Baffert: Justify May Be ‘Late To The Party, But The Raw Talent Is There’

Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert has won 13 Kentucky Derby prep races at Oaklawn since 2010, but never with a horse making just his third career start. That could change with Justify scheduled to make his stakes debut in the $1 million, Grade 1 Arkansas Derby April 14, a race the trainer won in 2012 with Bodemeister and again in 2015 with eventual Triple Crown winner American Pharoah.

Unlike Bodemeister or 2-year-old champion male American Pharoah, Justify has never lost leading up to his scheduled Oaklawn debut, winning his two starts this year at Santa Anita by a combined 16 lengths. A physically imposing son of the late Scat Daddy, Justify owns the two fastest Beyer Speed Figures for a 3-year-old this year.

Noted Southern California-based handicapper Jeff Siegel has Justify No. 1 in his Top 20 Triple Crown Rankings, noting the colt’s “pedigree suggests added distance shouldn’t be a problem; very late to the party but appears blessed with unlimited ability.”

Justify – in company – worked 5 furlongs in :59.60 over a fast track Monday morning at Santa Anita, which was the second-best time of 118 recorded at the distance.

“We’re pretty excited about him, and when you see him, you’ll know why,” Baffert said Tuesday morning from the United Arab Emirates, where he will send out West Coast and Mubtaahij in Saturday’s $10 million G1 Dubai World Cup. “When he comes out of his stall, he just keeps coming out. He’s big.”

Justify won his Feb. 18 debut by 9 ½ front-running lengths, covering 7 furlongs over a fast track in 1:21.86 to earn a 104 Beyer Speed Figure.

In his March 11 two-turn debut, Justify came from off the pace to win a 1-mile first-level allowance/optional claimer by 6 ½ lengths. He ran the distance in 1:35.73 over muddy, sealed surface to earn a 101 Beyer Speed Figure.

Baffert has opted to keep the more accomplished McKinzie home for the $1 million G1 Santa Anita Derby April 7 at Santa Anita and put Justify on the road for his Kentucky Derby audition. The Arkansas Derby offers 170 points to the top four finishers (100-40-20-10) toward starting eligibility for the Kentucky Derby. Justify will likely need a top two finish to secure a spot.

“He’s late to the party, but the raw talent is there,” Baffert said. “But he’s going to have to ship and then go to that paddock, so he’s got a lot of things he’s going to have to deal with. I could have kept him home, but I’d like to ship him to see how he handles it all. He needs to go there and get in front of a big crowd. If he runs well there, we’ll run in the Derby, or just wait for the Preakness. But we’re just taking it one race at a time. I think he’s really talented. He’s a big, beautiful red horse. He’s a big strong horse. I have McKinzie, too, and he’s a really good horse but nobody talks about him. He’s a good horse, too.”

Of Baffert’s 13 Kentucky Derby prep victories at Oaklawn, the only two horses without any prior stakes experience were Castaway (winner of the first division of the G3, $250,000 Southwest in 2012) and Cupid (G2, $900,000 Rebel) in 2016. Both horses were exiting maiden victories at Santa Anita. Castaway was making his seventh career start in the Southwest, Cupid his fourth in the Rebel.

Bodemeister, in his fourth career start, won the Arkansas Derby by 9 ½ lengths.

Justify’s resume mirrors another Baffert trainee, Bayern, who was also unraced at 2 before making his first two career starts in early 2014 at Santa Anita.

Bayern won a 7-furlong maiden race by 3 ¼ lengths, then returned to clear his first allowance condition by 15 lengths at a mile. Bayern’s first two career starts produced Beyer Speed Figures of 92 and 98, respectively. In his third career start, Bayern finished third in the Arkansas Derby. He capped his 3-year-old campaign with a victory in the $5 million Breeders’ Cup Classic (G1).

“The advantage he has is his ability,” Baffert said of Justify. “That’s a big advantage. He’s a pretty talented horse. The disadvantage is that he has to ship well, and they have to get used to the track and the paddock there so it’s whole different surroundings. But I think it will be good for him to go through all that and see if he can handle it. Can he hold up under pressure? He’s done everything well at Santa Anita, but he’s had it his way. California has short fields, and all of a sudden you get him in the gate with 12 or 14 horses in there, and he’s never had any adversity before. He had a little in his first start, when he went really, really fast and then kept going. That’s when he showed us how good he is. The other day he had that little allowance race where he sat off the pace a little bit.”

Baffert said Hall of Famer Mike Smith, who rode Justify in his allowance victory, will have the mount in the 1 1/8-mile Arkansas Derby.

A $500,000 Keeneland September Yearling Sale graduate, Justify is owned by China Horse Club, Head of Plains Partners LLC, Starlight Racing and WinStar Farm. The chestnut colt was bred by John D. Gunther, whose homebred, Tiger Moth, ran fourth in the $350,000 Azeri Stakes (G2) for older fillies and mares March 17.

Curlin won the 2007 Arkansas Derby in his third career start to remain unbeaten. But he was coming off a sparkling victory in the Rebel, which is the final major local prep for the Arkansas Derby. Curlin went on to win the Preakness (G1), Jockey Club Gold Cup (G1) and Breeders’ Cup Classic (G1) en route to Horse of the Year and champion 3-year-old male honors.

Unbeaten Arkansas Derby candidate Magnum Moon, in his third career start, earned a 97 Beyer Speed Figure for his victory in the $900,000 Rebel (G2) March 17.

Like Curlin, the Rebel was the stakes debut for Magnum Moon. Curlin and Magnum Moon were also unraced at 2.


The post Baffert: Justify May Be ‘Late To The Party, But The Raw Talent Is There’ appeared first on Horse Racing News | Paulick Report.

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