Trainer Bob Baffert arrived in Louisville, Ky. Sunday night and said he loved what he saw while watching Justify train at Churchill Downs Monday morning for the first time since the massive chestnut colt captured the May 5 Kentucky Derby (G1).
Justify, who will seek to extend his unbeaten streak to 5-for-5 in Saturday's 143rd Preakness Stakes (G1) at Pimlico Race Course, jogged to the front of the grandstand under exercise rider Humberto Gomez before turning around for a brisk gallop, picking up the pace throughout.
“I just loved the way he went around there,” said Baffert, who flew back to California the day after the Derby. “He looks no different than he did before the Kentucky Derby, so we're pretty happy where we are right now. He looks healthy. He didn't lose an ounce of weight, which is important. That's one thing about him. The next day (after the Derby) when I brought him out, he was so bright and full of energy, I was pretty impressed myself. Usually, all my Derby winners, it takes them about five days to really snap out of it. But he was pretty sharp the whole time.
“You can tell by their eyes, their body language that he's enjoying it out there. He wanted to go faster than the rider (allowed),” he added. “That tells me he's still on ‘go.'”
Baffert said that Justify has been re-shod with a full shoe on his left hind foot and with the hoof adhesive Equilox added. Justify had been training in a “three-quarter” shoe, where the heel end on one side is cut back to alleviate pressure on a bruised area that manifested itself after the Derby.
“Any time you run horses on a wet track, it's very abrasive, especially that day. It burns their heels and that's when bruised feet come out. I looked at it and said, ‘Start treating it,' because when you get heat, you'll get ‘scratches' or cracked heels. But we jumped on it right away. He looked much better in the afternoon….You have to get on it. We deal with these issues constantly in horse racing,” said Baffert, who said he would have stayed with Justify in Kentucky if he thought the foot issue was a major problem.
Justify, whose first start wasn't until Feb. 18, joined Apollo in 1882 as the only Derby winners who did not race as 2-year-olds. He did it in a 20-horse field and as part of a swift early pace, being only a half-length off of Promises Fulfilled's opening quarter-mile of 22.24 seconds — the sixth-fastest in history and the fastest since future sprint champion Groovy's 22.20 in 1986.
“I sort of ran him into shape – 75 days, he did all that,” Baffert said. “And he's still the big massive horse that he is. But he's light on his feet, and he can take a lot. He's shown how tough he is. To do what he did in such a short period of time is pretty remarkable, especially beating a field like he did and going as fast as he did early…. He did all the heavy lifting, and he kept going. He probably ran the hardest of any of those horses in the race, because he was hauling the mail the whole way and kept on….They came home slow, but they have to, when the track condition is that way. They're not going to run fast when the track is that way.
“… But we knew he was something special from Day One. My job was just to make sure I didn't mess it up. But I've got a great team here. We all stay focused and make sure he's happy, like any coach. Keep your quarterback happy,” he added. “Don't overdo it and they'll show up.”
Justify is scheduled to fly to Baltimore Wednesday. He is expected to van to Louisville International Airport around 10:30 or shortly thereafter. The Tex Sutton Forwarding Company equine flight is expected to leave about noon and arrive at Baltimore-Washington International Airport about 1:30 p.m.
Baffert has won the Preakness with each of his previous four Kentucky Derby winners: Silver Charm in 1997, Real Quiet in 1998, War Emblem in 2002 and Triple Crown winner American Pharoah in 2015, as well as with Point Given in 2001 and Lookin At Lucky in 2010. A seventh Preakness would tie him for the all-time lead with R.W. Walden (1875-1888). D. Wayne Lukas, who has Kentucky Derby sixth-place finisher Bravazo and Pat Day Mile (G3) fourth-place finisher Sporting Chance running in the Middle Jewel of the Triple Crown, also has won the Preakness six times.
“Wayne and I, we're from the quarter-horse world where we had to run 'em one week and come back the next week for all the money,” Baffert said of the two-week turnaround between the Derby and Preakness, a short span some trainers shy away from making with their horses. “We know the turnaround because we've dealt with the turnaround all our life. A lot of these trainers, they want to give their horse extra time. That's why I have a really great foundation in my horses…. That's why he's been able to recover quickly after every race.”
Baffert trains Justify for WinStar Farm, China Horse Club, Head of Plains Partners and Starlight Racing. Mike Smith has the return mount aboard the Derby winner.
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