Trainer Bob Baffert once called the Preakness Stakes the easiest of the Triple Crown races to win. Of course, he said that in a year when he didn't have the Kentucky Derby winner staring at a bit of horse racing immortality.
Baffert knows a little bit about the Preakness, having won it six times. He's also four-for-four when he has taken the Kentucky Derby winner to Pimlico Race Course in Baltimore.
This time, expectations are sky-high, scaring off most of the horses that ran in the Kentucky Derby almost two weeks ago.
There are two things that people have been talking about in connection with Saturday's running of the Preakness Stakes — and both seem to be powerful forces of nature.
Experts have all but conceded the second leg of the Triple Crown will go to Kentucky Derby winner Justify, who could become the 13th horse to win the coveted three-race series.
The other force is the weather. Since Tuesday, almost 5 inches of rain has fallen in Baltimore, leading to flash flood warnings. There is a 100% chance of rain Saturday, and with that comes a waterlogged track.
Elliott Walden has won only one Triple Crown race as a trainer. After losing in the Kentucky Derby and Preakness to Real Quiet, his colt, Victory Gallop, got up in the final stride to beat Real Quiet by a nose in the 1998 Belmont Stakes.
It was the second year in a row that Real Quiet’s trainer, Bob Baffert, had won the first two legs and failed in the third.
This year, Baffert has his eye on his second Triple Crown, having won it in 2015 with American Pharoah. And standing by his side will be Walden, whose WinStar Farm is the majority owner of Justify, the prohibitive 1-2 favorite in Saturday’s 143rd running of the Preakness Stakes. If he wins at Pimlico, he’ll go to Belmont Park in three weeks to try to complete the Triple Crown.
The star of Saturday's show arrived at Pimlico Race Course by van at about 3:45 p.m. on Wednesday afternoon. Led by assistant trainer Jimmy Barnes, Justify calmly got off the van, ears perked, after a 1 1/2-hour flight from Louisville, Ky., for Saturday's 143th running of the Preakness Stakes.
Barnes did the handoff to trainer Bob Baffert, who walked the Kentucky Derby winner around the shedrow a couple of times, before another handoff that eventually led the colt to stall 28 at the stakes barn.
More than 100 journalists stood in the rain awaiting the colt's arrival and subsequent 20-second walk to the barn area.
First there was the visit, then the lie, and finally the injury — three sets of circumstances that helped chart the course for Justify, who is ready to take his second step toward a Triple Crown in Saturday's Preakness Stakes.
Things can easily go wrong in horse racing, and the timing for late-developing colts is even more tricky. There is no margin for error.
So it was quite the surprise when trainer Bob Baffert visited the office of Santa Anita racing secretary Rick Hammerle in early February to inquire about a maiden race.
It's always fun to speculate about what would have happened if, almost a half-century ago when Bob Baffert called Wayne Lukas for a job, Lukas would have said yes.
Instead, he said no.
"I asked him for a job one time out of high school, and he turned me down," Baffert said. "I tell him, 'I'm sure glad you turned me down because you'd be taking all the credit for this.' But he probably would have fired me after two weeks because he works way too hard.”
Excited about Justify’s Triple Crown run? Want to see the second leg? Here’s what you need to know.
The race is scheduled to start at 6:48 p.m. EDT in Baltimore. That’s 5:48 p.m. in Chicago and 4:48 p.m. in Denver. Oh, that’s right, we’re in Los Angeles, where the race is scheduled to go at 3:48 p.m.
Now, the race will actually start a few minutes later than that as track officials hold post time in order to get the most amount of late wagering money in the pool.