In one of the most impressive efforts by any 3-year-old, anywhere this year, Bob Baffert's striking chestnut colt Justify thoroughly dominated four other sophomores by 6 ½ lengths Sunday at Santa Anita as he stretched out to a flat mile in a $56,000 first condition allowance. With the Grade I, $1 million Santa Anita Derby looming on April 7, track officials are hopeful he'll stay home and run there as he seeks vital qualifying points to the Kentucky Derby.
A Kentucky-bred colt by Scat Daddy, Justify was an overwhelming 9 ½ length first-out maiden winner going seven furlongs here on Feb. 18, after which Baffert proclaimed “It's not too late,” in reference to a possible start in the Run for the Roses on May 5.
“I hate to compare him to other horses right now, but doesn't he remind you of an Easy Goer way back in the day,” said jockey Mike Smith, who took over from Drayden Van Dyke today. “Just a big ‘'ol red horse with a big, powerful stride. The distance didn't seem to bother him. I know that was just a mile, but he could have galloped out another quarter of a mile if he had to.”
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Breaking from the far outside on a track listed as muddy, Justify was in-hand with Smith while caught three-wide and fourth around the Club House turn. Heading into the far turn, he moved into second position and pounced on pacesetter Shivermetimbers three furlongs from home. In an instant, Justify was in command and was three lengths clear leaving the quarter pole en route to a resounding victory in which he was geared down with his ears pricked at the wire.
“That was extremely impressive,” said Smith, who did all the talking with Baffert on an airplane to Ocala, Fla. “He passed the two turn test with flying colors…For a young horse, he has a great mind. That might allow him to catch up (on the Derby Trail) even sooner than a normal horse, because of the talent and the mind to go with it.
“That (acceleration around the far turn) came so natural. He switched leads and naturally opened up his stride and was two in front. I was like ‘Wow.' I didn't ask him to move and he just did that extremely easily. He came off that turn like it was a stroll. Just very, very impressed.”
Dispatched at five cents on the dollar, Justify, who is owned by the China Horse Club, Head of Plains Partners, LLC, Starlight Racing and WinStar Farm, paid $2.10, $2.10 and $2.10.
A $500,000 Keeneland September yearling, Unbeaten, who is out of the Ghostzapper mare Stage Magic, has won his two starts by a combined 16 lengths. With today's winner's check of $33,600, he now has earnings of $66,000.
With early leader Shivermetimbers holding second, fractions on the race were 22.42, 45.10, 1:09.64 and 1:22.28.
After hearing the final time of 1:35.73, Smith said: “My lord. Wow, very blessed. And he was gearing down. I didn't want him to completely pull up so I just squeezed him a little bit but he was gearing way down and did that with flying colors. I was happy to keep the weight on his back anyway.
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