Pressure, as it pertains to a competitive landscape, is often the product of privilege.
The weight of expectations attached to an athlete is usually in direct correlation to an achievement or talent, with the burden only growing as the hype is validated. It is, in the grand scheme of things, a great issue to manage—which is why Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert was happy to have attendees of the post position draw for the 143rd Preakness Stakes (G1) audibly react when his unbeaten Kentucky Derby Presented by Woodford Reserve (G1) winner Justify was deemed the 1-2 morning-line favorite to add the middle leg of the Triple Crown to his résumé.
"When you're 1-2, I always tell everybody that there is room for error," Baffert said of Justify, who will break from post 7 in the field of eight entered for Saturday's 1 3/16-mile test at Pimlico Race Course. "I like being the favorite. I don't want to be 50-1. I like knowing that I have a chance to win.
"When you come and you're thinking … you're going to need the Stanford marching band to interfere a little bit, you don't feel that well."
The company around Justify is good enough that it won't merit a fiasco the level of the 1982 college football incident to get him beat this weekend, but it will take something extraordinary to knock off a colt who has yet to be knocked back by the flurry of challengers that have come at him.
From his Feb. 18 maiden win at Santa Anita Park to his 2 1/2-length victory over juvenile male champion Good Magic on the first Saturday in May, Justify hasn't shown any dents in the form that allowed him to become the first horse since 1882 to win the Kentucky Derby after not starting as a 2-year-old.
The well-documented bruise to his left hind heel has appeared a non-issue in his training since returning to the track last week. And Baffert, seeking his seventh Preakness win, said he sees similarities between the son of Scat Daddy and his four prior Derby winners that took the Woodlawn Vase.
"I think it's less pressure for us because the Kentucky Derby, for me, was so special," Baffert said. "We all want that second leg but … coming in here I feel the same as I did when I won it with the other ones.
"The reason I think (all his Derby winners took the Preakness) is they were good horses, they were the best horse, and they were doing really, really well. They were peaking at the right time … and they trained well, they came out of the race well. I think with him, he's doing the same. I think he's doing really well. We just need some racing luck."
Post position isn't a huge factor in such a short field, but the seven post is nonetheless an advantageous starting point for Justify with Good Magic, the 3-1 morning-line second choice, in post 5 and graded stakes winner Quip and his early speed drawn down on the rail.
"I don't really give (jockey Mike Smith) too many instructions," Baffert said. "There are a lot of fast horses in there, a lot of speed. I would have been fine with an inside draw, but you know on the outside you can see what is going on. I'm just glad to be here. It's been a long journey the last six, seven, eight months."
At the top of the stretch in the Kentucky Derby, Good Magic was able to make trainer Chad Brown's stomach flip in a good way as it looked for a moment he might be poised to go by Justify. The son of Curlin was game to hold for second after sitting in the first flight off the quick fractions and has left his two-time Eclipse Award-winning conditioner impressed with how he has maintained his energy since.
"He really had to bounce out of the race really well and gain his weight back quickly," said Brown, who upset the apple cart with new shooter Cloud Computing in last year's Preakness. "I also wanted to see a horse that was moving as well as he was going into the Derby. I also wanted to see his energy level get back to what it was before the race. I would think that after a hard race like the Kentucky Derby in those kind of conditions, it would have been a bit of a longshot to do all that and have him look the way I wanted him to look.
"And, lo and behold, he looked terrific coming out of the race, just a week removed. That was remarkable. I was very taken aback by how well the horse came out of the race and how strong he galloped at Belmont."
Both Justify and Good Magic handled the rain-drenched Churchill Downs track without issue and will likely have another off track in their future. Rain is in the forecast every day in Baltimore heading into the Preakness.
Like Justify, 12-1 morning-line third choice Quip is co-owned by WinStar Farm and China Horse Club—a situation which caused brief pause when deciding whether the son of Distorted Humor would indeed head to the Preakness. Quip's connections said if Justify was to be destined to head to New York with a Triple Crown on the line, he would face all comers—including the Rodolphe Brisset trainee who captured the Lambholm South Tampa Bay Derby (G2) and finished second in the Arkansas Derby (G1).
"I think the expectation for him is he's going to run an 'A' race, and we'll see if that's good enough," said Elliott Walden, president of WinStar Farm. "He's doing well, he's got the right spacing between races. He's had two good works at Keeneland, so he's sitting on a big race."
Living legend D. Wayne Lukas joins Baffert in having saddled six winners of the Preakness Stakes, his most recent coming when he upset the field with Oxbow in 2013. The 82-year-old trainer is bringing a two-pronged attack this year in grade 1 winner Sporting Chance and graded stakes winner Bravazo, who put in a sneaky-good run to finish sixth in the Kentucky Derby.
"I'm excited because I like the big arena. I like to compete," said Lukas. "I think the same horses that were up on front will be there again. I hope to be a little closer with both of mine, but we may not be able to do much about it. The thing that makes Justify so tough is that he has the ability to dictate the race and make his own luck. Some of us have to have a little help. He has the ability to do it when he wants to. He's the best horse."
Justify your 1-2 ML fave for the Preakness. pic.twitter.com/LTZ8HpqQUp— Alicia Wincze Hughes (@BH_AHughes) May 16, 2018