Unbeaten Kentucky Derby (G1) contender Justify worked six furlongs in 1:13.20 at Santa Anita Monday, convincing Bob Baffert that he’s ready to try Saturday’s Santa Anita Derby (G1) rather than wait for the April 14 Arkansas Derby (G1).
“We’ll run here,” the Hall of Fame trainer said after Justify’s move in company with older stalwart Hoppertunity. “He went nice and it looked like he handled it pretty well. As long as he comes out of it well, he runs.”
Hoppertunity, a multiple Grade 1 winner who’s bankrolled more than $4.3 million, served as the lead horse as the pair commenced nearing the five-furlong pole. Justify, with Drayden van Dyke aboard, traveled a little more than a length back for much of the way, but took off inside the sixteenth-pole and drew even right past the wire. Then Justify kept rolling and opened up rounding the clubhouse turn.
According to Santa Anita’s press release, Justify reached out over the track “with a stride reminiscent of Baffert’s 2015 Triple Crown winner American Pharoah.
“I had his five eighths in 1:01 flat,” private clocker Andy Harrington revealed. “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, the 6-1 individual favorite in Pool 3 of the Kentucky Derby Future Wager off his maiden and allowance romps at Santa Anita, will be making his stakes debut in the final round of Derby preps. Because he’s yet to contest a points race, he’ll need a big performance to ensure a spot in the starting gate at Churchill Downs. Justify can be master of his own destiny with a win worth 100 points. The 40-point haul for a runner-up effort is normally sufficient, but this year may be cutting it close.
Baffert’s first idea was to send the twice-raced colt to Oaklawn Park for the Arkansas Derby, where he would get more experience from shipping and racing over a different track. Stablemate McKinzie planned to stick with the Santa Anita route, and a grudge match with Bolt d’Oro after being disqualified from first in their San Felipe (G2) battle.
But once McKinzie developed a hind leg problem that would knock him out of the Santa Anita Derby, and put his Kentucky Derby status in jeopardy, Baffert decided to juggle his plans. Justify now takes over from McKinzie in the Santa Anita Derby, and clashes with his most serious opponent so far in Bolt d’Oro. The outcome will have a significant bearing on Pool 4 of the Kentucky Derby Future Wager that runs Friday through Sunday.
With Justify foregoing the Oaklawn option, Solomini is being rerouted from the Wood Memorial (G2) to the Arkansas Derby.
“It looks like Solomini is going to run in the Arkansas Derby,” Baffert said of the recent Rebel (G2) runner-up who would be returning to Oaklawn.
Justin Zayat, racing manager for Zayat Stables, tweeted confirmation that Solomini is Arkansas-bound.
Yet another Baffert three-year-old is in the Derby prep mix, with plans still fluid for sharp maiden winner Restoring Hope.
“I’ve got Restoring Hope,” Baffert added. “He’s working this morning. I don’t know what I’m gonna do with him.”
The well-bred son of Giant’s Causeway covered five furlongs in :59.80, accorded the rare “breezing” designation by the clockers on this circuit, in company with Solomini who posted the same time “handily.”
Daily Racing Form’s Jay Privman reports that Restoring Hope may now be Baffert’s hope for Saturday’s Wood Memorial (G2).