Bob Baffert, who’s built an unparalleled Hall of Fame career in large-part by utilizing his God-given instincts, is following his “gut” yet again as he’s decided to run top Derby prospect Justify in this Saturday’s Grade I, $1 million Santa Anita Derby following a powerful six furlong workout in 1:13.20 Monday morning at Santa Anita.
“We’ll run here,” said Baffert, who returned from Dubai early Sunday evening. “He went nice and it looked like he handled it pretty well. As long as he comes out of it well, he runs.”
Originally ticketed to the Grade I Arkansas Derby April 14, Baffert altered plans after announcing late Saturday morning from Dubai that his McKinzie, who was originally thought to be heading for a rematch with Bolt d’Oro here on Saturday, will not run due to an undetermined injury to a hind leg.
Justify, who came on the track with jockey Drayden Van Dyke at about 7:45 a.m., cantered by the Grandstand along with multiple graded stakes winning stablemate Hoppertunity. With a stable pony accompanying the pair, “Hopp” broke off first approaching the five furlong pole, with Justify a length and a quarter back at the pole.
With a stride reminiscent of Baffert’s 2015 Triple Crown winner American Pharoah, Justify, who was under a long hold from Van Dyke, had a length and a half to make up a sixteenth of a mile from the wire, got on terms a jump or two past the finish line and in a powerful display, motored well clear around the Club House turn as Van Dyke stood up at the seven furlong pole.
“I had his five eighths in 1:01 flat,” said highly respected private clocker Andy Harrington. “I had him in 1:13 for six and out seven eighths in 1:27 and two (fifths). 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 strikingly beautiful chestnut colt by Scat Daddy, out of the Ghostzapper mare Stage Magic, took his seven furlong debut on Feb. 18 by 9 ½ lengths, earning a Beyer Speed figure of 104. In his most recent start, he powered to a 6 ½ length score in a one mile allowance March 11, earning a 101 Beyer. Ridden in his first start by Van Dyke, he’ll be handled for the second consecutive time by Mike Smith on Saturday.
Although Baffert is thought to consider him his most talented 3-year-old, Justify, who will be making his stakes debut on Saturday, would need to run first (100 points) or second (40 points) to become eligible to run in the Kentucky Derby on May 5.
Today’s drill marked Justify’s third recorded work since his rousing mile win on March 11 and follows a five furlong move of 59.60 on March 26 (second-best of 118 at the distance).
Baffert, who has won a record seven Santa Anita Derbies, beginning with Cavonnier in 1996 and most recently with Dortmund in 2015, could have an additional entrant for Saturday, but he said that part of the equation is as-yet undetermined.
“It looks like Solomini (most recently second in the Grade II Rebel Stakes March 17) is going to run in the Arkansas Derby,” said Baffert. “I’ve got Restoring Hope (impressive maiden winner here on Feb. 2)…He’s working this morning. I don’t know what I’m gonna do with him.”
Entries for the 81st running of the $1 million Santa Anita Derby and six other stakes will be taken on Wednesday morning. First post time for a blockbuster 12-race card that will include seven stakes, is at 12 noon, admission gates will open at 10 a.m.
For more information on Santa Anita Derby Day, Saturday, April 7, or to make reservations, please visit santaanita.com or call (626) 574-RACE.