Justify Justly Favored in Preakness

Though the Kentucky Derby (GI) has officially been run one more time than the Preakness Stakes (GI), Maryland’s most prestigious race is actually older than it’s red-rose-adorned counterpart and, to many, carries it’s own prestige. In fact, one of the most common expressions in racing, which is used even outside of racing — the purse — hails from the first Preakness run in 1873. The winning jockey is said to have hung a bag of gold coins on where the finish of the race would be, winner take all.

Though at first run at 1 ½ miles, the current Preakness distance of 1 3/16 miles has held steady since 1925 and has been the second jewel of the Triple Crown since 1932.  The great Secretariat still owns the stakes record for the distance, 1:53, though he wasn’t awarded the time until an investigation revealed the original clocking of 1:54 2/5 was incorrect.

The winner of the Preakness every year is awarded a replica of the Woodlawn Vase, which is known as the most expensive trophy in sports and carries a tremendous history on its own. The sterling silver trophy was created as a racing challenge cup at the beginning of the Civil War and was handed out for various races in many states, like Kentucky, New Jersey and New York. It was named for the most interesting chapter of its life, as it was buried at Woodlawn Farm in Kentucky to keep it from being melted down and turned into ammunition for the Civil War. In 1917, the tradition of it being presented to the owner of the Preakness winner, who kept it for a year until the next Preakness, began and, in 1953, Alfred Vanderbilt’s Native Dancer won the Preakness, but the owner rejected taking possession due to its value, so it has been maintained and protected by the Maryland Jockey Club ever since.

The Preakness winner every year is adorned with a blanket of the Maryland state flower — the Black Eyed Susan — but, unfortunately, since the actual flower doesn’t bloom until two months after the race, the blanket is instead created with hundreds of Viking Poms, which resemble the yellow and black flower and the race’s signature colors.

For years, the Preakness was just a race and paled in comparison and prestige to the honor and tradition of the Kentucky Derby. It was almost the Triple Crown’s evil, red-headed step child and was viewed as a necessary evil on the way to the Belmont Stakes (GI) three weeks later. But, in recent years, the Stronach Group has turned the race into an event for everyone with big, fancy parties, a giant infield festival and undercard races to attract maximum betting options. It’s like when someone told the Preakness how people really felt, the race said, “Here, hold my beer.”

The Stronach Group and the Maryland Jockey Club has made the Preakness one of every racing fan’s most favorite stops and the reason the race is again as prestigious as it was always meant to be.

And while we know all 12 Triple Crown winners made a stop in Maryland to claim their coveted crown, a lot of other amazing horses wore the blanket of Black Eyed Susans, including 23 to have made the Derby-Preakness Double, like Tim Tam, Carry Back, Northern Dancer, Forward Pass, Majestic Prince, Canonero II, Spectacular Bid, Pleasant Colony, Alysheba, Sunday Silence, Funny Cide, Smarty Jones, Big Brown and California make up just part of that prestigious list. The great Man o’War was victorious in 1920 and Hall of Fame filly Rachel Alexandra won in 2009.

This year seven will face off against Derby winner Justify, including champion Good Magic, who was second in the Run for the Roses. The highly regarded Arkansas Derby runner-up Quip  skipped Louisville with a focus on the Preakness, and Hall of Fame trainer D. Wayne Lukas, who has won the race five times, saddles two, both graded stakes winners.

The weather in Baltimore, quite frankly, has been miserable and the biblical rains are expected to last into Saturday, with thunderstorms even forecasted for the afternoon. Highs are expected to reach into the lower 70s. The main track will most certainly be wet all day and the turf course very soft, with all but stakes races scheduled for the lawn moved to the main track.

Carrying a record of four wins, which includes the Kentucky Derby, Justify is clearly the one to beat. It’s almost hard to imagine that a horse who only started his career three months ago (almost to the day) stood in the Churchill Downs winner’s circle reserved for just one horse a year with less than a handful of races on his resume. But that he did and impressively so as he was part of a pretty heated early pace and held on gamely to win by open lengths under the Twin Spires. He was favored, partly because of his Hall of Fame and Triple Crown-winning conditioner, fellow Hall of Fame jockey and high-powered ownership group, but really he was favored because with each start he showed talent and maturity beyond what was shown on paper. He literally has never made a wrong move either training or racing.

