Justify leaves Baffert with no worries before Preakness

By Ron Flatter  (VSiN.com) 

Justify, with exercise rider Humberto Gómez, glide over the slop at Pimlico on Thursday morning, two days before Preakness Stakes 143. (Ron Flatter photo)


Resist the temptation to write that the steady rain stopped when Justify stepped onto the sloppy track after 8 o’clock Thursday morning here at Pimlico.

But it did.

And resist the temptation to recall that trainer Bob Baffert’s 13-year-old son Bode was the only one who got the weather forecast right two weeks ago before Justify swam to victory in the Kentucky Derby.

But he was.

And resist the temptation to write that Baffert is undefeated in the Preakness Stakes with the four other Derby winners he has brought here.

But he is.

All these things have already been covered in great detail on social media and television and word of mouth – let alone this old-school sort of treatise we like to call a column.

Instead, the itch being scratched on arrival here is all about how Saturday’s Preakness will be run. And won. And whether Justify (1-2 morning line, 1-3 at the Wynn Las Vegas) will be alone on the lead en route to a victory that so many believe to be certain – at least based on his forecast and real-dollar odds.

“I don’t think about that,” Baffert said. “Our horse is extremely quick. You can’t worry about stuff like that.”

But bettors will, especially since Justify may have company Saturday that he was never going to have two weeks ago at the Derby. Two new shooters – Arkansas Derby runner-up Quip (12-1, 12-1) from the rail and 2017 Grade 1 winner Sporting Chance (30-1, 25-1) from the 3-hole – both figure to bring early speed. Whether they are actually able to do that and still keep up with Justify is another matter.

“Yeah, I think Sporting Chance will be very closely up,” his trainer D. Wayne Lukas said. He threw in one more candidate from his barn to challenge for the lead. “Bravazo (20-1, 18-1) could be up there from the outside position. He’s got a lot of options coming from the 8-hole.”

It seems a pipe dream to think that a speed contest could burn out Justify and set up a closer like maiden winner Lone Sailor (15-1, 30-1). Justify’s speed figures just dwarf the competition.

Then there is the matter of the weather forecast indicating the sky – and the track – will be wet all week with an 80 percent chance of continuing showers on race day. Since two of Justify’s four races – and four wins – have been on sodden tracks, Baffert might as well hire someone to seed the clouds.

“He’s just light on his feet if you saw him go around here today,” Baffert said after Justify’s easy-going jog over the slop Thursday morning. “He’s just quick, and he’s just light, and he’s smart. He’s a very intelligent horse.”

Lukas agreed.

“He’s just a complete package – a big, strong horse that’s sound. He’s got great tactical speed, a Hall of Fame trainer, a Hall of Fame rider (Mike Smith) and just a hell of a pedigree. Everything’s in order. He’s got it all. He checks all the boxes.”

Oh, and for anyone wondering about that cranky, left hind foot, Justify had the three-quarter shoe removed in favor of a full shoe for Thursday’s jog.

“I think it’s behind us,” Baffert said. “He had that one (painful) day, but then after that he’s been really good on it. He went out there today, and he didn’t feel anything. I don’t really worry about it.”

Ron Flatter’s racing column will appear daily the rest of Preakness week at VSiN.com. You may also hear the Ron Flatter Racing Pod, posted Thursday afternoon and Friday morning this week at VSiN.com/podcasts. Thursday’s special, pop-up podcast will feature VSiN’s Dave Tuley, Gaughan Gaming’s Vinny Magliulo and South Point’s Patrick McQuiggan, all focused on handicapping the Preakness. Guests Friday include Hall of Fame trainer D. Wayne Lukas and TVG’s Caton Bredar. Please subscribe and post a review where available at Apple Podcasts, Google Play Music and Stitcher.

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