Justify takes his first trip over the track May 17 at Pimlico Race Course

Justify takes his first trip over the track May 17 at Pimlico Race Course

Anne M. Eberhardt

Rains Part for Justify in First Spin at Pimlico

Deluge came to a halt in time for the Preakness Stakes (G1) favorite to train.

This is how good it is these days to be Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert.

From the time the main track opened for training at Pimlico Race Course the morning of May 17, rain drenched every soul brave enough to go out in the soggy mess. When reigning juvenile male champion Good Magic came out for his gallop at 7:30 a.m., the precipitation became a deluge, turning the Baltimore oval into a glorified brown river.

Fittingly enough, all of that changed barely an hour later when it was time for Kentucky Derby Presented by Woodford Reserve (G1) winner Justify to take his first spin around the track. As he was tacked up, the rain slowed to a spit. And by the time the unbeaten beast emerged from the stakes barn with assistant trainer Jimmy Barnes accompanying him and Baffert tracking behind, what had been an endless bout of soaking rain remarkably came to a stop for the morning-line Preakness Stakes (G1) favorite.

"You know what, I remember when I was training (2015 Triple Crown winner) American Pharoah , I'd be at Churchill Downs and it would be raining. And the minute we brought him out, it would stop," Baffert quipped. "I don't know if it has anything to do with it. But it was nice to be out in there when it wasn't raining."

Dodging the worst of the weather, Justify had as ideal a morning as possible on his first day in Maryland since arriving for his expected run in the middle leg of the Triple Crown. The son of Scat Daddy had an easy gallop at Pimlico, taking a couple turns over the saturated surface and testing the patience of the dutiful pony Sunny as he made the walk back to the stakes barn.

"We backed him up to near the half-mile pole and just went easy around there," Baffert said. "We didn't want to do too much because of the condition of the track. There is so much water on there … but it's not that hard underneath. He's just a really smart horse. He'll do whatever you want him to do—slow, quick, fast, whatever.

"When he came off there, he was just getting warmed up. He was ready to do a lot more, but we just didn't want him to do too much. Basically, we'll do the same tomorrow when he goes out."

Save for Justify's venture Thursday, the rain has been nearly nonstop in the Baltimore area since Tuesday night, with the forecast calling for more of the same through May 19, Preakness Day. While Justify and Kentucky Derby runner-up Good Magic handled the sloppy going in the Kentucky Derby, Baffert said few comparisons can be made between how Churchill Downs and Pimlico play in off conditions.

"This track is so much different than Churchill Downs when it gets wet," Baffert said. "Churchill, the base is probably a little bit harder than here. But this track can probably take more rain than any track I've ever seen. It can dry out quickly. So if we get a little bit of wind or something, you'd be surprised how quickly it dries out."

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The track condition was such that fellow Hall of Famer D. Wayne Lukas opted to walk Sporting Chance—one of his two Preakness entrants—Thursday morning, saying the colt pulled a shoe off in the slop the day before.

Despite going out in the worst of the rain, Good Magic appeared to handle the going with little issue as he put in a strong gallop twice around. Graded stakes winner Quip, third choice on the morning line, was among the Preakness contenders who went out early, with trainer Rodolphe Brisset saying he was pleased with how his charge jogged his first time over the boggy going.

"It's pretty muddy out there. The rain is just standing on the top (of the track)," Brisset said. "It's tight, but not as much as you would want. So we just jogged and schooled in the paddock a bit. It was a routine day for him, nothing special. I guess we're going to find out Saturday how he handles it."

Lone Sailor (eighth in the Kentucky Derby), Diamond King, and Tenfold also went to the track Thursday for the first time.