Overall Justify earned tremendous figures, including a 114 BRISnet speed number for winning the Santa Anita Derby (GI), and he’s now run half of his career races on an off track which can only help him on the Pimlico track that will no doubt resemble a swamp. Now back in the full shoe he wore for the Derby (he had been training in a three-quarter shoe for several weeks before thanks to a stubborn case of cracked heels that were irritated on a muddy track and we all saw the bad step heard ‘round the world, the fallout, the criticism and explanation) he seems to be in top form to win his fifth race. He offers no value whatsoever, but it would be fun to have another amazing horse going for a Triple Crown.

Good Magic did everything he could to run down Justify in the lane at Churchill Downs after a perfect stalking trip, but just couldn’t get the job done. With some questions hanging over his head after a dismal third in the Fountain of Youth Stakes (GII) followed win in the Blue Grass Stakes (GI), which has not exactly been the best Derby prep, he showed he was truly a champion and gave Justify almost all he could handle. He’s a good horse, no question, but overall it seems hard to imagine – all things being equal – that he’ll turn the tables. His best under most circumstances would make him a winner, he just has the unfortunate luck to be facing Justify. He has been digging his feet into the wet Pimlico track for the better part of a week, which should help him, as will having regular rider Jose Ortiz back aboard.

Quip, who for this race shall be known as “The other WinStar” skipped the Derby after his second to Magnum Moon in the Arkansas Derby with the Preakness squarely in his crosshairs. The well-bred Rodolphe Brisset  trainee looked fantastic winning the Tampa Bay Derby (GIII) two back and is hardly over-raced, and he’s certainly bred to handle the distance. He’s never actually raced in the mud, but he has a nice off-track pedigree. The inside post is never ideal, especially with speed to his outside, but if jockey Florent Geroux can get him to hustle quickly and into a good ground-saving trip he should be full of run for the stretch to earn a larger share.

Lone Sailor wasn’t exactly humiliated when ninth in the Kentucky Derby last out. The son of Majestic Warrior hasn’t won a race in more than eight months, but he did pick up enough placings and points to make the Derby gate and be considered legitimate here. He’s going to love the probable quick early pace, he just needs to duplicate his second in the Louisiana Derby, where he earned a nice triple-digit speed figure, to finish more near the top half of the field.

Grade 1 winner Sporting Chance hasn’t come back as well as could be expected from his surgery late last year to remove a chip from his knee. He is probably better than his last four races, but also probably not good enough for an upset her, at least according to his numbers.

Diamond King won the Federico Tesio a month ago in a very nice stalking performance. Unfortunatley he’s never faced the level of runner like he’ll face here – even the longest shots – and is in tough.

Tenfold is still eligible for most of his conditions and hasn’t exactly burned up the track in the mornings or afternoons. He is in good hands with trainer Steve Asmussen and is bred to like this distance and the mud. If you believe in the connections, he may be worth a wager.

Margaret Ransom
California native and lifelong horsewoman Margaret Ransom is a graduate of the University of Arizona’s Race Track Industry Program. She got her start in racing working in the publicity departments at Calder Race Course and Hialeah Park, as well as in the racing office at Gulfstream Park in South Florida. She then spent six years in Lexington, KY, at BRISnet.com where she helped create and develop the company’s popular newsletters, Handicapper’s Edge and Bloodstock Journal.

After returning to California, she served six years as the Southern California news correspondent for BloodHorse, assisted in the publicity department at Santa Anita Park and and was a contributor to many other racing publications, including HorsePlayer Magazine and Trainer Magazine. She then spent seven years at HRTV and HRTV.com in various roles as researcher, programming assistant, producer and social media and marketing manager. She has also walked hots and groomed runners, worked the elite sales in Kentucky for top-class consignors and volunteers for several race horse retirement organizations, including CARMA.

Margaret’s very first Breeders’ Cup was at Hollywood Park in 1984 and she has attended more than half of the Breeders’ Cups since. She counts Holy Bull as her favorite horse of all time. She lives in Pasadena with her longtime beau, Tony, three Australian Shepherds and one Golden Retriever.