ARCADIA, CA – On a day filled with stellar performances, Justify topped them all while stamping himself as the definitive favorite for the Kentucky Derby, defeating multiple graded stakes winner Bolt d’Oro (and five other foes) with relative ease in Saturday’s Grade 1, $1,000,000 Santa Anita Derby.
Breaking sharply from post 6 under Mike Smith as the narrow 4-5 favorite, Justify hustled to beat Bolt d’Oro (off at 6-5) into the first turn. Taking a large lead down the first half of the backstretch, Justify posted splits of :23.96 and :47.85 while appearing to gallop effortlessly. Heading into the far turn, Bolt d’Oro began cutting into his lead and was in range as they rounded off the far turn. Justify came out slightly, opening up room along the rail, which Bolt immediately jumped to fill. Smith, finally sensing his chief opponent’s presence, gave Justify one slight smack with his riding crop, and then it was all over. Justify drew off late to win by 3 lengths in a final time of 1:49.72 for the 1 1/8-mile main track event.
“He rides with room to grow,” Smith said. “He’s learning … What you’re seeing right now is really just raw talent. He’s got so much room to grow and to get even better, believe it or not. If he moves forward off of this race, which he should, then it’s even kind of scary to talk about.”
Though appearing completely devoid of any remaining energy, Bolt d’Oro still crossed 6 1/2 lengths ahead of Core Beliefs in second. Bolt d’Oro’s owner/trainer, Mick Ruis, was optimistic of his colt’s chances moving forward.
“I wanted to go in here really positive, so I think this is a nice race coming off that really hard race (the Grade 2 San Felipe),” Ruis said. “This is a good steppingstone … Hopefully, we get to come back really good.”
Instilled Regard spent much of the race trailing before closing on slower foes to finish fourth. Pepe Tono, Orbit Rain, and Jimmy Chila completed the order of finish.
The Santa Anita Derby is part of the Road to the 2018 Kentucky Derby prep race season. Justify earned 100 points for the win, with Bolt d’Oro receiving 40 for second, Core Beliefs 20 for third, and Instilled Regard 10 for fourth.
Justify’s win makes him a perfect three-for-three for trainer Bob Baffert and owners China Horse Club, Head of Plains Partners, Starlight Racing, and WinStar Farm. Following the $600,000 winner’s share of the Santa Anita Derby purse, the son of Scat Daddy has now earned $666,000 in his young career.
“Justify is just a natural and he’s just learning how to run,” Baffert said. “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.”
For Baffert, it was a bit of a redemption after another 3-year-old star of his, McKinzie, suffered an injury last week that will likely keep him off of the Triple Crown trail.
“It takes a lot of the sting out of what happened to McKinzie,” Baffert said. “It’s a tough business, but we’ve just got to keep going.”
Justify returned $3.80 to win, $2.20 to place, and $2.10 to show. Bolt d’Oro brought back $2.20 to place and $2.10 to show, while Core Beliefs paid $4 to show.