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Baffert has growing confidence after Justify's latest win

Ron Flatter  

Justify_2_Benoit_photo
Justify, ridden by Mike Smith to victory in Saturday's Santa Anita Derby, will try to extend his perfect record with a win next month in the Kentucky Derby. (Benoit photo courtesy of Santa Anita)

Arcadia, Calif.

Bob Baffert did not skip a beat Sunday expressing his confidence in Justify’s future – especially that rather large race at Churchill Downs in 27 days.

“I got home and watched the replays, and it was really a pretty impressive race,” Baffert said the morning after training Justify to victory in the Santa Anita Derby to earn a spot in the Kentucky Derby. “We were hoping he would run like that, and he did. Just that raw talent shows up.”

Baffert also outlined plans for some of the other stars of his stable, saying that West Coast may go to the Stephen Foster Handicap in mid-June and that Thirteen Squared will not be entered in the Kentucky Oaks.

But all systems for Louisville are go for Justify after he led the whole way Saturday, running off to a three-length victory over Bolt d’Oro.

“That race will really help him out,” Baffert said.

But what about the questions that have been on the boil about whether Justify will be able to come off the pace, an almost certain proposition in a Derby that will include blazing frontrunner Promises Fulfilled?

“He sat off the pace in the other race where they went real, real fast,” Baffert said, referring to Justify’s splashy, 6½-length win in an optional-claiming race here last month in the Santa Anita mud. “He can get into position pretty early. The really good horses can sort of stay out of the way if they break well.”

Bolt d’Oro was slightly the worse for wear from Saturday’s race. “There was a little blood by his front quarter on the right side,” his owner/trainer Mick Ruis said. “We washed it off and checked it out. It was like getting a splinter. No flesh came off. In three days you won’t even know it’s there.”

Baffert’s other hope for the Kentucky Derby – Solomini – needs at least a fourth-place finish in next Saturday’s Arkansas Derby to get his invitation. He will have to do it against what is shaping up to be a deep field that will be drawn Wednesday. It is expected to include the one horse that beat Solomini in last month’s Rebel Stakes – Magnum Moon – plus earlier Derby prep winner Quip.

“It’s a Grade 1,” said Baffert, who has won four times in Oaklawn Park’s biggest race for 3-year-olds. “Being that the Blue Grass and the Wood were Grade 2, this will be a bigger field now. It’s the last chance for horses. This point system gets people really scrambling and everything. Plus with the three weeks (until the Kentucky Derby) you can run your horse there, and you don’t have to do too much with him after that.”

Baffert was originally going to send Solomini to the Wood Memorial, but the recent bruised hock suffered by his former Kentucky Derby favorite McKinzie caused a chain reaction of moves that took McKinzie out of the Santa Anita Derby. Before he filled that void, Justify had been ticketed for Arkansas, and Solomini was going to Saturday’s Wood Memorial.

Ruling out any possibility of a Triple Crown race for McKinzie, Baffert said “he’s going to get 30 days off, and then we’ll just start back light training. It won’t take long to get him back.” He said McKinzie will be prepared for a summertime comeback.

Baffert also ruled out any chance of Thirteen Squared going to the Kentucky Oaks after she finished third in Saturday’s Santa Anita Oaks. “I just felt that it might be a little bit too much for her,” he said, not specifying a next race.

Santa Anita Oaks winner Midnight Bisou, the top individual choice at 6-1 in last month’s Kentucky Oaks Future Wager, closed from last place Saturday to finish first by 3½ lengths.

“The way she won just gives you goose bumps,” said Jeff Bloom, the former jockey who is one of Midnight Bisou’s owners. “She’s bright-eyed, cheery, happy and ate up all her food. We’re happy. It’s on to Kentucky.”

As for Rayya, the distant runner-up to Mendelssohn in last Saturday’s UAE Derby, she has a place in the Kentucky Oaks, but Baffert said the Kentucky-bred filly still has to unwind both from her transatlantic trip and her transfer from Dubai-based trainer and ex-Kiaran McLaughlin assistant Doug Watson.

“She just got in here (Saturday),” Baffert said. “We’ll slowly ease her to get acquainted with our program and our feed and everything else. They say she got a little hot and worked up (in Dubai). I wasn’t there for her race, but she’s been really good at the barn.”

West Coast, the best of Baffert’s or anybody’s U.S. 3-year-olds last year, made the same trip home from the Middle East after finishing second to Thunder Snow in the Dubai World Cup.

“He looks good – a little tired, but he’s supposed to be,” Baffert said. “I’m not sure what’s next for him. The first option would be a race like the Stephen Foster at Churchill Downs, but I’m not sure yet. We’ll just play it by ear. We’ll give him a few weeks to recover and see how he is.”

Ron Flatter’s weekly racing column is posted every Friday morning at VSiN.com. You may also hear the Ron Flatter Racing Pod, also posted Friday mornings at VSiN.com/podcasts. Please subscribe and post a review where available at Apple Podcasts, Google Play Music and Stitcher.

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