Justify Wins Santa Anita Derby, Remains Unbeaten

Justify, with Mike Smith aboard, on their way to a win in the Santa Anita Derby. Photo by Cynthia Swanson.

In just his third career start, Justify earned his way into the Kentucky Derby with a win Saturday over multiple graded stakes winner Bolt d’Oro in the Grade 1 Santa Anita Derby.

“A lot of questions had to be answered and today he’s answered them,” Justify’s trainer, Bob Baffert, said shortly after the win. “… To get a Grade 1 win in is very important.”

The promising Justify was unraced as a 2-year-old, broke his maiden with a 9 1/2-length romp Feb. 18 in his career debut at Santa Anita, won his next race by 6 1/2 lengths and was making his stakes debut in one of the most-awaited match-ups leading up to the Kentucky Derby.

He needed to finish first or second to get enough points to make it into the Kentucky Derby field.

Justify’s primary rival in the field of seven was the more experienced Bolt d’Oro, who won the Grade 1 FrontRunner and Del Mar Futurity last year and was moved up to first in the Grade 2 San Felipe Stakes March 10 after another of Baffert’s trainees, McKinzie, was disqualified to second.

Justify ended up going off slightly favored over Bolt d’Oro, who posed the only challenge to him in the lane but just couldn’t get past him.

“Those are two really tough horses,” Baffert said. “Bolt d’Oro is a beautiful horse and I have a lot of respect (for him). He’s going to be tough, too, in the Kentucky Derby. They’ve done a great job with him.”

Justify — who paid $3.80 to win, $2.20 to place and $2.10 to show — completed the 1 1/8-mile race in 1:49:72, finishing three lengths ahead of Bolt d’Oro. Core Beliefs was 6 1/2 lengths back in third.

“It’s just good that he showed up,” Baffert said about Justify. “I just feel fortunate that I have him … It takes a lot of the sting out of what happened with McKinzie (who is now off the Kentucky Derby trail).”

He called Justify “a natural” and said he “does it effortlessly.” But he acknowledged that he was concerned when Justify “took off” on the backside, noting that jockey Mike Smith later told him that the colt appeared to spot something in the infield.

“He said, `You might want to put like a little more bit on him so you can control him.’ So I told him you better start working out between now and then (the Kentucky Derby),” Baffert quipped.

The Hall of Fame trainer said the colt reminds him a lot of another one of his former barn stars, Point Given, who won the Santa Anita Derby, Preakness, Belmont, Haskell and Travers in 2001.

Baffert said he pinches himself when he thinks about the caliber of horses that have been in his stable in recent years, including Triple Crown winner American Pharoah and Dubai World Cup winner Arrogate.

“Todd (Pletcher) could have easily gotten this horse so I must have drawn well out of the hat or something,” Baffert quipped of Justify, who is owned by China Horse Club, Head of Plains Partners LLC, Starlight Racing and WinStar Farm.

“He’s a beast. I’m just glad I have him,” Baffert said of Justify, who is a son of Scat Daddy and the graded stakes placed mare Stage Magic.

Other big winners Saturday at Santa Anita Park included:

— Midnight Bisou, who won the Grade 1 Santa Anita Oaks with a 3 1/2-length victory over Spectator. Midnight Bisou — a daughter of two-time Breeders’ Cup Sprint winner Midnight Lute and 2010 Florida Oaks winner Diva Delite — is three-for-three this year for trainer Bill Spawr and was second by a nose to the highly regarded Dream Tree in both of her races last year.

— the Irish-bred Beau Recall, who won the Grade 2 Royal Heroine on turf for trainer Simon Callaghan. The favorite, Enola Gray, finished fourth after a nearly nine-month layoff.

— Fatale Bere, a French-bred 3-year-old filly from Pedro the Great, who won the Grade 3 Providencia on turf for trainer Leonard Powell in her first start this year. Paved, who had beaten her male counterparts in her last start in the El Camino Real Derby, finished third as the favorite.