Triple Crown champion Justify made his first appearance at Del Mar on Monday morning, a “meet and greet” with the San Diego County media conducted by Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert.
Justify looked as imposing as he had at all points through six straight victories in a career begun early this year with the last three coming in the Kentucky Derby, Preakness and Belmont Stakes.
Led around by assistant trainer Jim Barnes awaiting his turn at the wash mat, the big chestnut turned to face the variety of cameras aimed at him through the bathing procedure so all could get a good angle. Afterward, while being walked around the stable area, he reared up and pawed the air briefly before Barnes coolly brought him back down and under control.
Feisty as Justify is by nature, and good as he looks, he's currently under observation after a filling (swelling or inflammation) was discovered in his left front ankle about two weeks ago. It subsided, then came back after light exercise and Baffert has his second Triple Crown winner in the last four years at Del Mar to personally monitor daily developments before any decision is made regarding his racing career.
“Right now, we're just looking to get him 100 percent,” Baffert said. “We're in a holding pattern. I'd love to run him again, because he's so much fun and exciting to watch. We should know more in a couple of weeks.”
Baffert said Justify's exercise program probably will involve only walking around the stable area for the next two weeks. The best case scenario would be for a return to racing sometime in the fall with the ultimate goal being the Breeders' Cup Classic in November at Churchill Downs.
The possibility of having Justify paraded before the Del Mar crowd, as was done at Santa Anita and Los Alamitos recently, is being discussed.
While Justify walks, Baffert is as usual well stocked with quality runners that figure to impact the summer meeting, which starts Wednesday, in a major way – as has been the case for decades.
He has dozens of 2-year-olds that are candidates to add to his 13 Del Mar Futurity and seven Del Mar Debutante wins.
He has a battery of older horses capable of adding to his five TVG Pacific Classic victories, the most recent being with Collected in last year's running of the $1 million event. Collected, scheduled to arrive here next week, is a possibility to defend.
“Del Mar has always been the place where everyone wants to win a race,” Baffert said. “It's just a great atmosphere. Everybody saves their good horses for down here.
“It's heaven down here. Opening Day is on everybody's bucket list.”
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