the points thing makes people run a little harder in those races. You can’t miss, so you really have to have your horse ready and honed in for those points races. By the time you get to the Derby, you’re honed in pretty hard.
“So when you have a horse like Justify, who is 1,280 pounds going into the race, he’s got a little more in reserve than a lot of horses,” he added. “I don’t know what he weighs now, because they weigh them in California when they go to the races. When they walk to the paddock, they walk on a scale. That’s why Bob knows what he is. I don’t think Bob has a scale in his barn. He did say that at the same point, American Pharoah was 1,180 in the spring.”
There aren’t too many Thoroughbreds who push 1,300 pounds, with a much smaller pool of such big horses who are so fast.
“That’s a good combination,” Walden said.
It was jokingly pointed out to Walden that no unraced 2-year-old had ever won the Derby and Preakness. Of course, no such horse has ever attempted that parlay, because Apollo didn’t run in the Preakness.
“I wasn’t worried about the Apollo Curse. I really thought going into this year that (many) of them had four starts, so it really didn’t matter. The horse is doing well, and that’s the main thing.
“He looked good,” he said of Justify’s training session. “I’ve been really happy how he’s been galloping the last few days… Good energy level, pulling the rider — everything you like to see.”
Jimmy Barnes, the chief assistant overseeing Justify’s training in Kentucky, said Baffert is expected to fly to Louisville Sunday evening. Though Baffert certainly has been known to change his mind, Justify is expected to gallop into the Preakness. The Derby winner is scheduled to fly to Baltimore on Wednesday with an ETA at the airport of 1:30 pm.
“Justify couldn’t be looking any better,” Barnes said. “Going into Baltimore this next week, I couldn’t be happier with how he looks. The next seven days it’s just keeping him healthy and happy. He had a hard race in the Derby, and the Preakness comes up quick. You just want to go in there with a happy, healthy horse.”
Barnes said the minor foot bruise that surfaced that day after the Derby is more than likely over.
"It looks like it’s completely behind us. Those things take sometimes 48 hours to resolve themselves, so now we just march forward to Baltimore.”
Justify Video (courtesy Kentucky HBPA)
BRAVAZO, SPORTING CHANCE - According to the Maryland Jockey Club notes team, trainer D. Wayne Lukas, who like Bob Baffert has won the Preakness Stakes six times, predicted that American Pharoah would sweep the 2015 Triple Crown before he ran in the Kentucky Derby. The trainer today said he thinks Justify will do the same.
“I think this horse has a great chance; I wish I had him,” Lukas said. “There’s no horse out there right now that can stop him on this run. He’s going to get a mile and a half. He’s going to run well in the Preakness. It’s his Triple Crown to lose. Ironically, we’ll have two Triple Crown winners in a short period of time. I really think it could happen.
“But you can’t concede anything. My job is to spoil the dream. That’s what I get paid for. I’m a good friend of Bob Baffert’s, but when the gate opens, he’s on his own. He didn’t cheer for Oxbow all the way around there,” Lukas added with a laugh, referring to his 2013 Preakness winner. “Unless somebody shows up, he’s the dominant horse. I feel Bob is in a beautiful position to pull off another Triple Crown. This field of horses has to really step up in order to beat him.”
Before the Derby, many observers talked about how deep and strong the 3-year-olds were. Lukas long has said the best recipe for a Triple Crown is a superior horse in an inferior year. This did not appear to be an inferior year.
“They got maybe a test of reality a little bit in the Derby,” Lukas said. “I think it’s a very good field, very good 3-year-old crop, but Justify, to me, is the dominant horse. And the fact that he’s so lightly raced and now that he’s got the Derby under his belt, he should get better. Bob’s horses generally always stay in top form. I think it would be silly for us to think he’s going to be less than tough in this race. I expect him to run a huge race in the Preakness, and I think we’ll see that.”
Lukas’ Preakness duo of Bravazo, sixth in the Kentucky Derby, and Pat Day Mile troubled fourth-place finisher Sporting Chance galloped shortly after the Churchill Downs track opened Saturday. They are scheduled to work at Churchill Sunday morning before vanning to Baltimore Monday.
“We’ll keep hammering away at him obviously,” Lukas said of taking on Justify. “Our horses are tough. The thing about the Preakness is that you’ve got to have a tough horse, a horse that can rebound very quickly from the Derby, regardless of the trip. We’ve got one of those this year – Bob has one, is the problem. You can see it by the way he gallops, how aggressive he is.
“(Bravazo) is tough. I’d like to run it today; I don’t want to wait a week. Sporting Chance is a very talented horse,” he said. “All we’ve got to do is get a clean trip and see it. I see it every day out there. He has got to get over all the little hiccups – and they were man-made in my opinion; the horse is an absolute professional. It’s no question he was over-ridden in the Blue Grass and so forth. We get a smooth trip and I think you’ll see a very talented horse. He fits with the rest of them.”
Bravazo won the Risen Star at Fair Grounds, then faded badly in the Louisiana Derby.
“The problem with Bravazo is very simple: We go from the Risen Star to the Louisiana Derby four weeks later, and we get nothing out of it. By that, I mean from a training standpoint we did not move forward. That was a move backward in condition and everything. Now you go six weeks from Louisiana Derby to Kentucky Derby. In my mind as a trainer, I trained him for 10 weeks to the Derby. I didn’t get anything out of the Louisiana Derby. You’re going to see a horse move forward off the Kentucky Derby now.”
