The body language said it all.
Jimmy Barnes, longtime assistant to Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert, was loose enough to hold court with the media that gathered outside Churchill Downs' Barn 33. WinStar Farm president Elliott Walden and Starlight Racing's Jack Wolf both wore easy grins, while in nearby barns, fellow horsemen cast looks of admiration.
The newly minted Kentucky Derby Presented by Woodford Reserve (G1) winner had just returned to the track for the first time since his May 5 victory. And in his time beneath the Twin Spires the morning of May 10, Justify inspired a new round of confidence regarding his chances in the middle leg of the Triple Crown.
After walking the shedrow for four days while being treated for a bruise to his left heel, Justify went back to training and galloped about a mile and a half on the Churchill Downs main track in preparation for his expected start in the May 19 Preakness Stakes (G1) at Pimlico Race Course.
Justify's soundness had been the subject of much scrutiny this week after videos posted on social media Sunday showed him appearing to favor his left hind leg while Baffert was showing him off to the crowd the morning after the Derby. The son of Scat Daddy was reported by his connections and Dr. Mary Scollay—equine medical director for the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission—to be moving sound in recent days and appeared to show no ill effects while training or standing square on all four legs Thursday.
"Very happy. The horse came onto the track perfect, galloped perfect, and came back very good," Barnes said. "He was ready to go back to the track. He was getting a little pushy in the stall, and you could just tell it was time for him to get back out there."
Added Walden of Justify, who is owned by WinStar Farm, China Horse Club, Head of Plains Partners and Starlight Racing: "He went great. You never know until you go to the track, but he looked super out there."
Justify's status for the Preakness has been under close watch by fellow horsemen as much as his own camp as a handful of trainers have mentioned their horses as possible candidates for the 1 3/16-mile classic. Tom Amoss, who trained eighth-place finisher Lone Sailor in the Kentucky Derby, said he would continue to evaluate his horse's energy in the coming days before making a Preakness decision. But he added Thursday he was among those suitably impressed by what he saw from Justify.
"I didn't see anything today that gave me any confidence that the Derby winner is going to get beat in Baltimore," Amoss declared.
Baffert has won six editions of the Preakness and has never lost the race in the four times he has come in with the Kentucky Derby winner.
Hall of Famer D. Wayne Lukas has two confirmed to ship to Baltimore for the Preakness: graded stakes winner Bravazo—sixth in the Kentucky Derby—and grade 1 winner Sporting Chance. As a six-time winner of the Preakness himself, the living legend knows that if you have your horse right on the first Saturday of May, the odds of riding the form cycle for another two weeks are extremely favorable.
"Oh, I saw (Justify), and I thought he went very well. That did not surprise me," Lukas said. "I think Bob has run the best horse (in his Preakness wins), that's the first thing. He usually has the best horse. This is the second race in the series, and if you're really a good one, you can repeat it."
Walden said he expects Justify will gallop up to the Preakness. Plans call for the chestnut colt to ship to Baltimore May 16.