On a fog-shrouded Pimlico track, Justify kept alive the dream for a Triple Crown in thrilling fashion, battling against Good Magic for most of the race and then besting a pair of charging challengers to the finish line of the 143rd Preakness Stakes.
The Kentucky Derby winner, with Mike Smith in the saddle, broke from the starting gate with the lead and Derby runner-up Good Magic to the inside. Galloping through a thick mist along a sloppy track, the two colts were engaged in what Justify trainer Bob Baffert called "their own private match race."
Justify led through the back stretch, but Good Magic took the lead heading into the far turn and held it through most of the curve.
Instead of yielding to a horse who had just edged ahead of him, Justify kept pushing ahead and retook the lead mid-stretch. As a four-horse pack headed to the finish line, Bravazo and Tenfold made their rush, and both edged ahead of Good Magic for second and third place, respectively.
Meanwhile, Justify powered his way to a triumph in the $1.5 million Second Jewel of the Triple Crown by a half-length, covering the 1 3/16 miles in 1:55.93.
The chestnut colt now heads to the Belmont Stakes in New York June 9 with a chance to achieve one of the toughest feats in all sports -- the Triple Crown.
As far as entering the Belmont, Baffert said, "Right now I don't see why not."
Baffert did hedge slightly, saying the colt will have to continue to train well when he returns to Kentucky.
"He'll dictate it," Baffert said of Justify.
Going off as the 2-5 favorite at Pimlico, Justify paid $2.80, $2.80 and $2.60. Bravazo, with Luis Saez riding, paid $7.60 and $4.80. Tenfold, with Ricardo Santana Jr. aboard, paid $6.80 for third.
Good Magic, ridden by Jose Ortiz, finished fourth in the eight-horse field, followed by Lone Sailor, Sporting Chance, Diamond King and Quip.
"It was a nail-biter," Baffert said.
Both Baffert and Smith said the Preakness was a tough race for Justify.
"Probably his hardest race," said Baffert, who won his seventh Preakness Stakes. Smith, at 52, became the oldest jockey to ever win the Preakness.
"That was a good horse," Baffert said of Good Magic.
"Somebody had to give, and I'm glad it wasn't us. ... [Justify] is just a great horse to handle all that pressure and keep on running. He had to really work for it, and I'm happy for the horse and Mike and all the connections that we pulled it out."
Smith said that his strategy was "to jump out of the gate and see who was going to do it with us."
Justify also won the Kentucky Derby on a sloppy track, but Smith said there was a difference. The Preakness track was more slick, while the muck at Churchill Downs was deeper. Rain that soaked the Baltimore region all week had turned the Pimlico track sloppy.
The last horse to win the Triple Crown was another Baffert-trained colt, American Pharoah in 2015. Before that, there had not been a Triple Crown winner for 37 years since Affirmed did it in 1978.
The second-place finisher Bavazo is trained by D. Wayne Lukas, who has six Preakness wins.
"You can't ever count him out," Baffert said of Lukas. "I was glad to see him finish second."
Baffert is confident that despite the tough race Justify had to run at Pimlico, he'll be ready for the Belmont.
"He's a big, strong, heavy horse, and races don't knock him out," Baffert said. "He'll eat everything tonight."