Justify emerged from the fog holding the lead as the field rolled down the stretch in Saturday's 143rd Preakness Stakes and held on gamely to win by a narrow margin over Bravazo, setting up a chance to sweep the Triple Crown.
Justify ran his record to 5-for-5 with the victory. But it was a close call. Much of the race was shrouded in fog and the Pimlico track was a sea of slop.
For much of the 1 3/16 miles, Justify battled with the Kentucky Derby runner-up, Good Magic. They turned into the stretch with the other six runners slightly indistinct through the inclement weather. But it was the Kentucky Derby winner who ran on as Good Magic faded.
Bravazo, who was a closing sixth in the Kentucky Derby, made a brave move outside his rivals nearing the wire and Mike Smith had to ask Justify for all he had to hold off that rival. Tenfold finished third and Good Magic salvaged fourth as the race was clocked in 1:55.93.
"He got a little tired," Smith said. "This is the hardest race he's had ... But it was a good kind of tired."
The victory gives trainer Bob Baffert, who won his seventh Preakness, an odds-on chance to nail down a second Triple Crown if Justify can continue his roll in the 1 1/2-miles Belmont Stakes in New York three weeks after the Preakness. American Pharoah turned that trick for Baffert in 2015.
Baffert echoed Smith's thoughts on the Preakness itself.
"We're going to make sure he comes out of the race well," Baffert said of Justify. "It's a hard race today, maybe the hardest race he's had."
Justify, a chestnut colt by Scat Daddy, did not race as a 2-year-old but quickly swept through the ranks in California, winning twice before Baffert threw him into top company in the Grade I Santa Anita Derby. He won that race by 3 lengths and went to the post as the favorite in Louisville despite a sloppy track for the Run for the Roses.
Since the Derby, Baffert has been comparing Justify to American Pharoah, saying his current charge might actually be the better horse.