JUSTIFY - Preakness Stakes favorite Justify resumed training Thursday morning at Churchill Downs for the first time since taking last Saturday’s Kentucky Derby, his good-looking gallop dispelling any concerns about a minor hind-foot condition.
Justify was the center of attention on the Churchill backside Thursday morning as he was the first horse to step onto the track when it reopened at 7:30 following the first of two daily track renovation breaks. After the massive chestnut’s routine gallop under Humberto Gomez, Jack Wolf, head of the Starlight Racing partnership that owns a minority interests in Justify, joked that his only concern now is securing enough tickets for the Preakness.
Wolf told the assembled media that he has “zero” concern about the Bob Baffert-trained Justify’s condition.
“I thought he looked great,” he said. “Bob has been telling me the horse is fine.”
Assistant trainer Jimmy Barnes, who is overseeing Justify’s care in Kentucky while his boss is in California, was clearly delighted with what he saw.
“Very happy,” he said. “The horse came onto the track perfect, galloped perfect and came back very good, so I couldn’t be happier. He was ready to go back to the track. He was getting a little pushy in the stall, and you could tell it was time for him to get back out there.”
Barnes said Justify came out of the Derby with a little bruising and a bit of a cracked heel that briefly left sensitivity in his left hind foot that quickly responded to treatment.
“Each day we got better and we were 100 percent, so no reason to hold my breath,” Barnes said. “The good ones seem to come up with little issues now and then. Other ones that don’t put out that much, they don’t show signs of anything. But the track was very wet that day and he had to run fast and far. These are things you have to deal with, and we’re ready to move on and go to Baltimore.”
Barnes said Justify never backed off his feed after the Derby, in spite of the taxing effort that included being part of a swift early pace and then having to fend off runner-up Good Magic and third-place Audible.
“It’s never a problem eating with him,” he said. “He’s a chowhound. Within an hour and a half to two hours, he’s always finished up.”
Justify pressed long shot Promises Fulfilled during a first half-mile in a swift 45.77 seconds and ran six furlongs in 1:11.01 before asserting himself against 19 leg-weary rivals through the stretch.
“He went very fast early. Watching the fractions, you’re going 22, 45 4/5,” Barnes said. “I’m thinking, ‘Well, that’s almost 46, so that’s not too bad.’ The horses were coming to him, but they were kind of dropping off. For only being his fourth start and having to make it in the Kentucky Derby, that was just awesome.”
Barnes said Justify doesn’t require much training heading into the Preakness.
“We just stick with our same program,” he said. “You come off a mile and a quarter race, just go a little light into Baltimore. You don’t need to do much. The main thing is to keep him healthy and happy.”
Barnes said he anticipates Justify will continue to train at 7:30 a.m. while at Churchill Downs before flying out to Baltimore next Wednesday.
Elliott Walden, president and CEO of co-owner WinStar Farm, also used the word “great” to describe Justify’s Thursday morning training session.
“He went great,” Walden said. “The last couple of days he’s looked good. You never know until you go to the track, but he looked super.”
Walden, who twice finished second in the Preakness with Victory Gallop in 1998 and Menifee in 1999 as a trainer, said Justify has had a cracked heel, a common and minor foot affliction, on and off.
A lot of horses get that,” he said. “That track was rough on Saturday, not from a standpoint of anything anybody could do, just three inches of rain and a muddy racetrack. He just jammed his heel up a little bit. The first time they saw anything (was potentially amiss) was when he came out here for you guys (the media Sunday morning). It took some time to figure out what was going on, and that’s being a good horseman, trying to evaluate the thing and work on it. But the horse looked great this morning, and I’m very happy with him. He looked super every step.”
BOLT D'ORO - Owner/trainer Mick Ruis confirmed to Pimlico on Thursday that Bolt d’Oro is a candidate for the Preakness.
Bolt d’Oro galloped a mile and a half at Keeneland in Lexington, Ky. Thursday morning. He had been scheduled to ship to Southern California Tuesday, but the plan was changed.
“We’re going to see how he’s training up to it, and it doesn’t matter if Justify runs or not. We know we’re going to have to run against him,” said Ruis. “If we feel we’re good to go in there, we’re going.”
Ruis said there is visual evidence that the son of Medaglia d’Oro’s first off-the-board finish in the Kentucky Derby was the result of a dislike for the sloppy, sealed racetrack.
“Someone just sent me a Twitter photo of Justify and Bolt when they were next to each other. Justify is skipping over the track, pasterns up. Bolt’s all the way below the pasterns, were just sucked into that track. Absolutely he didn’t like it,” Ruis said. “It would be like one running on the freeway and one running in sand.”
Ruis said Bolt d’Oro won’t run in the Preakness if the Pimlico track comes up muddy or sloppy.
Ruis, who purchased a 169-acre farm in Woodford County in Kentucky prior to the Kentucky Derby, reported that Bolt d’Oro has recovered nicely from his subpar performance.
“He is doing really, really good. It doesn’t look like he even lost a pound. He’s really good and really happy,” Ruis said. “I’m glad I’m here at Keeneland, because our farm is only four miles away. It’s so mellow for him here. I couldn’t be happier. We’re going to try to make our residence in Kentucky.”
