Justify wins Santa Anita Derby by 3 lengths for Baffert

Tuesday, April 10, 2018

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ARCADIA, California (AP) — Justify vaulted into the role of probable Kentucky Derby favourite with a three-length victory ove r Bolt d'Oro in the US$1 million Santa Anita Derby on Saturday.

Trained by Bob Baffert and winner of his three career starts by a combined 19 lengths, Justify had to finish first or second to earn enough qualifying points to run in the Derby on May 5.

It wasn't a problem.

Justify led all the way under Mike Smith to claim the 100 points toward qualifying for the 20-horse Run for the Roses, and stands eighth on the Derby leaderboard. The colt ran 1 1/8 miles in 1:49.72.

“What you're seeing right now is really just raw talent,” Smith said. “He's got so much room to grow and to even get better. If he moves forward off this race, which he should, then it's even kind of scary to talk about.”

Baffert earned his record eighth Santa Anita Derby victory. It was Justify's first stakes race.

Bolt d'Oro and Javier Castellano chased Justify into the stretch turn. Castellano moved his colt down toward the rail and they ranged up on Justify's flank, but never seriously threatened. Justify continued to pull away approaching the finish line.

“He felt good, and did everything the right way,” Castellano said. “Unfortunately, we were running against the best horse in the country.”

Justify never raced as a two-year-old and didn't make his debut until February 18 at Santa Anita. He won by 9 lengths and followed up that dominant showing with a 6-length victory on March 1.

Baffert has compared Justify to his 2015 Triple Crown winner American Pharoah, citing the colt's imposing physical presence and his big stride.

Justify is just a natural and he's just learning how to run,” Baffert said. “He's quick and he's light on his feet.”

Bolt d'Oro already was assured of a spot in the Kentucky Derby starting gate and stands fifth on the leaderboard with 104 points. He won the San Felipe by disqualification on March 10 and won three of four starts as a two-year-old last year.

“This is a good steppingstone,” said Mick Ruis, who owns and trains Bolt d'Oro. “This is one we can build off and go to Churchill Downs.”

At some point, Bolt d'Oro appeared to have grabbed his right front hoof, which was bloodied after the race.

Baffert had planned to start McKinzie on Saturday, but the colt missed the race with a minor hind end issue.

Justify's performance more than made up for the disappointment.

“It takes a lot of the sting out of what happened to McKinzie,” Baffert said. “It's a tough business, but we've just got to keep going.”

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