Luis Saez will ride Bravazo for the first time in the Preakness, while Luis Contreras has the mount aboard Sporting Chance.
DIAMOND KING - Diamond King galloped 1 1/2 miles over an off track at Parx Racing.
“It was a pretty muddy racetrack, but he did good,” trainer John Servis said. “He went a mile and a half. We switch it up with him once in a while. I kind of do that with all the horses, just to mix it up a little bit. It keeps them from getting in a routine and getting too stale.”
The son of Quality Road earned automatic entry into the Preakness by virtue of his victory in the 1 1/8-mile Federico Tesio Stakes on April 21 at Laurel Park. He owns four wins from six starts, finishing third in the seven-furlong Swale on Feb. 3 at Gulfstream Park in his sophomore debut and first race since joining Servis this winter.
With an eye on the weather, Servis hopes to give Diamond King his final Preakness work Sunday morning at Parx.
“I’d like to work him tomorrow, if I can. It depends on how the track’s going to be. Right now, the track’s pretty sloppy,” Servis said. “If we don’t get any more rain then the track should be good. If the track’s good, then we’ll breeze him first thing in the morning. If it’s not and we need to wait, we’ll probably go first after the break. We’re just playing it by ear. I’d much rather go tomorrow, but if I have to push it back a day then I will.”
According to a reliable source on Twitter, Javier Castellano has accepted the mount on Diamond King, replacing Frankie Pennington. Before that was announced, Servis saide, “We’re considering a different direction. That’s part of the discussion. John’s going to let me make that decision. I just think it’s such a big race, if we can get a top jock, which we’re going to certainly shoot for, we’re certainly going to go in that direction. It’s nothing against Frankie. You only have so many opportunities at a Preakness, so you want to give the horse every opportunity to succeed.”
LONE SAILOR - Lone Sailor galloped at Churchill Downs Saturday morning. Trainer Tom Amoss expects a Preakness decision to be made after speaking with owner Gayle Benson Saturday evening.
QUIP - Florent Geroux rode Gun Runner to Horse of the Year honors last year, earning his fourth career Breeders’ Cup victory with that horse in the Classic. The jockey teamed with Gun Runner for a victory in this year’s $16 million Pegasus World Cup, the world’s richest race. He followed his third-straight Fair Grounds riding title with his first Keeneland crown, then a week later guided Monomoy Girl to victory in the Kentucky Oaks, his first win of the latter race.
One thing escaping Geroux is winning a Triple Crown race. Quip is trained by Geroux’s French-born countryman and close friend Rodolphe Brisset, the former assistant to Hall of Famer Bill Mott who went on his own a year ago.
“I’m excited. The horse is coming off a nice race in Arkansas,” Geroux said of Quip’s second-place performance in the Arkansas Derby, four lengths behind Magnum Moon. “The connections thought the horse needed some extra time, so they decided to get him ready for the Preakness.”
Asked his bottom line on the Arkansas Derby, Geroux said, “He got outrun by a nice horse. Magnum Moon ran a very big race that day. But our horse is a very nice horse, too. He hung in pretty gamely for second. I think now anything is possible. Some of the horses ran really hard in the Derby and now they have to run back in two weeks. Us, we’ll be at five weeks. The horse is fresh, and we’re hoping we can turn the table with some of them.”
Geroux said he thinks winning that first Triple Crown race is one of the hardest things for a jockey to do.
“It would be nice to win one right away and be over with it,” Geroux said with a laugh. “Looks like I’m having to chase it a little bit, like many jockeys do. Look at Mike Smith. It took him a very long time to win his first Derby (Giacomo, 2005), and he thought it would never happen again. And now he has a second one, which shows you how hard it is.
“You work hard every day, but you need to get lucky,” he added. “That’s a big part of the game: Getting on the right horse at the right time. Hopefully one day it will be my turn.”
TENFOLD - Ricardo Santana Jr., aboard for Tenfold’s two victories, regains the mount for the Preakness after Victor Espinoza rode the colt in the Arkansas Derby.
Tenfold galloped 1 1/2 mile at Churchill Downs Saturday at the same time as Kentucky Derby winner Justify, going to the track at 7:30 a.m. after the first of two renovation breaks.
“He’s a beautiful-traveling horse,” said assistant trainer Scott Blasi. “He has a very physical look to him. I don’t think we got the trip we wanted in the Arkansas Derby, and we’ll take another shot.”
Tenfold, another unraced 2-year-old, has raced only three times and all at Oaklawn Park, impressively winning his Feb. 9 debut at 1 1/16 mile and a 1 1/16-mile allowance race before finishing fifth in the Arkansas Derby, beaten 4 1/2 lengths. The son of Curlin was only a half-length out of second, however, with Magnum Moon winning by four lengths.
“It’s a big step up, but it’s a good opportunity to see where you fit with these horses,” Blasi said of the Preakness. “Everybody is looking for the 3-year-olds to start stepping up this time of the year. He deserves the chance.”
OTHERS - According to the Maryland Jockey Club press office, Good Magic remains under Preakness consideration, along with Bolt d’Oro and Pony Up.
Edited Maryland Jockey Club release with additional content by Dick Downey