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Half the horses in Preakness field get first shot at challenging Justify

Kentucky Derby winner Justify, ridden by exercise rider Humberto Gomez, participates in a morning workout in preparation for Preakness at Pimlico Race Course on Thursday.

Geoff Burke/USA TODAY Sports

Half the participants in the eight-horse Preakness field have yet to experience the sensation of chasing Justify to the finish line.

Perhaps one of the new shooters in Saturday’s race can find a way to leave the Kentucky Derby winner in his wake.

Quip, Sporting Chance, Diamond King and Tenfold skipped the Derby to focus on earning a chunk of the US$1.5-million Preakness purse.

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History just might be on their side.

A new shooter – a horse that runs in one of the two remaining Triple Crown races after passing up the Derby – has won the Preakness four times since 2000. Just last year, Cloud Computing paid $13.40 in an upset over Derby winner Always Dreaming.

Then again …

“Derby runners have done well over the course of time,” insisted W. Elliott Walden, president and CEO of racing operations for WinStar Farm, which owns Justify and Quip. “Now is it because they’re the better horses? Quite possibly that’s the case. They’re just the best horses of the crop and that’s why they run in the Kentucky Derby.”

The finest of the newcomers this year appears to be Quip, who has three wins and a second-place showing in five career races.

“He’s a really good horse. He’s fast,” Justify trainer Bob Baffert said of Quip.

Trained by Rodolphe Brisset and ridden by last year’s Breeders’ Cup Classic winner Florent Geroux, Quip captured the Tampa Derby in March before finishing second in the Arkansas Derby.

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While unbeaten Justify comes in with just two weeks rest – the quickest turnaround of his career – Quip enters the Preakness coming off an extended break.

“Quip is a horse that has shown quality at the highest level,” Walden said. “We feel like he could have run in the Kentucky Derby, but we wanted to give him a chance to catch up to himself. He’s a slight-made horse we felt like would do better with the five weeks rest.”

Quip had a pair of wins last year before staggering to a seventh-place showing in the Grade 2 Kentucky Jockey Club at Churchill Downs in November.

In retrospect, that might have been a turning point.

“He’s changed a lot,” Brisset said. “After the Kentucky Jockey Club, we gave him a couple of weeks off and you could see the maturation. You still have to be a little careful when he’s around too many horses, but he’s way more professional.”

Well, Quip – the third choice at 12-1 – will have only seven other horses to contend with on Saturday. Two of them will be saddled by Hall of Fame trainer D. Wayne Lukas.

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Lukas brings back Bravazo, who finished sixth in the Derby, along with Sporting Chance.

Unlike the rest of the first-time Triple Crown participants, Sporting Chance is no fresher than the Derby horses. Sporting Chance (30-1) also ran at Churchill Downs on May 5, taking fourth in the Pat Day Mile.

Asked to assess the chances of both his entrants Saturday, Lukas shrugged his shoulders and saluted Justify’s impressive performance at the Derby.

“I don’t have a lot of confidence if he runs that same race. Let’s be honest, at 82 you get more realistic,” Lukas said. “If he’s the best horse, so be it. We’ll throw the bouquets his way and salute him as a second-leg winner and go on to the Belmont. But we’ll try to get the best piece of this we can.”

Tenfold (20-1) began racing this year. Sired by 2007 Preakness winner Curlin, the dark brown colt won his first two races before fading to third in the Arkansas Derby last month.

“We have a fresh horse; he’s put on weight since the Arkansas Derby and he’s trained really well at Churchill Downs,” assistant trainer Scott Blasi said. “The timing is good for us for this race.”

If the track is soggy, that would be even better. Curlin earned 2007 Horse of the Year honours after slogging to victory in the muddy Breeders’ Cup Classic.

“With all this wet weather, him being a Curlin, he steps up with the sloppy track and moves forward,” Blasi said.

Trained by John Servis, Diamond King (30-1) won the Federico Tesio Stakes at nearby Laurel Park in April. While Diamond King probably doesn’t have the speed and stamina of Justify, he does trainer who won the Kentucky Derby and jockey Javier Castellano, who guided Cloud Computing to victory at last year’s Preakness.

“We’ve got a top jockey and the horse is doing really well,” co-owner Chuck Zacney said.

Baffert has already beaten three of the horses in the field. Though he’s never faced the others, they certainly have grabbed his attention.

“You’ve got new shooters,” Baffert said. “John Servis didn’t come for the crab cakes. Then you’ve got Quip. And Wayne? You can’t count Wayne Lukas out. That’s when he does the most damage, when nobody’s talking about him, he’s under the radar. He still knows his horses and he’s up here for a reason.”

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