Nothing like a good night’s sleep to rejuvenate a tired body. That was less the case for trainer Bob Baffert than it was for Justify.
“He was blowing pretty good, but he wasn’t really as tired as we thought he was,” Baffert said on a sunny Sunday, the morning after Justify (2-5) held off the late charges of Bravazo (15-1) and Tenfold (26-1) to win Saturday’s Preakness Stakes and keep alive his chance to win the Triple Crown.
It was less the late challenges of the two long shots and more the early duel with Good Magic (7-2) that would had Justify huffing and puffing after the0 race that was run through the slop and the fog here at Pimlico.
“He did something totally different,” Baffert said. “He got challenged early. Good Magic was pushing him out the whole way.”
Although Good Magic’s trainer Chad Brown was critical of jockey José Ortiz’s front-running ride, Baffert said it made sense for Ortiz to ride the rail and then intimidate the lightly raced Justify by pushing him out to a wider path. That might have worked if Justify had not edged forward at the end of the second turn, leaving Good Magic to fade eventually to fourth.
“I don’t blame them for taking him on,” Baffert said. “If Good Magic would’ve won, you would have been calling (Brown) a genius for doing that. One thing I’ve learned about these New York jockeys is they’re very aggressive. They’re top, top riders. It would’ve been the right move, but you’re dealing with a superior horse.”
Jockey Mike Smith rode Justify steadily in the stretch to what wound up being just a half-length victory. So how much did that take out of him, and how long will it take him to recover?
“He didn’t have a lot of kick at the end,” Baffert said. “But Mike said he could’ve won by more. He was just pulling up when (Bravazo and Tenfold) came to him, and then he just like takes off again.”
Trying to accentuate the positive, Baffert was happy that Justify showed him something different from the mostly unchallenged rides he has had in running his record to 5-for-5 just 90 days after his wintertime debut at Santa Anita.
“What he’s done in his fifth race it’s pretty incredible,” he said. “He’s not one-dimensional. He can sit off a horse. He handled that. He ran the race like American Pharoah did in the (2015) Derby.”
And so like American Pharoah, Justify takes Baffert to the Belmont Stakes in three weeks on the crest of what could be a Triple Crown wave. Waiting to challenge him will be the likes of Bravazo, Tenfold, rested Derby also-rans Hofburg, Vino Rosso, Free Drop Billy, maybe Audible, My Boy Jack, Solomini and, yes, the curiosity that is the European colt Gronkowski.
Referencing the tender, left hind foot that developed after the Derby, Baffert said there was no such problem after this race, and that all systems were go to try and win his second Triple Crown in the last four racing seasons.
“He looks good. He ate everything. He’s an eater. And no foot issues today. As long as he stays like this, I don’t see why not go to the Belmont.”
Justify was shipped Sunday to Churchill Downs in Kentucky, where he will be kept and exercised until being sent to New York in two weeks to try and become the 13th winner of the Triple Crown.
Ron Flatter’s racing column returns to its usual Friday schedule next week. You may also hear the Ron Flatter Racing Pod, posted Friday mornings at VSiN.com/podcasts. Please subscribe and post a review where available at Apple Podcasts, Google Play Music and Stitcher.