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PREAKNESS STAKES NEWS & NOTES

Lightly Raced Justify May Have Advantage in Preakness

Lukas: It’s Justify’s ‘Triple Crown to Lose’

Tenfold a ‘Go’ for Preakness with Ricardo Santana Jr. Up

LIGHTLY RACED JUSTIFY MAY HAVE ADVANTAGE IN PREAKNESS

      BALTIMORE – Having bucked history while winning the May 5 Kentucky Derby (G1) in only his fourth start and without the benefit of racing as a 2-year-old, the lightly raced Justify could well hold an advantage heading into the 143rd Preakness Stakes (G1) May 19 at Pimlico Race Course.  

“Could be,” said WinStar Farm president and CEO Elliott Walden after watching the Bob Baffert-trained colt gallop Saturday morning at Churchill Downs. “And the horse is a big, strong horse. That plays in your favor. You see a lot of horses get sucked up with the run to the Derby. And I think the points thing makes people run a little harder in those races. You can’t miss, so you really have to have your horse ready and honed in for those points races. By the time you get to the Derby, you’re honed in pretty hard. 

“So when you have a horse like Justify, who is 1,280 pounds going into the race, he’s got a little more in reserve than a lot of horses,” he added. “I don’t know what he weighs now, because they weigh them in California when they go to the races. When they walk to the paddock, they walk on a scale. That’s why Bob knows what he is. I don’t think Bob has a scale in his barn. He did say that at the same point, (2015 Triple Crown winner) American Pharoah was 1,180 in the spring.” 

There aren’t too many Thoroughbreds who push 1,300 pounds, with a much smaller pool of such big horses who are so fast.

“That’s a good combination,” Walden said.

In beating Good Magic by 2 1/2 lengths last Saturday, undefeated Justify joined Apollo (1882) as the only unraced juveniles to win the Derby and Big Brown (2008) as the only Derby winners with just three prior races since Regret (1915). It was jokingly pointed out to Walden that no unraced 2-year-old had ever won the Derby and Preakness. Of course, no such horse has ever attempted that parlay, because Apollo didn’t run in the Preakness.

“Oh good,” Walden joked of another “curse,” adding more seriously, “I wasn’t worried about the Apollo Curse. I really thought going into this year that (many) of them had four starts, so it really didn’t matter. The horse is doing well, and that’s the main thing.

“He looked good,” he said of Justify’s training session. “I’ve been really happy how he’s been galloping the last few days… Good energy level, pulling the rider — everything you like to see.”

Jimmy Barnes, the chief assistant overseeing Justify’s training in Kentucky, said Baffert is expected to fly to Louisville Sunday evening. Though Baffert certainly has been known to change his mind, Justify is expected to gallop into the Preakness. The Derby winner is scheduled to fly to Baltimore on Wednesday and is expected to land about 1:30 p.m.

“Justify couldn’t be looking any better,” Barnes said. “Going into Baltimore this next week, I couldn’t be happier with how he looks. The next seven days it’s just keeping him healthy and happy. He had a hard race in the Derby, and the Preakness comes up quick. You just want to go in there with a happy, healthy horse.”

Barnes said the minor foot bruise that surfaced that day after the Derby “looks like it’s completely behind us. Those things take sometimes 48 hours to resolve themselves, so now we just march forward to Baltimore.”Lukas: It’s Justify’s ‘Triple Crown to Lose’

LUKAS: IT’S JUSTIFY’S ‘TRIPLE CROWN TO LOSE’

Trainer D. Wayne Lukas, who like Baffert has won the Preakness Stakes six times, correctly predicted that American Pharoah would sweep the 2015 Triple Crown even before the Bob Baffert trainee ran in the Kentucky Derby. The Hall of Fame trainer, who is scheduled to run Calumet Farm’s Bravazo and Robert Baker and William Mack’s Sporting Chance in the May 19 Preakness at Pimlico, said he thinks Justify will do the same. 

