Kentucky Derby winner Justify, unbeaten in four career starts and exorcist of the “Curse of Apollo,” will continue his quest for a Triple Crown from the No. 7 post position at Pimlico in the 143rd Preakness Stakes on Saturday. The son of Scat Daddy has won back-to-back Grade 1 stakes by a total of 5 1/2 lengths and has the chance to deliver trainer Bob Baffert his record-tying seventh Preakness victory. Baffert’s four other Derby winners — Silver Charm, Real Quiet, War Emblem and American Pharoah — were all victorious two weeks later in Baltimore.
“They’re in the zone; they’re just peaking out,” Baffert said of his Derby winners. “And so we don’t do a lot with them because they’ve just run. And [Justify] is pretty fit. We’ve been running him into shape, and [the Kentucky Derby] was probably his hardest race.
“I’ve always taken the approach that we go there, we’re ready, we need racing luck, let’s see what they do. If he gets racing luck, he will be in good shape. I don’t want to run any faster, just keeping at that same level.”
If Justify replicates his speed from the Derby he is going to be tough to beat. According to the Daily Racing Form, Justify completed the 1 1/4 miles in 2 minutes 4.2 seconds, earning him a Beyer Speed Figure of 103. TimeformUS pace figures, a metric that combines a horse’s final-time figure, pace figures and running style into one number, announced Justify recorded a 127 speed figure in the Derby, which “ties American Pharoah for the best dating back to 2005.” The 144th Run for the Roses also featured the fastest pace ever recorded by TimeFormUS.
Plus, out of the three Triple Crown races, the Preakness is usually the one that holds closest to form. Since 2000, the average payout on a $2 win bet in the Preakness has returned $11.61, less than half the average return of the Derby winner ($26.15, including Justify) and almost a third of what the average winner paid in the upcoming Belmont Stakes ($32.72).
“I like being the favorite,” Baffert told Jason Frakes of the Louisville Courier Journal. “I don’t like being 50-1. I like knowing I have a chance to win it. When you come in thinking that you’re going to need the Stanford marching band to interfere with it, you don’t feel that well. When you know there’s a chance to pull this off … that’s what it’s all about.”
It also looks like the racing conditions at Pimlico are going to be similar to what we saw during the first leg of the Triple Crown at Churchill Downs. Accuweather.com forecasts a 43 percent chance of rain starting at 11 a.m. Eastern time Saturday with thunderstorms beginning at 1 p.m. Justify romped in the Run for Roses in the slop and beat the field by 2 1/2 lengths; he also won an allowance race at Santa Anita by 6 1/2 lengths in March over a muddy track. In addition, Justify’s sire, Scat Daddy, and his dam’s sire, Ghostzapper, have seen 15 and 19 percent of their progeny, respectively, win in the slop.
“He’s the best horse,” said D. Wayne Lukas, the record-holder for most Triple Crown wins (14) who also trains Preakness hopefuls Bravazo and Sporting Chance. “He looks terrific, he’s doing well. I watched him all week. He’s going to be very, very hard to handle.”
However, if you are looking to go against the favorite there are other, albeit less attractive, options.
The runner-up in the Kentucky Derby, when participating in the Preakness, is 16-3 in 33 races when facing the Derby winner head-to-head in the second leg of the Triple Crown. That gives Good Magic, who finished second to Justify on the first Saturday in May, a bleak outlook on Saturday.
There have also been just eight horses in the last 51 years that have skipped the Kentucky Derby and won the Preakness Stakes. The four most recent “new shooters” to accomplish the feat were Red Bullet (2000), Bernardini (2006), Rachel Alexandra (2009) and Cloud Computing (2017). All managed to hit the board in their race prior with six of those eight winning their previous race outright.
|Preakness||“New shooter”||Previous race||Finish in previous race|
|2017||Cloud Computing||Wood Memorial||3rd|
|2009||Rachel Alexandra||Kentucky Oaks||1st|
|2000||Red Bullet||Wood Memorial||2nd|
|1983||Deputed Testamony||Keystone Stakes||1st|
|1982||Aloma’s Ruler||Withers Stakes||1st|
|1972||Bee Bee Bee||Survivor Stakes||1st|
Quip finished second to Magnum Moon in the Grade I Arkansas Derby and Tenfold finished fifth in that same race. Sporting Chance finished fourth in the Grade III Pat Day Mile at Churchill Downs by eight lengths. Diamond King won the 1 1/8-mile Federico Tesio Stakes at Laurel Park. None look fast enough to compete with Justify this time around. According to Brisnet, the par speed figure for a stakes race run at 1 3/16 of a mile is 102, so ideally you want a horse that has shown he can be within three points of that, 99, in a similar class of race. And just so we know we are dealing with a bona fide contender to win, its preferable that the horse in question has at least two races with a Brisnet speed figure of 99 or higher. Under those conditions, Justify and Good Magic are the only horses that have shown they can be quick enough in Saturday’s race. And since one point equals on length in route races, the two-point edge Good Magic has on the next fastest horse, Quip, and the rest of the field can be considered to be substantial.
“So far, I don’t see anything that would make me think that [Justify] is not going to run a [big] race,” Baffert said on Tuesday. “But you never know until you lead them up there.”