TrackNotes: Two Down For Justify. One To Go?

It's a mantra, alright.

And like the best chants, you are required to repeat it, for true attainment is elusive, making its fulfillment the most satisfying moment.

The Beachwood gang even asked: "Can he win the Triple Crown?"

Like the Magic Eight Ball, the best I had was "all signs point to . . . "

Justify, who looked beatable Saturday, still makes people wonder if there is a horse out there who truly can beat him as he won the 143rd Preakness at Baltimore's Pimlico Race Course, coming out of the envelope of a fog that seemingly set itself up just so for the big race, almost a nod to favorite son Edgar Allen Poe.

The son of Scat Daddy and grandson of Ghostzapper held off a valiant effort by the now rival - and foil - Good Magic, who ended up fourth, only a length back. Bravazo, conditioned by six-time Preakness winner D. Wayne Lukas, finished second a neck back and Tenfold, guided by a hot-on-the-day Ricardo Santana, was another neck back for third.

At 2-5, Justify paid only $2.80, $2.80 and $2.60, the odds and the ducks lining up the way we all figured as this one has drawn the biggest of talk all year.

Hall of Fame rider Mike Smith explained.

"He rose to the competition but he reacted a few ways to the narrow track and a few things. He did get a little tired, but it's a good kind of tired," Smith said post-race, conceding the fact that Justify has now run only five times, all this year. On the other hand, he has now made his own foundation, compressing those races since mid-February.

Smith referred to Justify "jumping the tracks," leaping over starting gate tire tracks near the wire. Pimlico's tender care of the track, keeping it sealed in a driving, all-day rain, seemed lacking.

Good Magic's pilot, Jose Ortiz, blamed himself.

He broke well and basically owned the lead - not to Ortiz's or trainer Chad Brown's plan.

"I didn't want the horse on the lead," Brown said. "I'm disappointed with the trip. Post [position] didn't help, we were inside the other horse the whole way. Unfortunately, our horse took the worst of it being on the fence, getting pressed the whole way; he's just not a horse that runs on the lead, so I'm disappointed."

Ortiz summed himself up: "Not my best ride."

So, with the anvil hanging by a rope snapping strand by strand, what now?

Justify's trainer Bob Baffert, who tied R. Wyndham Walden's (last one 1888) Preakness record with seven, acknowledged his own luck.

"That was a nail-biter. They put it to him. That was a good horse. Somebody had to give and I'm glad it wasn't us."

Without actually saying Justify won't win the Belmont, more than one ominously reported his struggles Saturday.

Randy Moss on NBC right after the race: ""He had a pace today that wasn't nearly as demanding as the pace he had in the Derby. And it looked to me like he digressed. And he was still able to win anyway. When you have four horses like that at the wire, that's a tell-tale sign of a slow race. Of a weaker-than-expected race. Give him credit. But it's going to be tough in the Belmont."

It's completely ironic that the heat Justify took for not racing at 2-years-old - busting the Apollo "streak" - now turns around to his racing too much in 2018.

"After all, it's now impossible not to wonder if the busy Triple Crown prep schedule Justify had to overcome to make and win the Derby might now be taking its toll," Daily Racing Form's Mike Watchmaker said.

The horse who will beat Justify in Elmont, New York, is named 12 Furlongs, aka Mile-and-a-Half. He's 139-12 under these circumstances.

I wouldn't call it redemption, but NBC was much better yesterday.

NBCSN was typically good in the early coverage with Laffit Pincay III conducting. There weren't as many distractions as with the Kentucky Derby flotsam jetsam and hats.

Pimlico angles itself as the debauched infield partay. I don't understand how people can woo-hoo like that sober. And how many watered-down light beers would it take to get hammered enough to act that way? Listeners, call in.

Same as last week, Mike Tirico was on the feature telecast and he hasn't improved. Maybe my steam was released last week, but I found myself ignoring him. But a couple times, like when my cats perk their ears when I say their name even if they're sleeping, I heard a couple Tiricoisms and did a big double-take WHAT? But I didn't even have the desire to rewind to find out.

But they let Randy Moss and Jerry Bailey actually analyze and that was great. Kenny Rice down in the barn area told how Baffert seems to have as much confidence in Justify as he had with American Pharoah and Arrogate. Even with a pinch of salt, that's interesting.

Carolyn Manno wore a natty plastic raincoat that reminded me of my grandmother's sofa covering. If she was kidding about loving being in the Woodstock mud in the infield, she still sold it.

Eddie Olczyk was in Stanley Cup form, taking the hits for his losses and giving it back with his wins. The montage of his Derby weekend was great. In the end, he choked on some chalk, as the point is to surrender to the win.

Cats As His Witness
When you see a horse, or a performance like this, you have to make mention. Even with the camera on a wire going with them, Mitole in the Chick Lang Sprint (6 furlongs, $200,000) looked just frickin' fast, even on TV. He toyed and romped for fun. Quite exciting.

The 3-year-old son of Eskendereya, who I took a real liking to and who scratched just before the Derby in 2010, never to run again, looked like he wanted to just run away. Cats as my witness, I promised to keep an eye on this one.


Tom Chambers is our man on the rail. He welcomes your comments.

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