Justify best of Baffert
March 13, 2018 3:00 AM
by Dave Valento
Bob Baffert has had a legendary training career having won all of the most important races (many more than once). He’s been especially adept at preparing three-year-olds for the Kentucky Derby. He’s won the race four times (Silver Charm ’97, Real Quiet ’98, War Emblem ’02 and American Pharoah ’15). In all he’s won 12 Triple Crown races and added three Kentucky Oaks, as well. He has a strong hand again in 2018 led by McKinzie and Justify.
Both McKinzie and Justify won this past weekend. While McKinzie finished first in the San Felipe, he was DQ’d to second for drifting out on Bolt D’Oro, who was placed first. McKinzie is a superstar and will be a major player in the Kentucky Derby if he doesn’t regress in the next two months.
Justify might be the best three-year-old Baffert has ever had. That is saying something since he trained American Pharoah to the 2015 Triple Crown. Justify is a $500,000 purchase by the sire Scat Daddy out of a Ghostzapper mare. He won in his debut by nearly 10 lengths and produced the highest debut Beyer for a Baffert runner ever (104). He faced allowance company on Sunday and won with condescending ease, geared down by 7 lengths in 1:35.3 and earned a 101 Beyer. It was a fantastic effort that sets him nicely for a move to either the Grade 1 Santa Anita Derby or the Grade 2 Sunland Park Derby. He’ll need to gain points in his final prep to get into the starting gate.
Justify has earned two Beyer Speed Figures above 100. To put that into perspective, in the six years between 2009 and 2014, there were 25 total 100-plus Beyers earned by all horses entered in those fields.
Baffert normally sends his top three-year-olds right into stakes company. He tends to use allowance preps for some of his best runners (Arrogate for example). In 1998, he used a mile dirt allowance in the middle of March for Indian Charlie, a similar looking runner to Justify. Indian Charlie would win for fun in the Santa Anita Derby and finished a solid third in the Kentucky Derby. In 2001, Baffert used the same allowance race for Congaree. He romped by 8 lengths with a 102 Beyer. He parlayed that solid prep into a Wood Memorial win in his next start. Like Indian Charlie, he would run third in the Kentucky Derby.
As good as Justify has looked in his two starts, and he has looked fantastic, winning the Derby is about racing luck as much as it is about talent. In 2005, Bellamy Road came into the Kentucky Derby off a 17 length Wood Memorial win and an obscene 120 Beyer. That was three weeks after he destroyed a Gulfstream Park allowance field by 16 lengths. He ran a fading 7th in the Kentucky Derby as the favorite.
Justify hasn’t beaten the strongest fields in his two starts so it will be interesting to see him step up to graded stakes company in his next start. If he follows the footsteps of Indian Charlie, he’ll be headed to the Santa Anita Derby in April. If he wins that he’ll be the favorite in the Kentucky Derby.
What a great time of the year this is for sports fans. March Madness starts this week with the kickoff of the NCAA College Basketball Tournament. The Masters is in mid-April. Major League Baseball is about to start. The NBA and NHL have their playoffs right around the corner. The Kentucky Derby is the first Saturday in May.
If you’re filling out a March Madness bracket try to identify the strongest conference. It seems there is always one conference that emerges as the deepest top to bottom. In my opinion, the Big East looks strongest top to bottom. Xavier, Villanova, Seton Hall, Creighton, Providence and Butler are all in the tournament. Every single one of these teams can make a run.
Seton Hall is the darkhorse I’m looking at. They lost a lot of close games against top level competition. A few breaks and they could have been a much higher seed.
Top horse play
Race 2 on Wednesday at Tampa Bay Down is an optional claiming $75,000 event at 6 furlongs on the dirt. No. 4 Mister Bister is a standout in this spot. He last raced on the turf going long and was a decent third at 6-1. He moves back to the dirt, a surface and distance he was at in his blowout debut win. The runner-up in the win was a Todd Pletcher runner who won for fun coming back and was second in an allowance at Gulfstream after that. Should get a perfect trip behind dueling pacesetters.
Mister Bister is 5-2 on the morning line. Post time is 9:55 PST.