ARCADIA, Calif. — Justify vaulted into the role of probable Kentucky Derby favorite with a three-length victory over Bolt d’Oro in the $1 million Santa Anita Derby on Saturday.
Trained by Bob Baffert and winner of his three career starts by a combined 19 lengths, Justify had to finish first or second to earn enough qualifying points to run in the Derby on May 5.
It wasn’t a problem.
Justify led all the way under Mike Smith to claim the 100 points toward qualifying for the 20-horse Run for the Roses, and stands eighth on the Derby leaderboard. The colt ran 1 1/8 miles in 1:49.72 and paid $3.80, $2.20 and $2.10 as the 3-5 favorite in the field of seven.
“What you’re seeing right now is really just raw talent,” Smith said. “He’s got so much room to grow and to even get better. If he moves forward off this race, which he should, then it’s even kind of scary to talk about.”
Baffert earned his record eighth Santa Anita Derby victory. It was Justify’s first stakes race.
Bolt d’Oro returned $2.20 and $2.10, while Core Beliefs was another 6½ lengths back in third and paid $4 to show.
Bolt d’Oro and Javier Castellano chased Justify into the stretch turn. Castellano moved his colt down toward the rail and they ranged up on Justify’s flank, but never seriously threatened. Justify continued to pull away approaching the finish line.
“He felt good, and did everything the right way,” Castellano said. “Unfortunately, we were running against the best horse in the country.”
Justify never raced as a 2-year-old and didn’t make his debut until Feb. 18 at Santa Anita. He won by 9½ lengths and followed up that dominant showing with a 6½-length victory on March 1.
Baffert has compared Justify to his 2015 Triple Crown winner American Pharoah, citing the colt’s imposing physical presence and his big stride.
“Justify is just a natural and he’s just learning how to run,” Baffert said. “He’s quick and he’s light on his feet.”
Bolt d’Oro already was assured of a spot in the Kentucky Derby starting gate and stands fifth on the leaderboard with 104 points. He won the San Felipe by disqualification on March 10 and won 3 of 4 starts as a 2-year-old last year.
“This is a good steppingstone,” said Mick Ruis, who owns and trains Bolt d’Oro. “This is one we can build off and go to Churchill Downs.”
At some point, Bolt d’Oro appeared to have grabbed his right front hoof, which was bloodied after the race.
Baffert had planned to start McKinzie on Saturday, but the colt missed the race with a minor hind end issue.
Justify’s performance more than made up for the disappointment.
“It takes a lot of the sting out of what happened to McKinzie,” Baffert said. “It’s a tough business, but we’ve just got to keep going.”
Good Magic strengthened his Kentucky Derby credentials with a strong victory at Keeneland.
The colt overtook Flameaway entering the stretch to win the $1 million Blue Grass Stakes by 1½ lengths and moved to the top of the Derby leaderboard that determines the 20-horse field with 134 points. Good Magic’s performance reminded trainer Chad Brown of last fall’s four-length victory in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile at Del Mar.
“I thought it was an outstanding performance,” Brown said. “A very professional effort and he kicked home very strong.”
Good Magic, the 8-5 favorite, waited through a far-turn battle between Flameaway and Arawak before taking control and winning the Grade 2 race Saturday.
His second career win in five starts followed up last month’s third-place in the Fountain of Youth at Gulfstream in his 3-year-old debut.
Under jockey Jose Ortiz, Good Magic covered 1 1/8 miles in 1:50.18 and paid $5.20, $3.60 and $2.80.
“It was perfect,” Ortiz said. “Everything went really well.”
Flameaway returned $5 and $3.80 and earned 40 points. The stewards disqualified Sporting Chance from third to fourth and moved Free Drop Billy up to third after he was forced wide by Sporting Chance in the stretch.
Free Drop Billy returned $3.60 to show and earned 20 points.
Vino Rosso survived a stewards’ inquiry to win the $1 million Wood Memorial and earn 100 points toward qualifying for the Kentucky Derby.
Ridden by John Velazquez, Vino Rosso ran 1 1/8 miles in 1:49.79 at Aqueduct on Saturday for trainer Todd Pletcher.
Vino Rosso and Enticed hooked up at the top of the stretch and dueled until Vino Rosso pulled away nearing the finish.
It appeared that Vino Rosso came over and bumped Enticed along the rail hard twice in the stretch. That prompted the stewards’ inquiry and an objection but after video review, there was no change to the order of finish.
Sent off at 4-1 odds, Vino Rosso paid $10.40, $4.40 and $3.40.
Enticed returned $2.90 and $2.40, while Restoring Hope, trained Baffert, paid $3.30 to show.
Vino Rosso is fourth on the Derby leaderboard with 107 points. Enticed is fifth with 103.
AP Sports Writer Gary B. Graves in Lexington, Kentucky, contributed to this report.