Almost on cue, the rain stopped falling when Kentucky Derby (G1) winner Justify made his first visit to the Pimlico Race Course track at 8:30 Thursday morning. The unbeaten son of Scat Daddy had a 1½-mile controlled gallop over the wet track that will play host to the 143rd Preakness Stakes (G1) on Saturday.
Justify shipped in from Churchill Downs in Louisville, Ky. Wednesday and will try to become trainer Bob Baffert's fifth Derby winner to add the Preakness to his resume, following Silver Charm (1997); Real Quiet (1998); War Emblem (2002) and Triple Crown winner American Pharoah (2015). Baffert also saddled Point Given (2001) and Lookin At Lucky (2010) for Preakness wins after Derby losses.
Justify drew Post No. 7, the same number he wore in the May 5 Derby. Mike Smith will ride the colt co-owned by WinStar Farm, China Horse Club, Head of Plains Partners and Starlight Racing.
Baffert said the plan was for an easy piece of exercise under Humberto Gomez Thursday morning.
“We took him out there and we backed him up to near the half-mile pole and just went easy around there,” he said. “We didn't want to do too much because of the condition of the track. There is so much water on it, but (Gomez) said it was soft. He's a really smart horse and will do whatever you want him to. He'll go slow, quick, fast, whatever. He never gets really tough.
“I'm just happy with the way he went around there,” he added. “He was just getting warmed up. He was ready to do a lot more, but we didn't want him to do too much. We'll basically do the same tomorrow when we go out.”
The trip to the track allowed the colt to stretch his legs a bit and get a look at Pimlico.
“He comes in here pretty ready,” Baffert said. “It's too late if I want to get him fit, two days out. We just want to keep him happy. If he just stays that way he will be fine. We know what he does in the afternoon.”
Though Justify did not compete as a 2-year-old and did not make his debut until Feb. 18, Baffert said the chestnut colt should not be described as “lightly raced” going into the Preakness.
“He's been running. This is going to be his fifth race,” Baffert said. “He's been running every three weeks. He's had a tough schedule. But he looks good. Flesh-wise, he looks healthy. The main thing is, he's a really good horse. That's what makes him so great. He's a superior horse, just like American Pharoah. What he's done in that short 75 days to win the Kentucky Derby, to go, go, go, – and he ran with some good horses – he makes my job a lot easier.”
The morning after the Derby, Justify appeared to have some discomfort in his left hind leg while turning. Baffert described it as a minor issue that was treated promptly and is of no concern.
“I think it's behind us,” he said. “He had that one day, but after that he's been good on it. I put a full shoe back on it and he went out there today and he didn't feel anything. Those things, you don't know when they are going to sneak up on you, but right now, I'm not really worried about it.”
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