BOZICH | Another dominant Bob Baffert Kentucky Derby win to Justify the Triple Crown hype
Bob Baffert has won the Preakness all four times he saddled a Kentucky Derby winner. Justify looked primed to extend that streak when he won Derby 144 Saturday at Churchill Downs.
LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) — Sometimes you see a Kentucky Derby performance that makes you wish the Preakness was scheduled for Sunday and the Belmont Stakes Monday.
A thunderous, overpowering run that stirs memories of the best that 3-year-old horses can offer.
That is what 157,813 soggy visitors to Churchill Downs saw late Saturday afternoon. Justify won the Kentucky as if the colt was determined to chase American Pharoah, Seattle Slew, Secretariat and the other Triple Crown winners, not just the best horses of his generation.
“I’d rank him right up with my top horses ever,” trainer Bob Baffert said — and yes that is the same Bob Baffert who who his fourth Derby three years ago on the way to th Triple Crown.
“You just saw a great performance … It’s like having LeBron James on your team. You have LeBron James, you better win a championship.”
Can I get a second for a colt who finished the mile-and-a quarter in 2:04.20, paying $7.80, $6 and $4.40.
“He’s got that ‘It’ factor,” jockey Mike Smith said. “He’s just so talented and he’s got the mind to go with it … I basically stayed out of the way and kept my legs on both sides.”
You can say that — and many other things. A son of Scat Daddy out of the Ghostzapper mare Stage Magic, Justify became the first horse to win the mile-and-a-quarter Derby without racing as a 2-year-old since Apollo in 1882.
He did it off only three prep races. Justify did not race until Feb. 18 — and he has only run at Santa Anita in suburban Los Angeles.
He did it over a sloppy track that absorbed more than three inches of rain on one of the wettest Kentucky Derby days ever.
Credit Baffert, the superbly poised and patient trainer. Mark him down as the second trainer to win five Derbies and be assured that even though he is 65, Baffert is a legitimate threat to tie Ben Jones atop the Derby win list with six wins.
Justify stamped himself as the Derby favorite by winning the Santa Anita Derby by three lengths on April 7. Skeptics argued that he did it against a smaller field, by dictating the pace and without encountering traffic.
Justify will never have it that easy in the Derby.
Justify, the 3-to-1 favorite, did not have it that easy. But Smith made certain that the colt had it easy enough.
Breaking crisply from the No. 7 post position, Justify responded to Smith’s request for a early speed by crackling away from traffic into the middle of the track. Smith positioned his horse perfectly in the first turn, trailing only Promises Fulfilled.
“My job was just to get him out there right away,” Smith said. “I did my part. The rest was up to him.”
The early fractions were impressive — 22.24; 45:77 and 1:11.01. Baffert was not concerned if his colt could overtake the leader but he did wonder if Justify and Smith could hold off the 18 challengers.
Yes, the early speed concerned him. He confessed it as the race unfolded to his wife, Jill, and after the race.
“I was leaking (worrying) pretty bad,” he said. “I was preparing myself for a loss.”
Watching the race unfold on television from the dry warmth of an executive office, Baffert saw what the national television saw — the making of a horse racing star.
Justify moved into the lead with less than a half-mile to go as the serious running began. Smith dropped him near the rail, and his colt took it from there. Purchased for $500,000 at the Keeneland September Yearling Sale in 2016, Justify ran like his ownership group (WinStar Farm, China Horse Club, Starlight Racing and Head of Plains Partners) got a bargain.
He held off Good Magic by 2 1/2 solid lengths. It was another head back to third place finisher Audible. Instilled Regard finished fourth, another 1 3/4 lengths behind.
My Boy Jack and Mendelssohn were the second betting choices. My Boy Jack finished fifth while Mendelssohn was eased to the 20th and final spot.
The second leg of the Triple Crown will be run May 19, the Preakness at Pimlico Race Course in Baltimore. Baffert has won the Preakness six times, including all four times with his Kentucky Derby winner.
Justify ran like a colt primed to extend the streak.
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