Trainer Bob Baffert was full of praise for Justify one day after the chestnut colt handed his conditioner a fifth win in the Kentucky Derby (G1) at Churchill Downs.
“It was just an awesome performance,” Baffert said. “We were hoping he had that in him. At the three-eighths pole I was thinking, ‘Man, he better be a really good horse if he’s going to just keep going.’ We saw another gear that we hadn’t seen yet. That’s where the greatness comes in. He’s got that big, long stride and he’s just so efficient, he does it so easily.”
Baffert brought the unbeaten son of Scat Daddy out of his stall around 8 a.m. (ET) Sunday morning at Churchill for a photo opportunity, but the sophomore refused to settle, tossing his head and prancing around, and was soon allowed to return to his stall.
“He looks phenomenal today,” Baffert said. “He’s full of himself. He knows he’s a stud. He came back and he really wasn’t that tired. He ate up last night and today he’s been a handful.
“When I got him out of the stall he was pulling me around; usually they’re a little bit tired.”
According to the Paulick Report, Justify appeared to favor his left hind leg a bit during the short meet-and-greet Sunday morning, but Baffert was quick to assure it was nothing more than a common condition called “scratches” or “mud fever” below the pastern on the colt’s left hind ankle.
“It’s an irritation behind the pastern,” Baffert told the Paulick Report. “It got real soft and wet and irritated. We keep them done up in the back and he wasn’t done up yet. When he walked on that gravel it irritated him.
“A lot of horses have it,” Baffert continued, explaining it was being treated with Furacin, a topical ointment. “It comes and goes but it’s the kind of thing we deal with. It happens to a lot of them.
“He actually looked unbelievable this morning. Too bad I walked him on gravel.”
— TwinSpires.com (@TwinSpires) May 6, 2018
Justify is owned by Kenny Troutt’s WinStar Farm LLC, Ah King Teo’s China Horse Club, Sol Kumin’s Head of Plains Partners LLC, and Jack Wolf and partners’ Starlight Racing, and was bred in Kentucky by John Gunther.
To win the 2018 Kentucky Derby in front of an on-track crowd of 157,813 that braved steady all-day rain, the chestnut colt had to overcome a water-logged track listed as sloppy, sealed but appeared more like a bog; tracking right outside Promises Fulfilled as that one set swift early splits; and the “Apollo Curse,” named for the 1882 Derby winner who was the last horse to capture the Run for the Roses having not competed as a two-year-old.
Justify will now attempt to extend his unbeaten mark to a perfect five-for-five in the 143rd running of the Preakness Stakes (G1) at Pimlico next out on May 19.
Maryland Jockey Club President and General Manager Sal Sinatra called Baffert early Sunday to extend the formal invite.
“I spoke to Bob early this morning and extended him the traditional invitation to the Preakness, which he gladly accepted,” Sinatra said. “Bob is looking forward to returning to Baltimore where he has had great success, and we are thrilled to welcome him back. We’re excited to have the Kentucky Derby winner coming to the middle jewel of the Triple Crown, and we’re looking forward to a great race and an incredible week of events including InfieldFest and Black-Eyed Susan Day.”
Baffert didn’t hesitate to accept the offer to try for a record-tying seventh Preakness victory.
“I didn’t tell them, ‘I’ll think about it,’” the conditioner said. “We’ll take it day-by-day but today there’s no reason to say no.”
Justify is scheduled to remain at Churchill until the middle of next week, likely walking the shedrow for the first three days before returning to the track Wednesday morning. The colt was doing so well that Baffert headed back to Southern California earlier than expected on Sunday.
“I was going to stay here a couple of days, but he looks phenomenal today,” said Baffert, leaving assistant trainer Jimmy Barnes in charge until he returns to Kentucky next weekend.
“I’m not thinking about that at all, not yet. Right now I’m just thinking about keeping him healthy,” Baffert added when asked about going for another Triple Crown bid after breaking the 38-year drought with American Pharoah in 2015. “We still have another one in a couple of weeks if all’s well. We won the toughest and most important one. If he wins the Preakness then we’ll see.”
If Justify does win the Preakness, he could end up facing stablemate Solomini in the Belmont Stakes (G1) on June 9. That Baffert pupil is owned by Zayat Stables, who campaigned American Pharoah, and finished 10th in Saturday’s Kentucky Derby under jockey Flavien Prat.
“(Prat) gave him the ‘Calvin Borel ride’ – let him back, put him on the rail – and he beat half of them. We’re thinking he might be a horse for the Belmont,” Baffert said.