Lo Duca: Will Justify Make It Look Easy at the Preakness Stakes?

Credit:

Trainer Bob Baffert walks Kentucky Derby winner Justify through the Preakness Barn after arriving at Pimlico Race Course in preparation for the 143rd Preakness Stakes. Credit: Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

The 2018 Kentucky Derby has come and gone and now all eyes are on Justify as he goes for the Triple Crown. Bob Baffert’s latest Triple Crown threat arrived at Pimlico Race Course yesterday and drew the same post position (No. 7) that he charged out of to win the Run for the Roses on May 5.

Eight horses are in Baltimore for the second leg of the Triple Crown, and after a record crowd watched the Preakness in 2017, this year’s competition figures to warrant just as much attention as Justify looks like a serious threat to take all three of the famed Grade 1 Stakes races like American Pharoah — also trained by Baffert — did in 2015. In fact, Baffert’s past four Derby winners have all followed up their Kentucky victories with a win in Maryland.

Here’s a look post positions and the odds:

Familiar Digs

After winning the Kentucky Derby rather handily from the No. 7 post, Justify will stay in that spot for the Preakness, and he’s a big favorite with 1-2 morning-line odds. This post in a paceless field is much better for the heavy favorite considering that he has to deal with only seven other horses, compared to 19 others in the Derby.

In my opinion, the only other horse that has a chance in this one is Good Magic, who unfortunately drew to Justify’s inside.

Best and Worst Positions

It’s a little harder to pinpoint “bad” positions when there’s only eight horses running as opposed to 20, so let’s start with some good draws. Quip is in a good position at No. 1. But let’s be honest, he might be the third choice but can’t win. So the move may be to include him in a trifecta.

Bravazo, who is trained by D. Wayne Lukas, ran a surprisingly good race at Churchill Downs. He will be in post 8. While it shouldn’t matter that Bravazo is next to the race’s overwhelming favorite, Lukas said he thought his horses were in “deep doo-doo” after he saw Justify in person on Wednesday. If you were going to ask anybody in the sport who the next best trainer after Baffert is, Lukas would be on the short list. Those are giant words from the longtime trainer.

The worst draw belongs to Good Magic. Justify’s jockey Mike Smith can see what plays out in front of him and keep Good Magic pinned for a long period of time. Justify is the fastest horse, but I don’t think Smith will want him in the lead.

Sporting Chance, the other Lukas runner, could be the horse to run to the lead. He’s going to be the rabbit while Bravazo makes his late run. That could actually end up helping Justify.

In the end, it’s Justify who gets the best draw. The undefeated horse will get to sit back and watch the race unfold in front of him before making his move.

How Justify Can Lose

There’s been a lot of speculation around the track about Justify’s foot. I’ve called almost all the respected people I know in the industry and some say he’s not 100% while others say he’s just fine. It’s no secret that he’s had foot issues in the past and he’s worn several different shoes — which is uncommon and worrisome for most horses. It’s also tricky as some horses just win with bad feet. Justify trains in a three-quarter shoe but races in a full shoe. He won the Santa Anita Derby in a bent shoe. So I’m starting to wonder, can he hold up? Or is this horse so good he could run in Converses. The worry is this horse is going to end up running five times in 91 days.

Justify seemed to show signs of being a bit off in his left hind leg when Baffert brought him out of the bar the Sunday morning after the Derby to show him off to fans and the media. Baffert loves this stuff — he did the same thing with American Pharoah. When people noticed the horse was a bit off, Baffert responded

“It’s not an issue,” the Hall of Fame trainer said. “It was sensitive there. It’s like a diaper rash, what he’s got. He looked great today. He did not run down. They call them scratches or whatever. He’s had it before. You get it from wet (tracks) and you have to soften it up. It can be irritating. When he stepped on those rocks (outside the barn), it bit him. That’s why he did that. Because he was fine in the morning and today he was fine.”

Guess what: Rain is slated all week for Baltimore.

Why Justify Will Win

Well, for starters, he’s the fastest horse, and Baffert has never lost a Preakness with a horse after winning the Derby. Additionally, his draw against a weak field couldn’t be better. You can argue that Good Magic, his only real competitor, might bounce and move backward, which would leave Justify by his lonesome and set us up for a possible Triple Crown at Belmont.

His trainer already admitted the horse was off. He didn’t hide it and this hasn’t slowed him down yet. You never ever know when it comes to an injury to a horse, but if the best trainer ever puts the horse on the plane and in that starting gate on Saturday I don’t know how he loses. He wouldn’t put the horse’s legacy, nor his breeding value, in jeopardy by running him when he shouldn’t. Just look at Always Dreaming, last year’s Derby winner. He could have stood at stud for $50,000 if he would have retired immediately. Instead, he hasn’t won another race and now I’d be surprised if he stands for more than $10,000. There’s a lot to lose.

However, Justify can probably win this race at 90% and Bob knows that.

One more thing, if Justify does get to New York with the Crown on the line, the odds are in his favor. In 2015 Baffert won the Triple Crown with American Pharoah. Last year, he shipped four horses — West Coast, Mor Spirit, Abel Tasman and American Anthem — in for the undercard races on Belmont Day. They all won.

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