(Justify, undefeated winner of the Kentucky Derby, will be a huge favorite for this Saturday’s Preakness Stakes / Photo by Holly M. Smith)

This Saturday’s Preakness Stakes has lost about 12 horses from the mammoth field that makes up the 20-horse Kentucky Derby. It has lost, or so it appears, all of the Todd Pletcher contingency, which was four-strong in the “Run for the Roses” just two weeks ago — including the ultra-talented New York-bred Audible. It has lost the fabulous Bolt d’Oro, who began this year as the Kentucky Derby winner’s arch nemeses on the Left Coast.

But it has not lost any luster. Or muster.

Not yet, any way.

In what may be the best rematch of the year to date, and what could turn out to be the rivalry that horse lovers and handicappers enjoy the most, both Kentucky Derby winner Justify and Derby runner-up Good Magic are being pointed to the third Saturday in May and historic Pimlico Racecourse for the 143rd running of the Preakness Stakes.

While the rest of the prospective field may pale in comparison, there is no denying that the two 3-year-old colts that are headlining the second jewel of racing’s most sought-after prize — the Triple Crown — are now the best in the business of 3-year-old colts in the free world.

And, this race — as of today — is shaping up to be a Classic Classic.

On Sunday, the Derby winner and still undefeated Justify — under the careful eye of Assistant Grainer Jimmy Barnes — galloped 11/2 miles after schooling in the gate. On Monday, the big chestnut colt was walked to the track by the head man himself, trainer Bob Baffert.

For all the world to see, the colt looked and acted like a zillion dollars — with the taxes already paid.

“He put in a normal gallop,” Barnes said on Sunday. “Once we got out of the gate we jogged down the stretch and galloped a normal 1 ½ miles.”

Although much was made of the colt having a bit of soreness in his left hand hoof on the day after the Derby, there does not appear to be any lingering issues with the son of Scat Daddy — who became the first horse to win the Kentucky Derby without having made a single start as a 2YO in over 134 years.

Good Magic, on the other hand, was moved to trainer Chad Brown’s home base at Belmont Park in New York soon after the Derby. After he bounced out of the 11/4-mile, sloppy Kentucky Derby in fine fettle, Brown announced that his steed would indeed give Justify another round of tries. He has already been shipped to Pimlico and will jog and gallop up to the race on Saturday.

The media team at Pimlico caught up with Brown this week.

“The horse has just been training very well since the Derby,” Brown said. “He bounced out of the race in great condition and I think he deserves a chance in the race. He’s doing great.”
Like most trainers, Brown does not typically run a horse back in two weeks, but he said Good Magic had shown him that he is ready for the Preakness.
“I think it’s a great opportunity for the horse,” he said. “I really don’t have anything else planned for him before, say, either the Haskell (G1) or the Jim Dandy (G2) anyway. That said, I wouldn’t do it just because he’s going to get a bit of a freshening. He has to be doing well, and he’s doing exceptionally well. He’s doing far better than I expected exiting the Derby. It’s remarkable to see how well the horse is moving and his energy level. He already has his weight back. He just looks great. I’m excited about it.”
This will be the fourth consecutive year that the top two finishers in the Kentucky Derby have a rematch in the Preakness. In each of the last two years, the Derby runner-up finished ahead of the Derby winner in the Preakness. Brown acknowledged that Justify presents an imposing challenge for his colt.
“It’s a tall order,” he said. “The horse (Justify) is unbeaten and to a degree untested. He ran a great race in the Derby and he is clearly the horse to beat. We’re going to need to close the gap on him somehow. We’re going to need to improve. Even though our horse ran an excellent race in the Derby and earned a lot of respect from everybody, he needs to again move forward and we need to have Justify come back to us a little bit. I think that the margin that I saw between the two horses is not out of the question that we’ll be able to make up that difference.”
Baffert, who won his fifth Kentucky Derby with Justify, has never lost the Preakness Stakes with a Derby winner. His previous four Derby winners — War Emblem, Real Quiet, Silver Charm, and American Pharoah — all captured the second leg of racing’s Triple Crown.
“It’s an awesome position to have, and I’m just blessed to be here,” said Barnes, whose first full year with Baffert was 1999, when the barn had the champion filly Silverbulletday. “I can’t imagine doing anything else. These horses are like once in a lifetime horses coming through the barn. We just keep enjoying it while they come, because you never know when you might have a slow year.
“I’ve trained on my own; it’s a tough go. I like dealing with this caliber of horses, prefer to be at this level. So I’d rather just stay right here. You put in a lot of hours. It’s a dedication thing. Luckily my wife works with us, so I get to spend a lot of time with her. Maybe not at home, but we’re at the barn every day together. It’s worked out for us, we’ve been married 32 years. Just keep going along here as long as it lasts,” he added.
Barnes’ wife, top-notch exercise rider Dana Barnes, has worked for Baffert since 1998. Jimmy heard there could be an opening for an assistant in the stable, asked Baffert to keep him in mind, was hired and wound up being the chief assistant when Eoin Harty went on his own in 2000.
Barnes previously had worked for Hall of Famers Charlie Whittingham and Jerry Hollendorfer, as well as David Hofmans, who saddled Touch Gold for a 1997 Belmont Stakes (G1) victory over the Baffert-trained Kentucky Derby and Preakness winner Silver Charm.
“I tend to point myself toward good stables, yes, absolutely,” Barnes said. “I’ve been very fortunate to end up dealing with great horses for a long time now.”
Justify is schedule to fly from Louisville to Baltimore on Wednesday.
Here is a closer look at our rankings for this year’s prospective Preakness Field:
Rank Horse Sire Trainer Jockey Last Start Next Start Comment
1 Justify Scat Daddy Bob Baffert Mike Smith 1st in Kentucky Derby Preakness Stakes As advertised / Dominant in victory to win KY Derby and snap the “Apollo Curse” string at 134 years
2 Good Magic Curlin Chad Brown Junior Ortiz 2nd in Kentucky Derby Preakness Stakes Game throughout; made several runs; just couldn’t get by the winner
3 Quip Distorted Humor Rodolphe Brisset Florent Geroux 2nd in Arkansas Derby Preakness Stakes Winner of the Tampa Bay Derby, ran game 2nd to Magnum Moon in the Ark. Derby/Loves the front
4 Lone Sailor Majestic Warrior Tom Amoss Irad Oritz, Jr. 8th in Kentucky Derby Preakness Stakes Ran huge in the G2 Louisiana Derby, second to Noble Indy/Came from far back in KY Derby/Finally, a good rider
5 Tenfold Curlin Steve Asmussen John Velazquez 5th in Arkansas Derby Preakness Stakes Won first two career starts/Stalked wide before fading in Arkansas Derby/Huge leap in class, faith
5 Bravazo Awesome Again D. Wayne Lukas Luis Contreras 6th in Kentucky Derby Preakness Stakes Had a wide trip, but was able to move up and run better than most expected
6 Sporting Chance Tiznow D. Wayne Lukas TBD 4th in Pat Day Mile Preakness Stakes Quirky sort, who has veered radically at the end of some races/Refused to breeze on Sunday/Question?
7 Diamond King Quality Road John Servis Javier Castellano 1st in Federico Tesio Stakes Preakness Stakes Won the Tesio at Laurel on 4-21, but the 3rd in the Swale Stakes to Strike Power may be best/Stalker
8 Givemeaminit Star Guitar Dallas Stewart Corey Lanerie 3rd in Pat Day Mile Questionmark LA-bred is a bit inconsistent, but did run 3rd in the Hopeful and 4th in BC Juvenile last year/Really?