Justify's victory in Saturday's $1 million Santa Anita Derby (G1) gave the 3-year-old colt his first stakes win, but more importantly also assured him of a spot in the starting gate for the May 5 Kentucky Derby (G1).
Justifly, who is undefeated in three starts, is owned by China Horse Club, Head of Plains Partners LLC, Starlight Racing and WinStar Farm. WinStar potentially has a very strong hand in this year's Run for the Roses, with Florida Derby (G1) winner Audible, owned by the same partnership as Justify; Louisiana Derby (G2) winner Noble Indy, owned by WinStar and Repole Stables; and Quip, winner of the Tampa Bay Derby (G2), owned by WinStar, China Horse Club and SF Bloodstock LLC, all being pointed to the first leg of the Triple Crown.
But the focus on Saturday was on Justify, who made his first start only seven weeks ago. After stellar wins in his maiden and and allowance on March 11, Justify was made the Santa Anita Derby favorite by the bettors.
Sent to the front right out of the gate, Justify cut out the first quarter-mile in :23.96, then seemed to try to run off on the backstretch. Multiple Grade 1 winner Bolt d'Oro mounted a challenge at the top of the stretch, but Justify turned him away with a furlong to run, pulling clear to win by three lengths in 1:49.72 on a fast main track.
“There was concern down the backside when he took off like that,” said Baffert. “I was worried about him. (Jockey) Mike (Smith) let him run a little bit but he said he (Justify) saw something in the infield and he sort of spooked.
“He’s just learning how to run. He has that big, beautiful stride; he reminds you a lot of Point Given (Baffert's 2001 Horse of the Year), just a big, red train type of horse. He’s quick and he’s light on his feet. It’s just good that he showed up, he did what we thought and were hoping he was going to do. I just feel fortunate to have him.”
Besides the big $600,000 payday, Justify earned the all-important 100 points on the Road to the Kentucky Derby challenge series, which guarantees him a spot in what will likely be a 20-horse field at Churchill Downs.