“I think this horse has a great chance; I wish I had him,” Lukas said. “There’s no horse out there right now that can stop him on this run. He’s going to get a mile and a half (in the Belmont). He’s going to run well in the Preakness. It’s his Triple Crown to lose. Ironically, we’ll have two Triple Crown winners in a short period of time. I really think it could happen.

“But you can’t concede anything. My job is to spoil the dream. That’s what I get paid for. I’m a good friend of Bob Baffert’s, but when the gate opens, he’s on his own. He didn’t cheer for Oxbow all the way around there,” Lukas added with a laugh, referring to his 2013 Preakness winner. “Unless somebody shows up, he’s the dominant horse. I feel Bob is in a beautiful position to pull off another Triple Crown. This field of horses has to really step up in order to beat him.”

Before the Derby, many observers talked about how deep and strong the 3-year-olds were. Lukas long has said the best recipe for a Triple Crown is a superior horse in an inferior year. This did not appear to be an inferior year.

“They got maybe a test of reality a little bit in the Derby,” Lukas said. “I think it’s a very good field, very good 3-year-old crop, but Justify, to me, is the dominant horse. And the fact that he’s so lightly raced and now that he’s got the Derby under his belt, he should get better. Bob’s horses generally always stay in top form. I think it would be silly for us to think he’s going to be less than tough in this race. I expect him to run a huge race in the Preakness, and I think we’ll see that.” 

Lukas’ Preakness duo of Bravazo, sixth in the Kentucky Derby, and Pat Day Mile (G3) troubled fourth-place finisher Sporting Chance galloped shortly after the Churchill Downs track opened Saturday. They are scheduled to work at Churchill Sunday morning before vanning to Baltimore Monday.

“We’ll keep hammering away at him obviously,” Lukas said of taking on Justify. “Our horses are tough. The thing about the Preakness is that you’ve got to have a tough horse, a horse that can rebound very quickly from the Derby, regardless of the trip. We’ve got one of those this year – Bob (also) has one is the problem. You can see it by the way he gallops, how aggressive he is.

“Our horse (Bravazo) is tough. I’d like to run it today; I don’t want to wait a week.”

How does Lukas beat Justify?

“Sporting Chance is a very talented horse,” he said of Saratoga’s Grade 1 Hopeful winner who was disqualified from third to fourth in Keeneland’s Blue Grass (G2) after coming out sharply in the stretch and impeding Free Drop Billy. “All we’ve got to do is get a clean trip and see it. I see it every day out there. He has got to get over all the little hiccups – and they were man-made in my opinion; the horse is an absolute professional. It’s no question he was over-ridden in the Blue Grass and so forth. We get a smooth trip and I think you’ll see a very talented horse. He fits with the rest of them.” 

Bravazo won the Risen Star (G2) at Fair Grounds, then faded badly when eighth in the Louisiana Derby (G2).

“The problem with Bravazo is very simple: We go from the Risen Star to the Louisiana Derby four weeks later and we get nothing out of it. By that, I mean from a training standpoint we did not move forward. That was a move backward in condition and everything. Now you go six weeks from Louisiana Derby to Kentucky Derby. In my mind as a trainer, I trained him for 10 weeks to the Derby. I didn’t get anything out of the Louisiana Derby. You’re going to see a horse move forward off the Kentucky Derby now.”

Luis Saez will ride Bravazo for the first time in the Preakness, while Luis Contreras has the mount aboard Sporting Chance. 

TENFOLD A ‘GO’ FOR PREAKNESS WITH RICARDO SANTANA JR. UP

Winchell Thoroughbreds’ Tenfold, who officially joined the Preakness field Friday, galloped 1 1/2 miles at Churchill Downs Saturday at the same time as Kentucky Derby winner Justify, going to the track at 7:30 a.m. after the first of two renovation breaks.

“He’s a beautiful-traveling horse,” said Scott Blasi, trainer Steve Asmussen’s assistant at Churchill Downs. “He has a very physical look to him. I don’t think we got the trip we wanted in the Arkansas Derby (G1), and we’ll take another shot.”

