BALTIMORE, Md. — Ka-Ching! Ka-Ching!
That's the sound of the New York Racing Association's cash register ringing up ticket sales for the June 9 running of the Belmont Stakes that is sure to attract a sell-out crowd.
Racing fans and just plain wannabes will turn out to see Justify, the winner of the Kentucky Derby and Saturday's $1.5 million, Grade 1 Preakness Stakes at Pimlico Race Course try to win Thoroughbred Racing's Triple Crown.
But, the real lovers of horse racing for horse racing's sake will be salivating from now until the gates open in the mile and a half Belmont to see a match race between China Horse Club, Head of Plains Partners, Starlight Racing and WinStar Farm's Justify and e Five Racing and Stonestreet's Good Magic.
If those two colts run back to the performances they put on in front of 134,487 fans in the mud-soaked and fog-shrouded Preakness, those lucky enough to get a Belmont ticket are in for the what may possibly be a horse race of a lifetime.
Two weeks ago, Justify and Hall of Fame rider Mike Smith ran away and hid from 19 rivals to win the Derby by 2-1/2 lengths over a closing Good Magic and Jose Ortiz. After that performance, Justify was tabbed as the Preakness favorite and a probable to win first Triple Crown since American Pharoah broke the 37-year drought in 2015.
When the rains came to Maryland early during Preakness week, the Pimlico line maker took into account Justify's Derby win came on a sloppy track and installed him as the 1 to 2 favorite. Good Magic's performance on the same sloppy Churchill Downs track got Good Magic a 3 to 1 rating on the morning line.
After Justify and Good Magic went head to head in the Preakness only to have Justify apparently lose the lead, get it back again and get up to win by a half length, those two colts will be a lot closer than 1 to 2 and 3 to 1.
As post time for the Preakness approached, Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert was telling interviewers he wanted “another clean break” from the starting gate from Justify to send him on his way to the trainer's fifth win in five tries at a Derby-Preakness double.
Perennial leading NYRA trainer Chad Brown said he was in a completely different position than when he brought Cloud Computing to run in Baltimore. “I had a fresh horse last year. This year, maybe one of the Derby horses will feel the effects and one (Good Magic) will improve”
Baffert got his “clean break” from the starting gate from Justify. But, Good Magic also broke well and an immediate head to head battle developed with Good Magic on the inside and Justify on the outside. That match-up was spared being spattered by the mud being thrown back at the other six who were catching it in the face.
Justify was ahead by a head over Good Magic at the quarter, run in :23.11, the half in :47.19 and at the six-furlong marker with that distance being run in a snappy 1:11.42. Justify and Good Magic went into a fog bank in the homestretch with Justify leading by a half length and came out of it apparently on even terms, if not with Justify possibly a nostril behind.
With Smith working on Justify with a left-hand stick, and Ortiz encouraging with his right hand, Justify responded.
Meanwhile, Bravazo, the sixth place Derby finisher, and new rider Luis Saez, were closing with a rush as was Preakness new shooter Tenfold with Ricardo Santana, Jr. As those two charged, Good Magic appeared to lack further acceleration.
At the wire, the photo finish images showed Justify the winner by a half-length. Bravazo was second, a neck to the good of Tenfold who was another neck to the good of Good Magic.
The teletimer stopped after the mile and three sixteenths had been run over the sloppy and sealed Old Hilltop course in 1:55.93, some 3-1/2 seconds over Farma Way's track record set in 1991.
After the presentation of the Woodlawn Vase, the oldest continuously offered sports trophy in North America, Baffert was asked for his assessment of Justify's race. After referring to the race as a “nail biter” and a “match race,” he said, “I'm happy he was able to take all the pressure and keep on coming.”
Looking ahead to the Belmont, Smith said Justify finished the Preakness, “Kind of tired, but a good kind of tired.”
How did the bettors make out?
The late surges by Bravazo and Tenfold skewed the exotics. The $2 win, place and show prices were Justify, $2.80, $2.80 and $2.60. Bravazo $7.60 and $4.80. Tenfold, $6.80. The Justify – Bravazo exacta paid $13.70 for a $1 bet. The $1 trifecta was worth $148.30.
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