2018 Preakness contender profiles

Profile Picture: Kellie Reilly

May 17th, 2018

With no surprises at entry time for the 143rd running of the Preakness S. (G1), seven challengers will line up against Kentucky Derby (G1) hero Justify in the middle jewel of the Triple Crown.

Three of them are familiar foes from the Derby – runner-up Good Magic, sixth Bravazo, and eighth Lone Sailor – while four are making their first appearance in a classic. We’ll take a look at them all, but Justify deserves pride of place in the Preakness contender profiles.

Kentucky Derby winner Justify

Unbeaten colt arrives at Pimlico with a formidable record, both in his own right and in the fact that all four of Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert’s past Derby winners have doubled up in the Preakness. Having smashed the “Apollo curse” as the first unraced juvenile in 137 years to go on to take the Derby, Justify has no such stat against him in the Preakness. On the contrary, four Preakness victors in recent years had not raced at two -- Red Bullet (2000), Bernardini (2006), Curlin (2007), and Cloud Computing (2017).

Justify’s running style makes him difficult to beat, so it’s no wonder that he has been installed as the 1-2 favorite in the Preakness. The son of Scat Daddy has compiled a perfect 4-for-4 mark by flashing high speed, forcing his rivals to run outside of their comfort zones, and sustaining his gallop over as far as the Derby’s 1 1/4 miles. The possibility of another wet track on Saturday increases his chances of working out a similar trip as at Churchill Downs, from the same post position (7), albeit with a less ferocious early pace. But he’s adaptable to however the tempo unfolds. He’s no one-dimensional run-off, for he showed the ability to ration out his speed when wiring the Santa Anita Derby (G1).

Those trying to beat Justify must hope that he regresses off a series of monster efforts compressed in a span of 2 1/2 months. There’s also the matter of the tenderness he displayed in his left hind foot the morning after the Derby, first described as a superficial irritation and later as a heel bruise, the result of running so hard in the slop. But the Baffert team treated it promptly, made an interim shoe adjustment before he was re-shod with a full shoe, and he’s looked superb in his morning gallops at Churchill – just as good as before the Derby. All indications are that it was barely a blip on the radar screen that did not affect his readiness for the middle jewel. Could running on an “off” track re-aggravate it, and if so, might that only come to light afterward and not affect him in the race itself? One thing is clear: if Justify delivers his usual performance with Hall of Fame rider Mike Smith, the rest are in trouble.

The vanquished from the Kentucky Derby

GOOD MAGIC: The Derby runner-up, and last year’s champion two-year-old male, rates as the obvious alternative. Trainer Chad Brown reportedly said that Good Magic ran well enough to win a typical running of the Derby, but not this one. Racing a tad closer than ideal to the hot pace to keep within range of Justify, Good Magic loomed in the stretch, tried mightily, but succumbed by 2 1/2 lengths. Brown was hoping for a Preakness rematch on a fast track, just to give another change to the equation.

On the plus side, there’s ample precedent for horses beaten in the Derby to turn the tables at Pimlico. A case in point is Good Magic’s sire, Curlin. Unable to defy the “Apollo curse” when third to Street Sense in the 2007 Derby, Curlin moved forward to deny Street Sense at Pimlico. And a son of Curlin has already followed in his hoofsteps – 2016 Derby runner-up Exaggerator, who rolled over Nyquist in the Preakness.

Good Magic is a different type from Curlin, since he raced three times as a juvenile. But because his sire’s progeny tend to excel with maturity, it’s a sign of Good Magic’s raw ability that he was able to accomplish what he did at two. When placing in his Saratoga debut and just missing in the Champagne (G1), Good Magic shaped as a horse who’d reach a new level once stretching out to two turns. That’s exactly what happened in his emphatic Breeders’ Cup Juvenile (G1) to clinch the Eclipse Award.

