Justify Impresses Again With Gutsy Preakness Stakes Victory

Profile Picture: J. Keeler Johnson

May 21st, 2018

At this point, is there anything left to say about the unbeaten Justify, who brought his record to a perfect 5-for-5 with a gutsy win in Saturday’s Preakness Stakes (gr. I) at Pimlico?

We knew he had speed and talent—he showed that while winning his first three starts in easy fashion with blazing speed figures. And he showed that he can carry his speed over classic distances while winning the Kentucky Derby (gr. I) despite pressing a very fast pace.

But in the Preakness Stakes, Justify showed a new dimension—the ability to engage in a head-to-head duel and emerge victorious in a close finish. When the challenge came, Justify was prepared to answer, and though his margin of victory was the smallest of his career, I came away from the Preakness more impressed than ever by Justify’s ability.

It comes down to this: Justify was sent straight to the lead by jockey Mike Smith and wound up engaging champion Good Magic in a prolonged battle for supremacy. The early fractions weren’t all that fast--:23.11 and :47.19 over a sloppy, sealed track that was playing reasonably quick—but the pace pressure was sustained as Justify and Good Magic pulled three or four lengths clear of their closest pursuers through a third quarter-mile in a stiff :24.23 and a fourth quarter-mile in :24.68, carrying them past the mile marker in a sharp 1:36.10.

At that point, Justify tenaciously edged clear of Good Magic, but while the battle had been won the war wasn’t over. Bravazo and Tenfold had been eyeing the duel from off the pace and were now finishing powerfully on the outside, with Bravazo in particular making up a lot of ground after briefly dropping back (perhaps in reaction to kickback) around the far turn.

But Smith seemed confident that the wire would come soon enough for Justify, hand-riding the colt in the final yards to secure a half-length victory over the surging Bravazo, with Tenfold a neck back in third and Good Magic another neck behind him in a crowded finish. Even fifth-place finisher Lone Sailor was beaten just two lengths for the victory.

Justify did slow down in the final three-sixteenths of a mile and stopped the clock in just 1:55.93, which translated to career-low Beyer and BRIS speed figures of 97 and 98, respectively. But to focus exclusively on the final time, speed figures, and crowded finish is to overlook the fact that Justify did all the hard work on the front end and still had enough left in the tank to hold off the late runners while making his fifth start in the span of three months.

I understand the argument that the Belmont Stakes (gr. I) could be an even tougher test for Justify, given that he’ll be running a quarter-mile farther than he did in the Derby while coming back just three weeks after his hard effort in the Preakness. But on the other hand, the longer distance of the Belmont should allow Justify to work out a more relaxed trip setting or pressing a slower pace, and if he was able to turn back every challenge despite a difficult setup in the Preakness… who’s to say he won’t do the same thing in New York?