The track was muddy and the fog was thick, but there was no stopping Justify in the Preakness Stakes on Saturday at Pimlico Race Course in Baltimore.
After dominating the 20-horse field in the Kentucky Derby, Justify was all out to win in nearly every stride that he took in winning the second jewel of the Triple Crown.
Justify held off the onrushing Bravazo and Tenfold to earn the victory by a rapidly disappearing margin of half of a length as the horses hit the wire. The undefeated three-year-old was put to the test by Good Magic for the large majority of the race.
Those two horses broke strongly from the gate, and Good Magic was able to hold the lead or stay within a neck of his rival until they reached the head of the stretch.
That's when jockey Mike Smith asked Justify to run, and he was able to get to the front and stay there for the rest of the race.
Good Magic came back at Justify in the middle of the stretch, but strong late running by Bravazo and Tenfold kept Good Magic from getting a share.
Preakness Stakes Payout
1st: Justify (win: $2.80; place: $2.80; show: $2.60)
2nd: Bravazo (place: $7.60; show: $4.80)
3rd: Tenfold (show: $6.80)
Based on $2 Bet, per NBC Sports.
Preakness Stakes Results List
Win ($900,000): Justify; jockey: Mike Smith; trainer: Bob Baffert
Place ($300,000): Bravazo; jockey: Luis Saez; trainer: D. Wayne Lukas
Show ($165,000): Tenfold; jockey: Ricardo Santana; trainer: Steve Asmussen
4th ($90,000): Good Magic; jockey: Jose Ortiz; trainer: Chad Brown
5th ($45,000): Lone Sailor; jockey: Irad Ortiz; trainer: Thomas Amoss
6th: Sporting Chance; jockey: Luis Contreras; trainer: D. Wayne Lukas
7th: Diamond King; jockey: Javier Castellano; trainer: John Servis
8th: Quip; jockey: Florent Geroux; trainer: Rodolphe Brisset
Justify will try to join American Pharoah as the second horse in the past four years to win the Triple Crown. American Pharoah was also trained by Baffert, and the trainer was thrilled with the outcome of the tight race.
"It was like we had our own private match race and someone had to give—I'm just glad it wasn't us," Baffert said on NBC after the race, (h/t Melissa Hoppert of the New York Times). "I'm just glad that everyone got to see a great horse race."
Jockey Mike Smith realized his horse was getting pushed hard by Good Magic, but he did not let his colt get tired as the pace of the first half was reasonable and not extremely fast. That way, Justify had another gear at the top of the stretch and then just enough energy to outlast Bravazo and Tenfold.
The victory in the Preakness marked the 14th time a Baffert-trained horse had won a Triple Crown race. That allowed him to tie D. Wayne Lukas' record as the trainer with the most Triple Crown winners, per ESPN's wire services.
Even though Good Magic ran a competitive race, trainer Chad Brown was not happy with the way the race unfolded.
"It just wasn't a good trip," Brown said, per Stephen Whyno of the Associated Press (h/t the News & Observer). "I would have liked to see a different scenario, maybe where we're just off the pace a little bit, we weren't getting pressed on the fence the whole way. Disappointing."
Justify is one race away from becoming the sport's 13th Triple Crown winner. The final race is the Belmont Stakes, a 1 ½-mile event set for June 9. It is grueling for horses that are coming off back-to-back performances in the Kentucky Derby and Preakness.
Baffert knows his charge is going to have to be in peak form if he is going to win the June 9 race.
"We're going to make sure that he comes out of the race well and he trains well for it," Baffert said. "He's going to have to be really training well."