CRAWFORD | After his Derby win, Justify is spirited, pointed for Preakness
The morning after winning the Kentucky Derby, Justify was "a handful" in the barn, and trainer Bob Baffert was ready to tackle the challenge of the Preakness Stakes.
LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) – Justify took two minutes and four seconds to win the 144th Kentucky Derby on Saturday. On Sunday morning, he probably took less time than that to poke his head out of Bob Baffert’s barn and, led by the trainer, let cameras and onlookers get a glimpse of him.
“When I got him out of the stall he was pulling me around,” Baffert said. “Usually they’re a little tired, but he was good. . . . He was a handful.”
Baffert brought Justify a special post-Derby gift, a handful of carrots, and he brought an invitation to Pimlico for the Preakness Stakes, a date he said he expects the colt to keep. After video of Justify was posted on social media, more than a few people didn't like the way he was moving. Earlier in the morning, however, Baffert said his colt was fine.
“If he’s good, if he gets on that plane, he’s coming,” Baffert said of the Preakness. “We take it day by day, but today there’s no reason to say no.”
Baffert said Justify will remain at Churchill Downs until next week, when he’ll ship to Baltimore. He said at the end of his Derby victory Saturday, Justify was ready to keep running.
“Mike (Smith, Justify’s jockey) was telling me he had trouble pulling him up, the outrider had to help him,” Baffert said. “He was a little bit tired, but what happened was when those other horses came to him, pulling up, he wanted to take off again. I don’t know if he’s strong or Mike is just getting too old to pull one up. But it was an awesome performance. We were hoping we had that in him.”
Baffert said he saw something in his talented colt that he hadn’t seen in his previous races, including a victory in the Santa Anita Derby and an allowance victory.
“We saw another gear that we hadn’t seen yet,” Baffert said. “ . . . When I saw those fractions, I thought any horse like that is going to lay down, but he just kept on going. . . . He came back and wasn’t really that tired. He ate up last night and today he’s been a handful.”
Baffert said he thought that Derby run was better than the one turned in by American Pharoah during his Triple Crown series. He said they didn’t turn American Pharoah loose early in the Derby, or he might’ve won by more. Justify wanted to go, and Mike Smith let him.
“I put him up there in that superior kind of horse, they just have something special,” Baffert said. “They have that speed, and then they have more speed on top of that. There’s gears there. . . . One thing we found out yesterday, he can put good horses away.”
Baffert has won the Preakness with all four of his previous Derby winners, plus a couple of more times with Point Given and Lookin At Lucky. Until American Pharoah won the Triple Crown in 2015, Baffert always said that Point Given was his Triple Crown that got away. He won the Preakness and Belmont, but didn’t win the Kentucky Derby.
“It’s the toughest one, the most important one,” Baffert said of the Derby. “Then we’ll run the Preakness and we’ll see. I’m not like, we’re going to do this and that. We’re taking it one race at a time.”
As he thought about it, Baffert acknowledged that there was probably more stress to his Kentucky Derby experience this year than he was willing to let on ahead of time. He knew he had the favorite. And he felt like he had the best colt, as long as he got him into the race right.
“I was just looking, I’ve won the Derby with every color of horse,” Baffert said. “Black, gray, bays. It’s just sinking in now that we won the Kentucky Derby, because it was just so stressful these last few weeks, just trying to get him here. A lot of thinking, ‘He’s lightly raced, do I take him there early, do I wait, take him at the last minute?’ He was happy at Santa Anita, and Santa Anita is a great place to prep a horse, the track is deep, and I didn’t want to have to come here and fight the weather. I just want to thank Santa Anita, they were good to me and helped fill that allowance race (in his second start).”
Now Baffert enters the Triple Crown crucible again. It’s not the surreal, unbelievable feeling that seemed to surround American Pharoah’s bid. But that doesn’t mean Baffert wants it any less, or appreciates it any less.
“How lucky can a guy get?” Baffert said. “You get American Pharoah. Arrogate. Then this guy. Somebody up there likes me.”
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