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Justify Jockey Mike Smith: Preakness 'Just Belongs' At Pimlico Race Course

May 23, 2018
Justify jockey Mike Smith, whose horse has won the first two legs of the Triple Crown, said on Glenn Clark Radio May 22 that he hopes the Preakness Stakes doesn't shift from Pimlico Race Course to Laurel Park, a move that has long been speculated.

Stronach Group COO Tim Ritvo hinted May 19 that he'd like to see the Preakness leave 148-year-old Pimlico for plushier Laurel Park. The Stronach Group is the parent company of the Maryland Jockey Club, which owns Pimlico, Laurel Park and the Preakness. A study by the Maryland Stadium Authority last year placed the cost of renovating Pimlico in the range of $248 million to $321 million. A study on the cost of replacing Pimlico is underway.

Smith, who has ridden two Kentucky Derby winners at Pimlico, wants the race to stay at Old Hilltop.

"It just belongs there. It's history. It is," Smith said. "I'm just blessed right now that if it does change, at least I got my Preakness there again with a chance at a Triple Crown. But I sure hope they figure something out where they can keep it there. I don't know what it'd be like. Not that Laurel ain't a great place, as well, but this is where it began. 

"That's where all the greats won -- Seattle Slew and American Pharoah for the latest one. It's where it's all been. You hate to see it have to change. It's sad any of these great venues have to go down like that, like Hollywood Park did here in California."

Justify may soon be known as another Triple Crown horse to have won at Pimlico. After winning the Kentucky Derby by 2.5 lengths May 5, Justify held off a late charge by Bravazo to win the Preakness by a half-length May 19. Justify ran Pimlico's 1 3/16-mile course in 1:55.93. Justify battled Good Magic for the lead during most of the race, but charges by Bravazo and Tenfold left Good Magic to finish in fourth.

A wet track was expected for the Preakness, as rain pelted the Baltimore area during the days leading up to the Preakness and the day of the race. What wasn't expected was the fog that overtook Pimlico, which made parts of the race difficult to follow on television

Smith said the fog was tough for him, too. Smith didn't intend to cut the margin of victory "quite that close," he said.

"We could see a little better of course because we were out there than what you guys probably could on camera. But yeah, you couldn't see a whole lot," Smith said. "I took a peek back, and I didn't see those horses there. I could hear them coming at the very end, but you couldn't really see them until they poked out of the fog. You couldn't see that good."

Smith said Good Magic pushed Justify away from the inside for much of the race. Justify eventually passed Good Magic and got back to the inside -- where Smith wanted to be -- but Smith was comfortable running to the outside since he figured his horse was good enough to make up for it.

"I'm trying to think ahead and not squeeze too much of him, and yet, he was in a dogfight with Good Magic from a good way's out," Smith said. "I don't know if you guys could see it. From the moment we went down the backside, we were out in the middle of the race track, he was kind of keeping him out there, trying to tire me out. We were in a long fight."

Smith was happy with how the Preakness played out for Justify.

"I'm proud of the race he ran. You've got to get in a dogfight every now and then. Every horse doesn't just draw off and always win by 10 [lengths]," Smith said. "It's good to see a horse get looked in the eye and have to overcome. It takes a super horse to overcome what he overcame and still be able to hold them all off."

The Belmont Stakes, and a chance at a Triple Crown, is up next for Justify. Twelve horses have won the Triple Crown. American Pharoah became the first horse to win the Triple Crown in 37 years in 2015. Three horses -- Secretariat, Seattle Slew and Affirmed -- won the Triple Crown from 1973-1978. 

At 1.5 miles, the Belmont is the longest of the Triple Crown races. The race will take place at Belmont Park in Elmont, N.Y. June 9. Smith, 52, has started 33,091 races during the course of his career, finished first in 5,461 of them and earned more than $300 million in purse money. He's won the Kentucky Derby, Preakness and Belmont two times apiece.

Now, he'll try for his first Triple Crown.

"I think all experiences are going to help in this situation. I've been blessed to have ridden several horses that have had a win streak up into the teens," Smith said. "So we can certainly get three in a row. I've been able to do that. So you just kind of put it in that perspective and then it makes it a whole lot easier. Not necessarily easier, but if you wanted to make it very big, you can make it as big as your mind allows you to. But I know that I've been on some extremely talented horses ... so it can happen. It can happen. I choose to keep it that way and that just makes me handle everything a whole lot better."

For more from Smith, listen to the full interview here:

Photo Credit: Jim McCue/Maryland Jockey Club