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Preakness: Hall of Famers Hope to Stay on a Roll with Derby Winner Justify

Preakness: Hall of Famers Hope to Stay on a Roll with Derby Winner Justify  BALTIMORE – Not only is unbeaten Kentucky Derby (G1) Justify the hottest 3-year-old in the country, his trainer Bob Baffert and jockey Mike Smith are also in the midst of a remarkable run of success together. The odds-on 1-2 favorite for Saturday’s 143rd Preakness Stakes at Pimlico Race Course is their latest collaboration on a star. Baffert has employed the riding services of Smith on his runners since 2000 – they have teamed to win 117 of 453 starts – but since the start of 2016, they have been the gold standard in American racing with 27 graded-stakes wins and nearly $27 million in earnings. During the past 2 ½ seasons, Smith has won on 44 of 106 horses trained by Baffert – 41.5 percent – and has won 27 of 66 graded stakes – 40.9 percent. Sixteen of those graded stakes victories were in Grade 1 races. Justify has provided two of them this year, the Santa Anita Derby and the Kentucky Derby, but Baffert and Smith have also won Grade 1s with champions Drefong, Arrogate, West Coast and Abel Tasmen, as well as with Mastery, McKinzie and Mor Spirit.
Both men have long been members of racing’s Hall of Fame – Smith was inducted in 2003 and Baffert in 2009 – and have forged a recent alliance that has produced spectacular results. In 2017, thanks in large part to Arrogate winning the $16 million Pegasus World Cup and the $10 million Dubai World Cup (G1), Smith, 52 and Baffert, 65, had career-best years. Baffert’s runners earned over $21.1 million and Smith rode horses that earned over $20.5 million.
“We’ve put him on some pretty good horses,” Baffert said. “He understands that on a big day there is a lot of extra pressure and he comes through. Sometimes they don’t run well, but I have a lot of faith in him. I don’t have to worry about it. He knows that he’s not going to get fired, so he can just ride.
“There is a big difference when you are riding with pressure when you are the favorite. Like riding in the Kentucky Derby and you’re the favorite. It’s added pressure but it’s a good pressure,” he added. “He’s said he would rather be on the favorite than one that is 50-1.”
Smith, who started his career in 1982, has ridden 5.459 winners and his runners have earned over $310 million in purse money. His lone Preakness win in 16 rides was on Prairie Bayou in 1993. Now known as “Big Money Mike,” Smith has flourished in his 50s by reducing the number of horses he rides, while concentrating on major stakes across the country. Baffert, winner of the Triple Crown in 2015 with American Pharoah, won the Derby for the fifth time with Justify. He could tie two records if Justify wins the Preakness – seven victories in the Middle Jewel of the Triple Crown, and 14 wins in Triple Crown races. 
This will be the second time that Baffert and Smith have been on the same team in the Preakness: Bodemeister was second by a neck in 2012, four years before they began dominating graded-stakes racing.
“Mike Smith knows what he needs to do,” Baffert said. “He’s been there and done it. Now, he just needs to do it, but you still need racing luck.”


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