BALTIMORE — Within minutes of their arrival at Pimlico Race Course, Kentucky Derby winner Justify and his trainer circled the stakes barn at a rapid clip.
“He’s going to wear me out!” said Bob Baffert, straining to keep a grip on the strap that kept Justify in check.
Baffert then led Justify to Stall 28, where the chestnut colt finally settled down on a rainy Wednesday afternoon.
Stall 40, located in the front corner of the stakes barn, is usually reserved for the Kentucky Derby winner. It was there for Baffert if he wanted it, but the white-haired Hall of Fame trainer opted for a cubicle that was far less obtrusive.
“We took it a few” times before, Baffert said. “But it seems to be that the horse isn’t able to relax because it’s right on the corner and you have lookie-loos all day long and they’re snapping the click of the cameras.”
Thus, Stall 28, located midway down shed row.
“It’s quieter, and we want it as quiet as it can be,” Baffert said.
Being at the Preakness is like coming home to Baffert, who won’t shy away from the attention at Churchill Downs but really prefers less of a circus.
“I love this place. It’s my favorite leg of the Triple Crown because it’s a relaxed atmosphere,” Baffert said. “We’re all in here together in the same barn so we get to hang out together. The tension of the Derby is over. We have a Derby winner. It’s a way to celebrate the Derby winner and see who gets the next leg.”
Undefeated in four races, Justify may not have a lot of experience. But he’s got the most important element of a great horse.
“Like that guy we heard on the newsreel about Man o’ War, the essential of a good horse is speed,” Baffert said. “And the main ingredient is more speed, and that’s what he has. We saw that.”
After spending a relaxing week-and-a-half in Louisville following his 2 +-length win over Good Magic in the Derby, Justify was accompanied by Preakness contenders Lone Sailor and Quip on the flight to Baltimore-Washington International Airport.
Baffert and the horses then traveled to Pimlico by van with a police escort.
“He shipped really well,” Baffert said. “We just walked the shed row this morning because I didn’t want to do too much with him. It looks like he came off the van in great shape and he’s really full of himself. So I could tell, by the way he was dragging me around there, he’s on his game. That’s what you want to see a few days out.”
Justify will face seven challengers in his bid to win the second jewel of the Triple Crown.
Hall of Fame trainer D. Wayne Lukas has two entrants, Sporting Chance and Bravazo. He knows Baffert has the horse to beat, but he also knows that doesn’t necessary guarantee victory.
“Bob Baffert and I are very close friends, but I’m going to try every way I can to beat him,” Lukas said. “The only thing that worries me is he’s got the best horse.”