Mike Smith’s Preakness Diary: Justify Will Be ‘Tough to Beat’

The Life
Jockey Mike Smith celebrates his Kentucky Derby win aboard Justify on May 5 at Churchill Downs. (Eclipse Sportswire)

Mike Smith, 52, became the second-oldest jockey to win the Kentucky Derby Presented by Woodford Reserve when he guided Justify to an authoritative 2 ½-length victory on May 5. Bill Shoemaker was 54 when he brought home longshot Ferdinand in 1986. It was the second Derby victory for Smith, who shocked the world with 50-1 longshot Giacomo in 2005.

Smith now turns his attention to Saturday’s Preakness Stakes at Pimlico Race Course in Baltimore, with an eye on taking the next step toward what many expect will be a Triple Crown bid in the June 9 Belmont Stakes. Smith shares his thoughts with followers of America’s Best Racing in a diary told to Tom Pedulla:

That second Kentucky Derby win meant a whole lot. I’ve been blessed with some good opportunities. When you can win it again, there is nothing like being a multiple Derby winner. It’s a great feeling. I just feel so humble and blessed.

For me, it was the latest sign that all of the work I put into conditioning, through cardiovascular workouts and weight training, is paying off. I’ve put in five days a week for many years now. I feel the way I did when I was in my 30s.

As far as my positioning in the Derby, it went exactly as planned. I wasn’t planning on going that quick, I will say that. It’s just the way the race developed. And as I said afterward, sometimes you just have to let fast horses be fast.

When you go back and look at it, Justify was well within himself. He was in a good rhythm. He was comfortable and happy as we sat just off the very strong pace set by Promises Fulfilled. As long as he was comfortable and happy, I was, too. And that was pretty much the case all the way around.

Justify Kentucky Derby Preakness Pimlico Jimmy Barnes Bob Baffert
Justify with assistant trainer Jimmy Barnes. (Eclipse Sportswire)

He broke really well in the Derby, and that was huge. When you break bad in the Derby with 20 horses, the race can pretty much be over because you get bounced around so much. The break is not as important with a smaller field in the Preakness because it’s not so hectic going into the first turn.

If somebody wants to be in front of Justify and set the pace, that’s fine. I just want to get him away in good order with a good stride and not be jostled around. He has shown he can run well on the lead or with a target.

Bob Baffert, who has done such a great training job with him, always works him in company. He will have him sit four or five lengths behind the other horse before he is allowed to pick up the pace. Just riding for Bob gives you a lot of confidence. All of his horses are going to be ready.

Justify has a brilliant mind and is prepared for any scenario. He is a horse that will allow you to do whatever you want with him, and that is big. He aims to please. Whatever position he is in, he’s got a high cruising speed and, as he showed in the Derby, he can maintain that for a long way.

I love riding at Pimlico. It’s a good surface. Horses get to the bottom of it. The turns are tighter than they are at Churchill Downs, but I expect Justify to handle them just fine. He’s a very athletic horse and, as you saw when Good Magic came to him in the Derby, he wasn’t going to let him past without a fight.

There is a lot of Triple Crown talk. To be honest, it can’t help but pop into your mind. Off just four starts, Justify has room to grow. I don’t think we have seen the best of him yet. At the same time, he’s going to have to beat some good horses in the Preakness. They are in there for a reason, because they are that good.

I am confident Justify will perform well. He is an extremely talented horse. He is going to be tough to beat.

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