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Rain does not dampen Preakness expectations for Justify

Ron Flatter  
VSiN.com

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Good Magic was full of energy in his Friday morning gallop at rainy Pimlico, site of Saturday's Preaness Stakes. (Photo courtesy of Maryland Jockey Club)

Baltimore

There is slop. And then there is Pimlico slop.

“This track looks like it’s holding the moisture a little bit more,” Hall of Fame trainer D. Wayne Lukas said. “We’ve had a lot of rain, probably more than I’ve realized at night.”

It is the story of this Triple Crown, isn’t it? For the first time in 70 years, a sloppy Kentucky Derby seems likely to be followed by a sloppy Preakness Stakes, what with at least a quarter-inch more of rain forecast Friday and up to a half-inch on race day Saturday.

The forecast only plays into the hands of bettors who are bullish on Justify. He won his breakout allowance race in the mud at Santa Anita two months ago. And he won the Derby in the slop two weeks ago. Not that his trainer Bob Baffert is without a preference.

“I don’t like it if it starts drying out and it gets a little bit deeper,” Baffert said. “It can be fatiguing. But you really don’t know that until they get ready to run, so you’ll see a big difference.”

Baffert is trying to minimize the pre-race risk. He sent Justify (1-2 morning line, 1-3 at the Wynn Las Vegas) and his exercise rider Humberto García out for an easy, 1½-mile gallop at 5:30 a.m. Friday, three hours earlier than they went out Thursday.

“We wanted to beat the rain,” Baffert said. “It quit raining when we went out there. It always does. It always quits.”

Five of the eight Preakness horses have wet-weather experience – including Good Magic (3-1, 3-1). He was fading late in his runner-up finish in the Derby slop, lugging briefly in the stretch, though not as much as when he won the Blue Grass on a fast track in April.

“We’re looking to make up a couple of lengths on this horse for sure – or more,” Good Magic’s trainer Chad Brown said. “I feel like the off track is really a push for both horses. That’s not one area where we are probably going to make up the difference. I would like to see a dry track just for the sake of something different – a different scenario that maybe we can improve on a little bit.”

Three new shooters – Quip (12-1, 12-1), Diamond King (30-1, 25-1) and Tenfold (20-1, 22-1) – have never raced on a wet track. That would seem to be less of a problem for the lightly raced Tenfold considering that, like Good Magic, he was sired by Curlin, famously the winner of the 2007 Breeders’ Cup on a veritable lake at Monmouth Park.

“It will be interesting to see how the racetrack plays that late,” Tenfold’s trainer Steve Asmussen said. “It was very firm (Friday) morning underneath, but we’re looking at 20-some races between now and the Preakness, and the weather doesn’t appear to be letting up. It’s not going to stay the same. That will be the curious part – and whose feet sting if they’re going to the bottom.”

Lukas agreed that there is some mystery about the track and how it will impact his two horses – Bravazo (20-1, 18-1) and Sporting Chance (30-1, 25-1) – both of which he said could challenge Justify for the early lead.

“There isn’t much we can do about it,” Lukas said of the weather. “The horses are going to adjust to it, but it’s not going to be the same for everybody. There’ll be some of them who won’t handle it and some of them who will relish it.”

Lone Sailor (15-1, 30-1) could be the mystery horse. He belied the theory that deep closers do not like mud in their eyes when he broke his maiden and won by 11 lengths in the slop last summer at Saratoga, although he moved forward early in what remains his only victory.

After Lone Sailor settled for an eighth-place finish amid stretch traffic in the Derby, his trainer Tom Amoss tried to tamp expectations about his horse being the only pure closer in the Preakness.

“Good Magic and Justify looked really good on the track,” Amoss said. “For the rest of us our task is formidable. Those horses were dominant in the Derby over the rest of the field, and the Preakness typically plays toward how the Derby plays. To turn the tables on those horses, we have to get into position to run a better race and avoid traffic to hopefully be a part of that finish.”

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, two editions of which were posted Thursday afternoon and Friday morning at VSiN.com/podcasts. Friday’s guests included Hall of Fame trainer D. Wayne Lukas and TVG’s Caton Bredar. Thursday’s special, pop-up podcast featured VSiN’s Dave Tuley, Gaughan Gaming’s Vinny Magliulo and South Point’s Patrick McQuiggan, all focused on handicapping the Preakness. Please subscribe and post a review where available at Apple Podcasts, Google Play Music and Stitcher.

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