By Kevin Martin
The morning after Justify’s dominant win in the Kentucky Derby, it seemed that the field for this Saturday’s Preakness Stakes in Baltimore would offer little challenge. Since then, trainer Chad Brown made the decision to enter Good Magic, the Derby’s second-place finisher, and has set the stage for a compelling re-match at Pimlico. It is expected that five other three-year-olds will enter to take on Justify and Good Magic.
Justify made his first career start less than four months ago and has won all five of his races with relative ease. He broke a long-standing historical Derby trend by winning it without a start as a two-year-old. Apollo — the last to accomplish that feat — did it back in 1882. Justify became just the third horse since 1915 to win the Derby with only four career starts. His historical feats are fitting considering the history his trainer is chasing this year.
Justify’s trainer Bob Baffert has five Kentucky Derby wins in his career. Of his four Derby winners prior to Justify, three won the Preakness. His Preakness winner that missed in the Derby — Point Given — went on to win the Belmont Stakes. Best of all, he trained the first Triple Crown winner in 37 years with American Pharoah in 2015. Another Preakness win for Baffert would be the seventh in his career and would tie him with trainer Wyndham Walden. He won the last of his seven all the way back in 1888! Horse and trainer are bucking historical trends and threatening records that date to a period before electricity.
Justify will be the heavy favorite come post time. Only a significant regression in his form will keep Baffert from a chance to become only the second trainer to win the Triple Crown twice. “Sunny Jim” Fitzsimmons accomplished that seemingly impossible feat in 1930 and 1935.
Good Magic looked like he had a chance to pass Justify at the top of the Churchill Downs stretch but Justify held the lead and won the Derby by an easy two and a half lengths. Immediately after the race, his trainer Chad Brown seemed reluctant to send his runner to the Preakness but then decided Sunday to give his colt another try at beating Justify. Should Justify finally show he is mortal, Good Magic would be the most likely winner and would give Brown his second consecutive Preakness. He won the race last year with Cloud Computing. Good Magic’s sire – Curlin – captured the 2007 Preakness after finishing third in the Derby. He has a great trainer and bloodline but he will have to improve (or get lucky) to beat Justify on Saturday.
Bravazo and Lone Sailor are the only other Preakness runners exiting the Derby where they finished a distant sixth and eighth. Both have a chance to cash a check for their owners with a finish in the money, but anything better than third-place would be a surprise
Of the so-called “new shooters” — Preakness entries that did not run in the Kentucky Derby — Quip has the best resume with three wins from five career starts including the Grade 2 Tampa Bay Derby. He qualified to run in the Kentucky Derby but skipped the race to target the Preakness. Last year’s winner, Cloud Computing, followed a similar path. He’s the expected third choice in the betting and will probably exceed 10-1 in the win pool. He seems the lone alternative to the two favorites but he would need to run many lengths faster than his career best to win the Preakness.
Sporting Chance, Tenfold, and Diamond King are long-shots expected to round out the field. A win by any one of this trio would be an upset for the ages.
Not only does the Preakness result seem likely to replicate the Derby, the weather looks like a match too as rain is forecast in Baltimore on Saturday.
If you’d like to get more information on the full Preakness field, check out the Cheat Sheets at Hello Race Fans
Kevin Martin is the founder of the thoroughbred racing history site Colin’s Ghost.