The competition isn’t exactly lining up to take on Kentucky Derby winner Justify in the Preakness.
Of his 19 rivals in the Derby, it appears most will skip the second leg of the Triple Crown in favor of resting and being pointed toward other races. That leaves mostly fresh horses to potentially fill the maximum 14-horse Preakness field.
A day after Justify raced to a 2½-length victory in the slop as the 5-2 favorite, trainer Bob Baffert and his star horse drew a horde of visitors to his barn at Churchill Downs.
Baffert guided his fifth Derby winner out of the barn and walked him in a tight circle for fans who eagerly snapped photos on their phones. The chestnut colt’s coat shone in the morning sunlight and he nibbled on a couple of baby carrots Baffert plucked from his vest pocket.
“He knows he’s a stud,” Baffert said.
It was a quick appearance.
With Justify playfully tossing his head, Baffert knew it was best to get the champ back in his stall where he couldn’t inadvertently kick anyone.
“When I came out of the stall, he was pulling me,” the trainer said. “Usually they’re a little bit tired, but he was good.”
Baffert’s phone rang Sunday with an official invitation to bring Justify to run in the Preakness on May 19 in Baltimore.
“I didn’t tell them I’d think about it,” he said. “There’s no reason to say no.”
Baffert will be seeking his record-tying seventh Preakness victory. His four other Derby winners — Silver Charm, Real Quiet, War Emblem and American Pharoah — all won the 1 3/16-mile race.
Of course, American Pharoah went on to capture the Belmont and complete the sport’s first Triple Crown sweep in 37 years.
But Baffert isn’t going there yet.
“Right now I’m thinking just keep him healthy,” he said.
Baffert plans to leave Justify at Churchill Downs until shipping the chestnut colt to Pimlico likely the Wednesday of race week.
Derby runner-up Good Magic, last year’s 2-year-old champion and Breeders’ Cup Juvenile winner, appears unlikely to run in the Preakness. However, New York-based trainer Chad Brown said he would weigh his options before making a final decision.
“I want to give myself a little room to really observe the horse,” Brown said. “The horse will tell us.”
D. Wayne Lukas expects to have two Preakness runners: Bravazo, sixth in the Derby, and Sporting Chance, fourth in the Pat Day Mile on the Derby undercard. Lukas has won the Preakness six times.
Among the fresh horses under consideration are Tampa Bay Derby winner Quip and Federico Tesio winner Diamond King.
Quip had enough qualifying points to get into the Derby field, but his ownership chose to point him toward the Preakness. The colt is owned by WinStar Farm, one of Justify’s multiple owners.
Todd Pletcher, who dislikes running his horses again in two weeks, said Audible (third in the Derby), Magnum Moon, Vino Rosso and Noble Indy would return to his New York base.