Taking three starts this term to regain that level, Good Magic improved from a ring-rusty third in the Fountain of Youth (G2) to win the Blue Grass (G2), and progressed again in the Derby. Can he continue his progress on the quick two-week turnaround? Brown prefers to give more time between starts, but since he’s cast doubt on advancing to the Belmont (G1), this is his best chance to try Justify again.

BRAVAZO: Derby sixth-placer had won a points race over the winter at Fair Grounds for racing legends Calumet Farm and trainer D. Wayne Lukas. That summary could just as well have described 2013 Preakness upsetter Oxbow as Bravazo, a similarly tough type with early foot, and bred on the same cross (by Awesome Again out of a Cee’s Tizzy mare) to boot. Hence Bravazo’s a sneaky contender capable of a big race on his day.

Runner-up in the Breeders’ Futurity (G1) during a useful two-year-old campaign, Bravazo took a step forward this winter. He overcame a troubled start to capture an Oaklawn Park allowance, then sprang a 21-1 upset in a hard-fought Risen Star (G2), in which the future Louisiana Derby (G2) winner Noble Indy and Kentucky Derby fourth Instilled Regard were behind him. Bravazo’s momentum was halted literally and figuratively in the Louisiana Derby, when a strange trip resulted in the rider’s wrapping up on him and he coasted home eighth.

Lukas rightly says he didn’t get enough out of that debacle, so the Kentucky Derby was his first real race in 2 1/2 months. To finish sixth, beaten eight lengths, was creditable in the circumstances. Bravazo’s entitled to do better here, with a smaller field likely to help. He also picks up Luis Saez.

LONE SAILOR: Derby eighth did not have clear sailing on the far turn, chugged on with running room down the lane, but was outfinished late by a couple of even more troubled closers in My Boy Jack and Hofburg. Yet two starts back, there was not much at all between Lone Sailor and My Boy Jack when they were a near-miss second and third, respectively, in the Louisiana Derby – implying that Lone Sailor is better than he showed on Derby Day.

Trained by Tom Amoss for Mrs. Gayle Benson’s G M B Racing, the son of Majestic Warrior has shown talent sometimes overshadowed by immaturity. Lone Sailor traded decisions with Bravazo in a trio of stakes last season, placing third in the Breeders’ Futurity but ahead of that rival when coming up just short in the Street Sense S. and finishing fifth in the Kentucky Jockey Club (G2). Blinkers were prescribed to help him focus in his sophomore bow in the Lecomte (G3), only to have the equipment change backfire and he faded to ninth.

Lone Sailor was much better taking the blinkers off, although his loss of concentration was costly in the Louisiana Derby. Sweeping to the front with the apparently winning move, he allowed Noble Indy to come again and deprive him by a neck. If Lone Sailor can solve the mental part of the game, he’ll break through one of these days. New rider Irad Ortiz Jr. will try to further the process for a colt whose maiden (and only) win came in a romp in the slop.

Newcomers to the Triple Crown series

QUIP: All things being equal, the Tampa Bay Derby (G2) winner and Arkansas Derby (G1) runner-up would be expected in the Kentucky Derby. But connections decided to skip the Run for the Roses and aim for the Preakness. That move may have been slightly easier for an ownership group (including WinStar Farm and China Horse Club) already loaded for bear at Churchill, most of all with Justify. But it was the right one for a forwardly-placed type not certain to see out 1 1/4 miles with all the other speed signed on. And indeed, Quip was unlikely to fire his best shot given just how punishing the early pace in Derby 144 turned out to be.

By Distorted Humor and out of a half-sister to Normandy Invasion, Quip has been a pace factor in four of five starts, the exception being his lone clunker, a seventh in last November’s Kentucky Jockey Club. Otherwise he’s been a model of consistency for a young trainer on the rise, Bill Mott protégé Rodolphe Brisset. Quip was a 19-1 overlay in the Tampa Bay Derby, where he worked out the perfect trip to upset the inconvenienced Flameaway. Rerouted from the Blue Grass to the Arkansas Derby, he could not cope with Magnum Moon but stayed on gamely to hold second. The Arkansas Derby form fell apart in Kentucky, not necessarily a fair representation of the principals but still a point to keep in mind.

