By Shawn Rychling
I heard a rumor last Saturday night that Justify won the Preakness. The problem is nobody actually saw him win the race and so we can’t get confirmation.
What a surreal scene at Pimlico Race Course in Baltimore last Saturday as Mike Smith rode Kentucky Derby winner Justify beautifully – cutting through the thick-as-pea-soup fog that had rolled in off the Chesapeake Bay – to take the second leg of the Triple Crown and move just a mile-and-half away from our second Triple Crown winner in four years. And this after we went 37 years without seeing one.
Justify outdueled Good Magic who was at his throat latch and running stride-for-stride with the Derby winner for about a mile. But when Smith asked for more at the 1/4 pole, Justify spurted away to a clear lead as they ran past the 1/8th pole. Justify dug in and held off a resurgent Bravazo who had been up close for the first half mile and also fended off Tenfold who was also coming on late.
The heavy rain and late fog capped a week of rain at Pimlico which came after a rainy Kentucky Derby two weeks prior. Justify has won on a wet track three times in his last four races.
So now it’s on to Belmont Park and the Test of a Champion on June 9 – The Belmont Stakes at a 1 ½ miles, one full time around the oval.
And here we’ll have trainer Bob Baffert in the spotlight once again. Having won the Triple Crown with American Pharoah in 2015, he is back to try and do it again with Justify. It’s a different ownership group and jockey this time around.
A win at Belmont Park with Justify and Baffert joins “Sunny Jim” Fitzsimmons as the only trainer to navigate two horses through the choppy Triple Crown waters to win all three races. Fitzsimmons trained Gallant Fox in 1930 and Omaha in 1935.
It was early Saturday evening, shortly after Justify’s win, that I read about and heard some naysayers saying the Justify is vulnerable in the Belmont. My response would be: “Of course he is.” Justify was unraced as a 2-year-old and just made his debut back on Feb. 18. He is undefeated in five races, including three straight Grade 1 wins. Any horse going for the Triple Crown in the 12-furlong Belmont is vulnerable, especially one making just his sixth career start and sixth in less than 120 days.
That said, if anything, Justify’s Preakness effort enhances his resume and is not a knock against him. He raced off the rail, and while the half mile was much slower than what he ran at Churchill Downs, he ticked off solid 24-second quarters making it an honest pace over the sloppy-sealed track.
But the main thing for the Belmont was how strong Justify was at the end. He took off when asked at the quarter pole and pulled away from Good Magic. Then, when Bravazo and Tenfold came at him in final furlong he held them off gamely.
As of now there are 11 horses probable for the Belmont and it’s hard to see one of Justify’s 10 competitors winning the race. We’ll have more analysis as the big race gets closer.
Best of luck and find out how to get all our Hot List analysis for at Interbets.com.