Tenfold, another unraced 2-year-old, has raced only three times and all at Oaklawn Park, impressively winning his Feb. 9 debut at 1 1/16 miles, and a 1 1/16-mile allowance race before finishing fifth in the Arkansas Derby while beaten a total of 4 1/2 lengths. The son of two-time Horse of the Year Curlin was only a half-length out of second, however, with Magnum Moon winning by four lengths.

“It’s a big step up, but it’s a good opportunity to see where you fit with these horses,” Blasi said of the Preakness. “Everybody is looking for the 3-year-olds to start stepping up this time of the year. He deserves the chance.”

Ricardo Santana Jr., aboard for Tenfold’s two victories, regains the mount for the Preakness after Victor Espinoza rode the colt in the Arkansas Derby.Diamond King Jockey Decision Still Pending

DIAMOND KING JOCKEY DECISION STILL PENDING

Cash is King, LC Racing and D.J. Stable’s Diamond King galloped 1 ½ miles over an off track at Parx Racing in Bensalem, Pa. Saturday morning, one week before his next scheduled start in the 143rd Preakness.

“It was a pretty muddy racetrack, but he did good,” trainer John Servis said. “He went a mile and a half. We switch it up with him once in a while. I kind of do that with all the horses, just to mix it up a little bit. It keeps them from getting in a routine and getting too stale.”

Diamond King, a bay son of Grade 1 winner Quality Road, earned automatic entry into the Preakness by virtue of his victory in the 1 1/8-mile Federico Tesio Stakes April 21 at Laurel Park. He owns four wins from six starts, finishing third in the seven-furlong Swale (G3) Feb. 3 at Gulfstream Park in his sophomore debut and first race since joining Servis this winter.

With an eye on the weather, Servis is hoping to give Diamond King his final Preakness work Sunday morning at Parx. Showers are in the forecast for the Philadelphia area throughout the day Saturday and Sunday and into Monday.

“I’d like to work him tomorrow, if I can. It depends on how the track’s going to be. Right now, the track’s pretty sloppy,” Servis said. “If we don’t get any more rain then the track should be good. If the track’s good, then we’ll breeze him first thing in the morning. If it’s not and we need to wait, we’ll probably go first after the break. We’re just playing it by ear. I’d much rather go tomorrow, but if I have to push it back a day then I will.”

Servis has yet to confirm a rider for Diamond King in the Preakness. Frankie Pennington has been aboard for all six of the horse’s starts including the Kentucky Jockey Club (G2) last fall at Churchill Downs, where he was unseated after clipping heels around the first turn.

“I don’t know at this time yet who’s going to ride him,” Servis said. “We just now really confirmed for the race, so I just need to make sure the jock’s lined up.”

Pennington, 31, has never ridden a Preakness starter, but won the 2016 Maryland Sprint (G3) at Pimlico aboard Always Sunshine. He is a winner of more than 2,200 career races, and has been the leading rider at Parx since 2014. In 2006, when it was still known as Philadelphia Park, he set the track record with 259 victories. 

“We’re considering a different direction. That’s part of the discussion. John’s going to let me make that decision. I just think it’s such a big race, if we can get a top jock, which we’re going to certainly shoot for, we’re certainly going to go in that direction,” said Cash is King managing partner Chuck Zacney. “It’s nothing against Frankie. You only have so many opportunities at a Preakness … so you want to give the horse every opportunity to succeed.”Geroux Hopes Quip Will Give Him First Triple Crown Success

GEROUX HOPES QUIP WILL GIVE HIM FIRST TRIPLE CROWN SUCCESS

Florent Geroux rode Gun Runner to Horse of the Year honors last year, earning his fourth career Breeders’ Cup victory with that horse in the Classic (G1). The jockey teamed with Gun Runner for a victory in this year’s $16 million Pegasus World Cup (G1), the world’s richest race. He followed his third-straight Fair Grounds riding title with his first Keeneland crown, then a week later guided Monomoy Girl to victory May 4 in the $1 million Kentucky Oaks (G1), recording his first success in America’s most important race for 3-year-old fillies.