BRAVAZO, SPORTING CHANCE - D. Wayne Lukas reported Thursday that Luis Contreras will ride Sporting Chance in the Preakness and Luis Saez will be on Bravazo.
Contreras rode Bravazo in the Derby and Sporting Chance in the Pat Day Mile, in which he finished a troubled fourth.
“We don’t let them choose,” Lukas said with a laugh. “That’s like letting your team put out the lineup…. It gets down to gut reaction to what you think fits — and a combination of trying to appease your owners a little bit. Luis Contreras is getting along awful good with Sporting Chance. Having said that, I think Luis Saez is a better fit on Bravazo, even though he’s ridden Sporting Chance to a Grade 1 win. You never in these races lead with your heart, always with your business sense.”
The Lukas duo will van to Baltimore Monday.
“It’s 12 hours,” Lukas said. “I see Steve is going to van (Tenfold and other Preakness weekend stakes candidates) now. It’s getting to be more popular. We started vanning, and now that’s the choice.”
Lukas, who generally rides shotgun in the truck’s cab on the trip to Pimlico, touted satellite radio channels for those making the drive.
“Fifty-eight is Prime Country and 59 is Willie’s Roadhouse,” he said, “And if you’re really wondering if you’re going to win it, you go to 128 — and that’s Joel Osteen.”
DIAMOND KING - Trainer John Servis Thursday confirmed Diamond King will make his next start in the Preakness.
Diamond King earned automatic entry into the Middle Jewel of the Triple Crown by virtue of his victory in the Federico Tesio Stakes April 21 at Laurel Park but had been entered in the Peter Pan Saturday at Belmont Park.
After consulting with the ownership, led by Cash is King’s Chuck Zacney, the decision was made to point to the Preakness, a race the Parx-based Servis won with his only previous starter – 2004 Kentucky Derby winner Smarty Jones.
“It looks like we’re heading to the Preakness,” Servis said. “It’s always exciting to be able to come back and be a part of it. He didn’t get a chance to run in the Derby because he didn’t have the points, but the winner was very impressive. I’m excited about it.”
Servis plans to give Diamond King, a bay son of Grade 1 winner Quality Road, one final breeze for the Preakness this weekend at Parx. He returned to the work tab for the first time since the Tesio with a half-mile move in 50.21 seconds May 6.
“He came out of it great. It was just a maintenance work, just a nice, easy half-mile by himself. We just wanted to let him stretch his legs a little bit,” Servis said. “He’ll work again this weekend but I don’t know what day. I’m planning on Sunday, but I’m not sure. We’ll have to see how the weather shakes out.”
With other horses to run over the weekend, Servis said he plans to ship to Pimlico the day before the Preakness. Barbara Fritchie winner Ms Locust Point is being pointed to the Skipat for fillies and mares 3 and older going six furlongs on the undercard of the $250,000 Black-Eyed Susan.
“As of right now I’m planning on coming in early Friday morning,” Servis said. “I have a couple to run Friday there anyway, so I think I’ll ship them all early Friday morning and beat the traffic and let him get there and just settle in and get ready for Saturday.”
GOOD MAGIC - Trainer Chad Brown said Thursday morning that Derby runner-up Good Magic remains a candidate for the Preakness. Brown said he expects to make his decision whether to run the son of 2007 Preakness winner Curlin in the Middle Jewel by Monday.
“I’m on the fence,” said Brown, who trains Good Magic for e Five Racing Thoroughbreds and Stonestreet Stables. “It’s still under consideration.”
Good Magic, the 2017 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile winner and the Eclipse Award-winning 2-year-old male, finished 2 ½ lengths behind Justify over the sloppy track at Churchill Downs. He was shipped to Brown’s base at Belmont Park on Monday.
“He’s fine,” Brown said. “He’s back on the track. He jogged sound this morning.”
LONE SAILOR - Justify certainly caught the attention of Lone Sailor trainer Tom Amoss this morning.
“I thought he looked identical to how he looked for the Kentucky Derby when I watched him train, and I don’t think that’s very good news for anybody who wants to run against him in Baltimore,” Amoss said. “I’m not bubbling over with confidence that the Derby winner is going to get beat. I think it is still going to boil down to how our horse is doing.”
Amoss reiterated that he expects a decision on Lone Sailor will be made Saturday after a discussion with owner Gayle Benson.
QUIP - Quip, whose ownership also includes Justify’s partners WinStar and China Horse Club, galloped 1 3/8 miles under trainer Rodolphe Brisset Thursday and also schooled in the starting gate at Keeneland. Brisset said Quip is on schedule to work Sunday at the Lexington track.
“Quip is a very good horse, and I think he deserves a chance,” WinStar CEO and president Elliott Walden said. “It’s going to be exciting to see him run, as well. He’s a horse who has done nothing wrong except for one bad start here in the Kentucky Jockey Club. Every other start has been really good, and he’s doing well, so we’ll see what he does next Saturday.”