BALTIMORE—Only 12 horses have won horse racing’s Triple Crown. Justify is quickly galloping to join that exclusive club.
On Saturday at a rain-soaked Pimlico Race Course, Kentucky Derby champion Justify splashed to victory in the Preakness Stakes, setting up a bid for racing immortality in the Belmont Stakes on June 9.
It was only three years ago that American Pharoah snapped a 37-year Triple Crown drought, by sweeping the Kentucky Derby, Preakness and Belmont. The common thread for Justify and American Pharoah is trainer Bob Baffert. who won the Preakness for the seventh time on Saturday and tied D. Wayne Lukas’s record with 14 career wins in a Triple Crown race.
Baffert is now 5-for-5 when running a Derby winner two weeks later at Pimlico, with Silver Charm (1997), Real Quiet (1998), War Emblem (2002), American Pharoah (2015) and Justify (2018) all hitting the winner’s circle.
The Preakness had always looked like a two-horse race, with the Derby runner-up Good Magic as the only rival with the ability to challenge the Derby champion. After looming as a threat at the top of the stretch at Churchill Downs, Good Magic finished 2½ lengths behind Justify in the Run for the Roses.
On Saturday, Good Magic dueled with Justify for the lead, before Justify found another gear to put him away, while still holding off a late charging Bravazo, who finished second. Tenfold was third, while Good Magic faded to fourth.
Justify is majority owned by WinStar Farm, but includes a partnership with China Horse Club, Starlight Racing and Head of Plains Partners. If the son of Scat Daddy and the mare Stage Magic is able to sweep the Triple Crown, he will accomplish something that was once viewed as impossible for a lightly raced horse. After only making his debut on Feb. 18, Justify has now won five races in a span of 91 days. He has already shattered the Apollo Curse and became the first horse in 136 years to win the Derby after not racing as a 2-year-old. Three weeks from now, Justify will be running for another piece of history.
Justify, in foreground, fended off a challenge by Kentucky Derby runner-up Good Magic along the final stretch at Pimlico Race Course. Good Magic would finish the Preakness in fourth. Photo: Tom Horan/Associated Press
Wet conditions resulted in scratches of a total of 44 horses on the day’s 14-race card, with five races scheduled for the turf moved to the dirt. Nonetheless, a crowd of 134,487 turned up for the event, which included an infield concert headlined by rapper Post Malone.
In addition to the weather, the 143rd Preakness Stakes ran under a cloud of uncertainty about the future of the race at Pimlico. First opened in 1870, Pimlico is the second oldest racetrack in the U.S., but a report by the Maryland Stadium Authority said it would take $300 million to refurbish. A second phase of the Pimlico study is set to be release by the end of the year.
The Stronach Group, the company that owns Pimlico, says it is committed to the future of horse racing in Maryland.
Belinda Stronach, chairman and president of the Stronach Group, said in an interview with The Wall Street Journal earlier this week that all options for Pimlico will be explored.
“Everybody recognizes that Pimlico is an aging venue,” Stronach said. “But how do we modernize the sport of horse racing while keeping the traditions alive that are so dear to everybody?”
Stronach Group Operating Chief Tim Ritvo on Saturday discussed the benefits of potentially moving the Preakness to another Stronach-owned track Laurel Park, located about 30 miles south of Baltimore in Laurel, Md. The Stronach Group has invested an estimated $35 million into its two Maryland tracks over the past 15 years, with most of the money going to Laurel.
“I’m understanding of the city and the historical perspective of the race being run here, but at the same time from a business standpoint, we struggle to see why you would rebuild a facility when you have another facility nearby that we’ve put money into that actually gives a little bit of a better experience,” Ritvo said.
Write to Jim Chairusmi at firstname.lastname@example.org