Watching Saturday's Preakness was like watching the 2004 Belmont Stakes, but instead of Eddington, with Jerry Bailey riding, and Rock Hard Ten, ridden by Alex Solis, not allowing the favorite, Smarty Jones, to relax it was Good Magic forcing Justify to keep a strong pace.
Justify made the lead, but Good Magic pulled even after a quarter of a mile. While Good Magic was a little wider than necessary, it was a two-horse race as far as NBC cared.
Stride for stride, breath for breath they sent the slop flying, and by the head of the stretch Good Magic made his move, but a split-second later Mike Smith asked Justify to fly, and while he was far from magical like the Kentucky Derby when he won by 2 1/2 lengths, he pulled ahead and kept motoring.
Bravazo and Tenfold watched the duel and then fired. If the race had been 1 1/4 miles like the Derby, Bravazo would have won, but he lost by a head, a neck in front of Tenfold.
After the race trainer Bob Baffert claimed Smith had his horse under a hand ride, knowing he had won.
True, he wasn't being whipped at the finish, but it looked as if Smith knew how much his horse had left in the tank, which was just enough and his time of 1:55.93 was good. In fact, it was the third fastest in the last nine years.
Still, it was Justify's fifth race since Feb. 18 when he broke his maiden, and this was the shortest turnaround he has faced.
After his first race he was off three weeks, followed by four weeks off the next two races. His next race, of course, is the Belmont Stakes and that's three weeks after Saturday's Preakness when he will face a bunch of fresh horses, including Audible who finished third in the Kentucky Derby, closing 2 1/2 lengths on the winner in the last quarter of a mile.
The Belmont is called the test of the champion for a reason. The 1 1/2 mile distance has proven to be too much for many horses.
Or in the case of Smarty Jones, who came within a length of winning the Triple Crown, a little more than he needed after being heavily contested the whole way.
Smarty Jones settled in third, but before he could relax Rock Hard Ten came after him and when he tired Eddington took up the chase.
It has always seemed as if Bailey and Solis were not going to allow a journeyman jockey like Stewart Elliott to do something they couldn't do, win the Triple Crown.
With a 100 yards to go Smarty Jones was in the lead but even the track announcer saw Birdstone making a big move against tiring horses, including the winner of the Arkansas Derby, Kentucky Derby and the Preakness.
That day grown men cried. So did Marylou Whitney, owner of Birdstone, she even apologized after the race.
Most of the country had adopted Smarty Jones. Owned by Pat and Roy Chapman, owners of a Ford Dealership near Philadelphia, Smarty Jones was Pennsylvania bred who was originally trained by Bobby Camac, who was murdered by his stepson before Smarty ever ran a race.
As a 2-year-old Smart almost died after he reared up during a training gate session and cracked his skull.
He was 3-0 when he vanned to Oaklawn Park to take on the $5 million centennial challenge Charles Cella had created for any horse who could win the Rebel Stakes, the Arkansas Derby and the Kentucky Derby. Smarty did and he retired to stud after the loss in the Belmont. His final record was eight wins and one place.
Now, its Justify's turn to face the test of the champion.
Sports on 05/22/2018
Print Headline: Justify truly in horse racing's spotlight