If Quip were going to be prominent early in the Preakness regardless, drawing the rail will probably make him the pacesetter (unless Justify wants to go on with it). Chances are the pace will be more sensible than in the Derby, but he’ll need to find more than he did at Oaklawn to fend them off over a longer 1 3/16-mile trip.

TENFOLD: While only fifth in the Arkansas Derby, this late-developing son of Curlin offers a stronger case to improve from that effort. Like his sire, the Steve Asmussen trainee was unraced at two. Tenfold began his career with two straight scores at Oaklawn Park, romping by 5 3/4 lengths in a February 9 maiden and demonstrating real grit to outduel the more experienced Navistar in a March 18 allowance. Inexperience, or immaturity, may have found him out in the Arkansas Derby, but he was part of a four-way scrum for second.

Connections could have chosen a softer spot, like the Sir Barton on the undercard, so it’s telling that Asmussen is pitching him right back into the deep end. The Hall of Famer said he expected much better from Tenfold last time, an indication of his high regard. As a Winchell homebred with a characteristically deep pedigree – out of a Tapit mare, second dam by Giant’s Causeway, third dam champion Possibly Perfect – Tenfold has loads of potential. It’s just a question of whether it’s fulfilled Saturday or later in the season.

SPORTING CHANCE: Hopeful (G1) winner has yet to back up that victory in Saratoga’s marquee juvenile race for Lukas. In one respect, though, his Hopeful has been a signal – of his wayward tendencies. The Tiznow colt almost threw it away by veering out sharply and scrambled home by a neck. Sidelined by surgery for a knee chip, he resurfaced at Oaklawn with a creditable third (after being clobbered in the stretch) in the Southwest (G3).

But Sporting Chance hasn’t built much upon that comeback. Fifth in the Rebel (G2), he crossed the wire third in the Blue Grass only to be demoted to fourth for interference. As in the Hopeful, he lurched abruptly to his right and hampered, of all horses, his old Hopeful rival Free Drop Billy. With insufficient points to make the Derby, Sporting Chance reverted to one turn for the Pat Day Mile (G3), got checked badly and shuffled back, yet rallied for fourth.

As if Sporting Chance needed to remind us of his mercurial reputation, he would not breeze as planned this past Sunday and just galloped instead. The talent is there, along with the wet-track proficiency, but he’s got an idiosyncratic streak. The phrase “he has his own ideas about things” comes to mind.

DIAMOND KING: Unlike the others who have mixed it up on the trail, the John Servis pupil did not contest any Derby points races this year. His lone scoring race came at two in the Kentucky Jockey Club, which turned out to be futile as he suffered a nightmare trip, clipped heels early, and lost the rider. Then trained by Butch Reid, he won his other three starts as a juvenile, including a rebound score in the Heft S. at Laurel. Diamond King made his debut for Servis in the Swale (G3) at Gulfstream, finishing third.

Up in trip to 1 1/8 miles for the Federico Tesio back at Laurel, he answered the route question and secured a berth in the Preakness. But the form of that race is some way below this standard. Remember that Diamond King had been entered in last Saturday’s Peter Pan (G3) at Belmont Park before connections opted to swing for the fences here. As a counterfactual, imagine where he might have finished against Blended Citizen and Core Beliefs in the Peter Pan.

Diamond King does have a couple of things going for him. Aside from his Kentucky Jockey Club fiasco, he’s never been off the board; he’s nicely bred as a son of Quality Road and a Malibu Moon mare; and he lures Javier Castellano. Still, he needs to take a leap forward in this spot.

For more details, see the free PPs for the Preakness, courtesy of Brisnet.

Justify photo by