When they drew the Preakness posts late Wednesday afternoon, Kentucky Derby winner Justify got the same No. 7 spot he started from at Churchill Downs. The difference? There were 13 horses outside of him that day. There will be just one horse outside of him Saturday at Pimlico.
Justify was installed as the 1-2 morning-line favorite. Derby runner-up Good Magic is the 3-1 second choice. The other six horses are 12-1 or higher.
Two other Derby horses, Bravazo (sixth) and Lone Sailor (eighth) are back to take another shot at Justify. Four horses that did not run in the Derby, including Parx-based Diamond King, will be in the starting gate for the mile-and-3/16 race.
Bravazo will be the horse to Justify’s outside in the starting gate. The colt has never been in front at the early calls of his races so, on paper, Justify, at worst, is going to get a similar pace-pressing trip he got in the Derby without the supersonic early fractions. There is also a very good chance Justify, with his sensational early speed, will clear the field early and set the pace just like American Pharoah did when he dominated the 2015 Preakness.
“I don’t think I’ll be next to him very long,’’ Bravazo trainer Wayne Lukas said of Justify.
Lukas also trains Sporting Chance, who drew the 3 post. Bravazo was 66-1 in the Derby. Sporting Chance finished fourth in the Pat Day Mile on the Derby undercard.
Lukas was actually feeling pretty good about both of his horses until he saw Justify get off the van in the barn area a little more than an hour before the draw.
“I felt a lot better at noon,’’ Lukas said. “Then Bob [Baffert] started leading that thing around there and I said, `We’re in trouble here.’ ’’
Lukas and Baffert have each trained six Preakness winners. Each of Baffert’s four Derby winners has also won the Preakness. It will be a major surprise if he isn’t 5-for-5 early Saturday evening.
“I think the break is still very essential so I am fine with [the post],’’ Baffert said after the draw.
The 7 post gives Justify jockey Mike Smith multiple options. If none of the horses to his inside shows significant early speed, he can put Justify in front and control the pace. If a horse or horses do go, Smith has the option of parking Justify just to their outside out of trouble, exactly like he did in the Derby. Regardless of in-race scenarios, Justify is going to be very hard to beat.