In a career that really took off the past four years, the one thing escaping Geroux is winning a Triple Crown race. Now the French-born jockey is hoping Quip becomes his first Triple Crown event winner in the May 19 Preakness Stakes. Quip is trained by Geroux’s countryman and close friend Rodolphe Brisset, the former assistant to Hall of Famer Bill Mott who went on his own a year ago.

“I’m excited. The horse is coming off a nice race in Arkansas,” Geroux said of Quip’s performance in the Arkansas Derby, in which they finished four lengths behind Magnum Moon while holding off several horses to keep the runner-up spot. “The connections thought the horse needed some extra time, so they decided to get him ready for the Preakness.”

Asked his bottom line on the Arkansas Derby, Geroux said, “He got outrun by a nice horse. Magnum Moon ran a very big race that day. But our horse is a very nice horse, too. He hung in pretty gamely for second. I think now anything is possible. Some of the horses ran really hard in the Derby and now they have to run back in two weeks. Us, we’ll be at five weeks. The horse is fresh, and we’re hoping we can turn the table with some of them.”

Geroux acknowledged “it’s a big hole” when a special horse such as Gun Runner is retired to stud duties.

“Everywhere you went, you knew he was going to win pretty much,” he said. “So that was a big hole to fill. I was lucky enough to get on Monomoy Girl. I think she’ll be very salty this year. And I’ve got a nice 3-year-old in Quip.”

Geroux said he thinks winning that first Triple Crown race is one of the hardest things for a jockey to do. 

“It would be nice to win one right away and be over with it,” Geroux said with a laugh. “Looks like I’m having to chase it a little bit, like many jockeys do. Look at Mike Smith. It took him a very long time to win his first Derby (with Giacomo in 2005), and he thought it would never happen again. And now he has a second one (with Justify), which shows you how hard it is. 

“You work hard every day, but you need to get lucky,” he added. “That’s a big part of the game: Getting on the right horse at the right time. Hopefully one day it will be my turn.”

 ALSO: Lone Sailor (eighth in Derby) galloped at Churchill Downs Saturday morning. Trainer Tom Amoss expects a Preakness decision to be made after speaking with owner Gayle Benson Saturday evening.

Others under Preakness consideration are e Five Racing Thoroughbreds and Stonestreet Stables’ Derby runner-up Good Magic, Ruis Racing’s Bolt d’Oro (12th in Derby), and Calumet Farm’s Pony Up.

About Pimlico Race Course

Legendary Pimlico Race Course, home of the Preakness® Stakes, the Middle Jewel in horse racing’s famed Triple Crown, first opened its doors on October 25, 1870, and is the second oldest racetrack in the United States. Pimlico has played host to racing icons and Baltimoreans have seen the likes of legendary horses such as Man o’ War, Seabiscuit, Secretariat, Affirmed, American Pharoah and Cigar thunder down the stretch in thrilling and memorable competition. For more information on Pimlico, visit www.pimlico.com.

The Stronach Group is North America’s leading Thoroughbred racetrack owner/operator. The Stronach Group racetracks include Santa Anita Park, Gulfstream Park & Casino, home of the Pegasus World Cup Invitational, Golden Gate Fields, Portland Meadows, Laurel Park and Pimlico Race Course, home of the world-famous Preakness. The company owns and operates the Palm Meadows Training Center in Florida and is one of North America’s top race horse breeders through its award-winning Adena Springs operation. The Stronach Group is one of the world’s largest suppliers of pari-mutuel wagering systems, technologies and services. Its companies include AmTote, a global leader in wagering technology; Xpressbet, an Internet and telephone account wagering service; and Monarch Content Management, which acts as a simulcast purchase and sales agent of horseracing content for numerous North American racetracks and wagering outlets. The Stronach Group is also a leading producer of social media content for the horseracing industry. For more information contact David Joseph at david.joseph@marylandracing.com or call 954.658.7156.