By Dick Downey
Multiple reports on Twitter say that Justify will be entered in Saturday's Santa Anita Derby instead of the Arkansas Derby a week later.
Trainer Bob Baffert originally planned to run McKinzie in the Santa Anita Derby, but a hind leg issue with, as far as we know, an undetermined etiology caused Baffert to pull McKinzie from consideration as first reported Saturday morning.
Baffert made the call this morning after Justify worked with a respected stable mate at Santa Anita, going six furlongs in 1:13.20.
“We’ll run here,” said Baffert the day after he returned from the Dubai World Cup. “He went nice and it looked like he handled it pretty well. As long as he comes out of it well, he runs.”
Justify worked in company with the graded stakes winner Hoppertunity. According to the Santa Anita press office, Hoppertunity broke off first approaching the five furlong pole, with Justify a length and a quarter back at the pole. Justify was under a long hold from Van Dyke, and had 1 1/2 length to make up a sixteenth of a mile from the wire. He got on even terms a jump or two past the finish line and ran well clear around the clubhouse turn as Van Dyke stood up at the seven furlong pole.
“I had his five eighths in 1:01 flat,” said private clocker Andy Harrington. “I had him in 1:13 for six and out seven eighths in 1:27 and two. He did it with aplomb. He does everything they ask, and he does it effortlessly. He’s like a big kid who’s just learning how to run…There’s really no telling how good he is.”
Justify, a Kentucky-bred son of the late Scat Daddy, was purchased for $500,000 at the Keeneland September 2016 yearling sale. He's undefeated in two starts, both of them at Santa Anita.
He first raced on Feb. 18, winning a maiden special weight sprint by 9 1/2 lengths. On March 11, Justify raced two turns for the first time on a muddy track and won easily, albeit against lesser competition than he'll face on Saturday.
Among those waiting for him is the highly-rated Bolt d'Oro, owned and trained by Mick Ruis. In his only race this year, the order of finished was reversed and Bolt d'Oro was declared by stewards the winner over McKinzie in a controversial conclusion to the San Felipe Stakes on March 10 at the track.
Baffert also trains Solomini, who looked probable for Saturday's Wood Memorial at Aqueduct in New York, but that's changed.
“It looks like Solomini is going to run in the Arkansas Derby,” said Baffert. “I’ve got Restoring Hope. He’s working this morning. I don’t know what I’m gonna do with him.”
Restoring Hope was mentioned for the Santa Anita Derby but now could find himself elsewhere. Entries for the Santa Anita Derby close on Wednesday.
(Updated with details of the workout and plans for Solomini and Restoring Hope)