Trainer Bob Baffert stands on the brink of history as he brings Kentucky Derby winner Justify to the Preakness Stakes on Saturday in search of the second jewel in US flat racing’s Triple Crown.
If the chestnut colt lives up to his favorite’s status, Baffert will move one clear of D. Wayne Lukas and into a tie with R. Wyndham Walden for the all-time record of seven wins in the Preakness — a record Walden set with his last winner in 1888.
So far, all four of the Kentucky Derby winners Baffert has brought to Baltimore’s Pimlico racetrack have triumphed in the Preakness — including American Pharoah in 2015 en route to ending a 37-year Triple Crown drought.
Baffert, however, wasn’t interested in discussing historic feats with a race looming.
“I never think bout breaking records or anything like that,” the affable 65-year-old said. “We live in the moment.
“The disappointments are right around the corner. That’s why I never get ahead of myself.”
Still, Baffert liked what he saw as Justify tested a sloppy Pimlico track on Thursday, a day after arriving from Churchill Downs.
“He looks no different to the way he did before the Kentucky Derby,” Baffert said. “Usually with my Derby winners it takes them about five days to snap out of it, but he’s been pretty bright, sharp, the whole time.”
Unraced as a two-year-old, Justify has dazzled in his three-year-old campaign, improving to 4-0 in a 2 1/2-length Derby victory that made him the first horse in 136 years to win America’s greatest race without running the year before.
After drawing the seventh post in an eight-horse field for the 1 3/16-mile Preakness, Justify was installed as the early 1-2 favorite.
Good Magic, the Kentucky Derby runner-up trained by Chad Brown, will be back for another tilt at Baffert’s latest wonder colt, as will Derby runners Bravazo and Lone Sailor.
– ‘Man among boys’ –
Bravazo, priced at 20-1, is one of two horses saddled by Lukas along with 30-1 Sporting Chance as the 82-year-old trainer seeks a record equalling seventh Preakness win himself.
Lukas owns a record 14 victories in the three Triple Crown races — the Kentucky Derby, Preakness and Belmont Stakes — a mark Baffert can match with Justify.
Lukas, for one, thinks Baffert has the horse to do it.
“It’s a man among boys,” Lukas said of Justify, adding that “reality hit real fast” when he watched Justify step off the van at Pimlico this week.
“I thought ‘Whoa, what are we in for here.'”
The biggest challenge to Justify could come from the so-called “new shooters” — four Preakness entries that didn’t run in the Kentucky Derby two weeks ago.
Quip, trained by US-based Frenchman Rodolphe Brisset, looks to be the class of that group after three wins in five career starts including the Grade 2 Tampa Bay Derby.
He qualified to run the Kentucky Derby, but after a second-placed finish in the Arkansas Derby Brisset held him out, and he hopes to reap the reward on Saturday.
“Running in the Derby to run is one thing. I think the Preakness is, of the three (Triple Crown races), maybe the one race that fits him the best,” Brisset said. “Hopefully we did the right thing.”