Wins Santa Anita Derby in Third Career Start
By Dick Downey
Justify, running in his first stakes race, won the Grade I Santa Anita Derby over Bolt d'Oro.
After heavy national publicity preceded his appearance, Justify was made the 4-5 favorite by bettors while Bolt d'Oro was close behind at 11-10.
Making only his third career start, Justify earned 100 Kentucky Derby points and will try to become the first horse since Apollo did it in 1882 to win the Kentucky Derby without any 2-year-old racing experience.
Ridden by Mike Smith, Justify broke on top of the seven-horse field and set fractions of 23.96, 47.85 and 1:12.61 going into the far turn. Bolt d'Oro, under Javier Castellano, gave chase and tracked the leader first about 1 1/2 length back, then three lengths. Approaching the turn, the chase was on and 'Bolt' narrowed the gap to 1 1/2 length again.
As the pair left the turn, the ultimate result was in doubt for a few moments, but Justify edged ahead of Bolt d'Oro and widened the gap to three lengths at the finish line. The mile and an eighth was timed in 1:49.72.
With his 40 Derby points for finishing second, Bolt d'Oro's total was raised to 104 for owner-trainer Mick Ruis.
Core Beliefs, a 41-1 longshot, finished third, beaten 9 1/2 lengths. Instilled Regard, the third betting choice at 5-1, lagged far behind the pace and failed to rally. Behind him in fifth were Pepe Tono, Orbit Rain and Jimmy Chila.
By Scat Daddy out of Stage Magic, by Ghostzapper, Justify is owned by China Horse Club, Head of Plains Partners LLC, Starlight Racing and WinStar Farm. He was bred in Kentucky by John D. Gunther and fetched $500,000 at the Keeneland September 2016 yearling sale.
Justify is massive and weighed in about !,250 pounds. He reminds trainer Bob Baffert of multiple grade I winner Point Given, another star that was big but quick on his feet for the Baffert barn. Smith said we've only seen the beginning of Justify's raw talent.
It was Baffert's eighth win of the Santa Anita Derby.
The Kentucky Derby will be run in four weeks.
Winning trainer Bob Baffert: There was concern down the backside when he took off like that. I was worried about him. Mike let him run a little bit but he said he (Justify) saw something in the infield and he sort of spooked. He said I might want to put a little more bit on him to control him, and I told Mike he better start working out between now and then (Kentucky Derby May 5) to hold him down.
“It was very exciting. Those are two really tough horses. I figure that race for Bolt d’Oro probably took a little bit out of him with McKinzie (in the San Felipe on March 10), but they’re two really good horses. I think the whole field is really tough. But Justify is just a natural and he’s just learning how to run. He has that big, beautiful stride. He reminds you a lot of Point Given, just a big, red train type of horse. He’s quick and he’s light on his feet. It’s just good that he showed up, he did what we thought and were hoping he was going to do. I just feel fortunate to have him. It takes a lot of the sting out of what happened to McKinzie. It’s a tough business but we’ve just got to keep going.”
Winning jockey Mike Smith: “He rides with room to grow. He’s learning and it’s the first time he rides with the infield open, I don’t know if he saw the umbrellas and everyone screaming that he got to looking at them so much that I had to get the bit out of his mouth to really make him pay attention and that’s when he kind of skirted away and focused. What you’re seeing right now is really just raw talent. He’s got so much room to grow and to even get better, believe it or not. I think this race is going to put a lot more bottom into him. He handled a 1 1/8 really well and like I said what you’re seeing right now is just raw talent. If he moves forward off of this race, which he should, then it’s even kind of scary to talk about.”
Jack Wolf (Starlight Stables), part owner of Justify: “He did it pretty easy. We came in late on both him and Audible and they’re both Grade I winners. We’re just tagging along here with WinStar, the China Horse Club and Head of Plains…Even I couldn’t screw it up! We’ve got two great trainers with Bob here and Todd back there.”
Mick Ruis, owner-trainer of Bolt d'Oro: “I didn’t think the fractions were real, real fast. I think it was a good race and was what we needed. Hopefully we come out of here really good and get that mile and a quarter. We knew we were up against it a little at a mile and an eighth and that we would have an advantage when he goes a little longer. This is a good steppingstone – we were within two lengths of the winner, so this is one we can build off and go to Churchill Downs.
“I wanted to go in here really positive, so I think this is a nice race coming off that really hard race (the San Felipe Stakes). Hopefully we get to come back really good.”
Javier Castellano, aboard Bolt d'Oro: “We were second best today. I wouldn’t change anything. I have no complaints and unfortunately, we were second best today.He felt great, perfect. He felt good, and did everything the right way. He broke well out of the gate and unfortunately we were running against the best horse in the country.
“I told Mick that it was a very good race. The best horses in the country showed up today and gave a great performance. This was Justify’s game plan and it suited him, his ability to be able to go to the lead. I had to try and catch him today. I think it will be interesting in the Derby because I think there will be more speed, it will be interesting. It will suit my horse, he’ll be able to sit off that faster pace but I’m still very satisfied with today and my horse’s performance. Justify has the ability to go to the lead, has a lot of speed and he took it easily today.
“It was emotional turning for home because I’m trying to catch the best horse in the country and I’m thinking, ‘I’m happy. I’m very pleased.’