Triple Crown Winner Justify Parades Before Fans at Santa Anita

Justify parading before fans at Santa Anita. Photo by Terri Keith.

Up close with Justify. Photo by Terri Keith.

Just over four months after winning his first race at Santa Anita Park, undefeated Triple Crown winner Justify returned Saturday to the track in Southern California to parade before an enthusiastic crowd of just over 17,400 people.

“It’s just great to see the fans out here. It was really pretty cool watching them up close taking their pictures,” Justify’s trainer, Bob Baffert, said. “A lot of them have kids who will remember this forever.”

He said he was happy that fans — who lined up throughout Santa Anita — were able to come together at the place where Justify’s racing career began to celebrate the 13th horse to win the Triple Crown.

Justify won his first career start Feb. 18 with a dominating win by 9 1/2 lengths in a race that instantly brought him attention as a potential Derby contender.

His next two starts at Santa Anita — in an allowance/optional claiming race in March and the Grade 1 Santa Anita Derby in April — only heightened expectations for the son of the late Scat Daddy.

He went off as the favorite in all three legs of the Triple Crown — just like he had at his home base of Santa Anita.

“They (fans) saw him break his maiden (here) and they came back. They knew he was something special when they watched him win the Santa Anita Derby. So to be able to bring him back to California, our home base, it means a lot to us,” Baffert said.

Justify’s trainer called himself “very privileged to be part of this and have a great horse like this.”

He noted that “everybody kept waiting for him (Justify) to go the other way, and he didn’t.”

Baffert has often been asked to compare his latest superstar to his first Triple Crown winner, American Pharoah, who accomplished the same feat three years ago and was honored with a similar parade.

“Like Pharoah, they’re super horses. There’s something about them. They’re physical. His heart must be huge … just like Secretariat’s,” Baffert said.

Justify — who walked from his stall to the paddock and the walking ring before being brought onto the track to be paraded before applauding fans — “knew it was just for show,” Baffert said of the colt’s latest appearance at Santa Anita.

And, as for the question likely on a lot of horse racing fans’ minds, there’s no answer yet on where Justify will be headed next, Baffert said.

“I wish I had a dollar for every time somebody asked me this,” the Hall of Fame trainer said. “He’ll tell us when he’s ready to go again.”

Just over three hours later, Baffert and Justify’s jockey, Mike Smith, were back in the winners’ circle again after the heavily favored American Anthem won the $250,000 Grade 2 San Carlos by a head after a stretch duel with the former claimer St. Joe Bay, who went off at odds of 42-1.

American Anthem and Justify have a few things in common — they’re both multiple graded-stakes winners, they share most of the same owners and they’re next-door neighbors at Baffert’s barn.

American Anthem, a 4-year-old son of Bodemeister, was coming into the race off a 1 3/4-length victory at Churchill Downs following a nearly eight-month layoff. His 3-year-old campaign last year included wins in the Grade 2 Woody Stephens Stakes at Belmont Park and the Grade 3 Lazaro Barrera Stakes and a pair of third-place finishes in the Grade 1 H. Allen Jerkens Stakes and the Grade 1 Santa Anita Sprint Championship Stakes.

“I think he’s getting better with age,” Baffert said. “He’s a big, strong horse.”

As for the jockey who’s ridden American Anthem in seven of his 10 starts and Justify in all but one of his races, Baffert credited Mike Smith — the man he called “Big Money Mike” — for the win.

“If he’s got the horse under him, he’ll get the job done,” Baffert said. “He’s like our version of (football player) Peyton Manning, I guess.”

He also lauded Smith for staying overtime to autograph posters with photos of him aboard Justify in the Kentucky Derby, Preakness and Belmont for a long line of fans before the races began for the day.

Smith said that he was shocked by the size of the line of fans, but didn’t want to leave anyone out.

He called this year’s Triple Crown series “life-changing” and said it’s never going to get old talking about it.