Justify may be something special.
The Bob Baffert trainee was a dominating winner in the May 5 Kentucky Derby. Unraced as a juvenile, the son of Scat Daddy debuted in mid-February and 77 days later, he pressed a rapid early pace, fought off Bolt d’Oro entering the far turn, Good Magic at the top of the stretch and went on to win the Derby handily.
Should we expect Justify to regress with the short two-week turnaround? After all, he has never returned to race on such short notice. And those looking for a chink in the armor will point out that on the morning after his Kentucky Derby win, Justify appeared to favor his left-hind foot when being shown to the media by Baffert.
My advice – Don’t bet against him.
The sore left rear heel has reportedly not been a problem, and Justify resumed his normal routing gallops early last week. He is due to ship from Churchill Downs to Pimlico on Wednesday morning, and he will only get on that plane if Baffert feels he is ready to fire another big shot.
The pace scenario figures to be much softer than it was in the Kentucky Derby, and the rain that is expected in Baltimore for the Preakness is not a concern since Justify is proven on wet tracks.
The biggest dangers?
Good Magic, runner-up in the Kentucky Derby, was confirmed as a starter on Sunday. He made a menacing run at Justify at the top of the stretch but simply could not get by and was all out to hold the place spot over Audible. The Preakness is 1/16 of a mile shorter than the Derby, which should help Good Magic, and since his trainer Chad Brown has already said Good Magic will not run in the June 9 Belmont Stakes, there is no reason to leave any gas in the tank for his next race.
The most dangerous of the faces who did not compete in the Kentucky Derby appears to be Arkansas Derby runner-up Quip. Owned in part by some of the same connections that own Justify, Quip skipped the Derby with the Preakness in mind. Trained by Rodolphe Brisset, he has the tactical speed to be close to Justify early. We will find out if he has the class to stick with him late.
It would be unusual for trainer D. Wayne Lukas to skip a Triple Crown race. He will be represented by Bravazo and Sporting Chance. The former finished a credible sixth in the Kentucky Derby, while the latter has enough speed to be on or near the Preakness pace but his recent erratic behavior down the stretch makes him a possible liability for the rest of the field.
To me it looks like a repeat of the Kentucky Derby – Justify, Good Magic, and then the rest.
California racing rules
In the last week, there have been several racing rules put to the test at Santa Anita. Some I like and some I hate. Here are a few examples.
On Sunday May 6, Achira (under Mike Smith) drifted out three to five paths to float out Helen Hillary and bump her in deep stretch. Achira held on to win by a half-length and was not disqualified by the stewards in a majority (as opposed to a unanimous) decision. The stewards cited the arbitrary ruling that the incident “did not cost the other a horse a placing.”
Really? Can the stewards look me or any other horseplayer in the eye and say with 100% certainty that floating out a rival and impeding that horse’s progress did not cost the horse a placing? The stewards saw fit to suspend jockey Mike Smith four days for careless riding. The rule as it is currently applied is a bad one.
Last Thursday, there were four horses claimed on the Santa Anita card, and three of those claims – first race third place finisher Just Bookin, third race victor Winner’s Dream, and fourth race winner Well Measured – were voided due to “unsoundness” in post-race vet exams.
Like Justify after his Derby win, sometimes a horse will have a minor ache or pain immediately after a hard race. It doesn’t mean the horse is unsound or unfit to race. Each of those horses were passed in pre-race exams the morning of their race. In human terms, think of tennis elbow. You may be sore for a day or two but can play tennis again thereafter.
The claiming game takes care of itself. Try to run a horse too cheap and you lose him. Run too many sore horses and trainers will get a bad reputation. Leave the claiming game alone. Bad rule.
Finally, a rule that I like. This past Sunday first-time starter Indian Gulch was scratched from the ninth race after wagering had started on the card. The reason? “Incorrect sex.” He was listed in the program as a ridgling, but was confirmed as a gelding when examined by the horse identifier.
There was a big Pick Six carryover going into Sunday, so many tickets were likely already bet into the system at the time of the scratch. This new rule protects horseplayers from late reported first-time geldings being “discovered” and able to run with possible form reversals that handicappers could not foresee with incorrect info.
The California Horse Racing Board got that one right.
Play of the Week
Santa Anita, Thursday, Race 2 – Wampus (6 post). The daughter of New Mexico superstar Peppers Pride is no world beater, but found her calling when stretched out for the first time April 20 and catches a soft field as she faces winners for the first time.