Justify wins Santa Anita Derby by 3½ lengths for Baffert

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ARCADIA, Calif. (AP) — 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.

Kentucky Derby: What Time, Where to Watch, Horses, Post Times

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.”

BLUE GRASS

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.

WOOD MEMORIAL

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.

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AP Sports Writer Gary B. Graves in Lexington, Kentucky, contributed to this report.

Breeders’ Cup preps reach crescendo with Fall Stars Weekend at Keeneland

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To the horse racing world, Keeneland is Disneyland. Everything about the Keeneland experience tells you that you are in a special place where the world revolves around thoroughbred racing and breeding.

Take Blue Grass Airport in Lexington, for example. Although it’s in a relatively small marketplace, it can handle 747 jets, because wealthy owners attending the horse sales often arrive in a jumbo jet with a large entourage. When you leave the airport, you are at the intersection of Man o’War Boulevard and Versailles Road. You’re literally across the street from Gate 1 of Keeneland Race Course. Keeneland, by the way, is adjacent to the legendary Calumet Farm. Venturing out onto various side streets, you will almost stumble upon some of the most famous breeding facilities in the world. In the paddocks of these farms, the vision of mares and their foals frolicking is commonplace, looking like a scene from a movie.

Keeneland is unique, as its elegance and its racing exist side by side with its primary purpose: being a place where millions of dollars change hands on a regular basis in the sales pavilion. A countless number of legendary horses had their careers begin with their purchase in that pavilion. Unlike venues in places like New York and California, where racing is conducted virtually year-round, racing at Keeneland is held for three weeks in the spring and three weeks in the fall.

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The fall meeting is situated perfectly to provide final prep races for many of the horses who are pointed to a performance in the Breeders’ Cup. In a span of 3 days, from October 7th to 9th, Fall Stars Weekend will feature 9 different “Win and You’re In” races in nine different Breeders’ Cup divisions. Normally, these would be very attractive races with large purses, but when you add in the fact that the Breeders’ Cup will be held at Keeneland this year, they are even more attractive. These races offer the prospect of having a horse get a final prep at Keeneland, stay stabled in the Lexington area, and then compete in the Breeders’ Cup, all in a four-week span. For those based at Keeneland, it means they will just have a brief walk through the magnificent stable area to get to the location where they will be racing.

History of The Breeders’ Cup at Keeneland

The first Breeders’ Cup held at Keeneland was the 2015 edition, and the decision to hold the event there was controversial. Many in the racing world felt that the facility was too small, as it could not hold the large crowds of Churchill Downs and Santa Anita. Brilliant management at Keeneland led to the attendance in the main building being limited, with satellite locations on the grounds handling the overflow of a total crowd of about 40,000. It was a comfortable event to attend, helped in no small part by the fact that the star of the show was the first Triple Crown winner since 1978. American Pharoah lived up to his billing, turning in a dominant performance to win the Breeders’ Cup Classic in the final race of his career. The event returned to Keeneland in 2020, but attendance was limited due to the pandemic. Once again, however, the star of the show delivered, as Kentucky Derby winner Authentic capped off his career with a win in the Classic.

Fall Stars Weekend will be featured in two telecasts, to be shown at 5 p.m. on Saturday and Sunday on CNBC. Each day will feature two live races, along with highlights of some of the other “Win and You’re In” races from the weekend.

RELATED: Alpinista overcomes heavy ground to win l’Arc de Triomphe

Saturday storylines at Fall Stars Weekend

On Saturday, the Claiborne Breeders’ Futurity will be shown live. The winner will gain entrance to the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile. The likely favorite will be the Todd Pletcher-trained Forte, who was a dominant winner of the Hopeful Stakes at Saratoga. Pletcher has another interesting prospect in Lost Ark, who is 2-for-2 lifetime, including a runaway win in the Sapling Stakes at Monmouth in his last start. Bob Baffert will be shipping in two juveniles for a possible start in the Breeders’ Futurity. Most notable of these is Carmel Road, who captured a maiden race at Del Mar by 8 ½ lengths in his last start. The other possible Baffert starter is National Treasure, who captured a 6 ½ furlong Maiden race at Del Mar in a fast time in his only career start. Another youngster pointed to this race is Frosted Departure, from the barn of Ken McPeek. This one captured an allowance race at Churchill Downs by 9 ¼ lengths last time out.

The other live race on Saturday’s telecast is the Coolmore Turf Mile, which is a “Win and You’re In” race for the Breeders’ Cup Mile. This is always a contentious race, and some veteran campaigners who haven’t lost a step highlight this year’s field. One of those vets is the Bill Mott-trained Casa Creed, who won the Fourstardave Stakes at Saratoga in his last start. Major turf races at this time of year frequently feature Chad Brown trainees, and this race is no exception. His top two probables here are Emaraaty, who won the Bernard Baruch Handicap at Saratoga in his last start, and Masen, who won the Poker Stakes at Belmont earlier this year. Paulo Lobo will return with In Love, who won this race last year.  Finally, how about a horse who has been 1st or 2nd in 10 of 12 lifetime starts at 1 mile on turf? That’s trainer Michael McCarthy’s veteran Smooth Like Strait. This one is a wide-open affair with some worthy contenders, to be sure.

RELATED: Mo Donegal rewards team’s confidence at Belmont

Sunday storylines at Fall Stars Weekend

The first live race on Sunday’s telecast from Keeneland will be the Bourbon Stakes, for 2-year-olds on the turf. It is a “Win and You’re In” race for the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf. Some key trainers dominate the storylines in this race. Mark Casse has won the Bourbon Stakes in 4 of its last 7 runnings, and he will run Boppy O, the winner of the With Anticipation Stakes at Saratoga in his last start. McPeek is another 4-time winner of the Bourbon. He won last year with Tiz The Bomb, who then went on to finish 2nd in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf. His 2 probables for the race are Rarified Flair (2nd in the Kentucky Downs Juvenile last out) and B Minor (won a Maiden race on dirt at Churchill Downs in his last start). It also should be noted that North America’s all-time leading trainer in wins, Steve Asmussen, will have two probable entries in Red Route One and Gigante. Red Route One won a Maiden race at Kentucky Downs in his last, while Gigante was the winner of the Kitten’s Joy Stakes at Colonial Downs in his last appearance. Finally, there is Brendan Walsh, who seems to always be a factor in Kentucky, and especially in turf races. He presents Reckoning Force, who won that $500,000 Kentucky Downs Juvenile in his last out.

The show-topper on Sunday is the venerable Juddmonte Spinster Stakes. Back in 1984, Princess Rooney posted a win in the Spinster as her final prep before winning the inaugural running of the Breeders’ Cup Distaff. Other notables who have won this race in their final prep before winning the Distaff include Bayakoa, Paseana, Inside Information and Blue Prize.

This year’s Juddmonte Spinster features a matchup between two of the top females of the past couple of years in Letruska and Malathaat. Letruska won the Spinster last year on her way to an Eclipse Award as top older female dirt horse. This year, she has posted 2 wins and a third in 4 starts. Malathaat won the 2021 Kentucky Oaks and was 3rd in the 2021 Breeders’ Cup Distaff. She enters this race off a win in the Personal Ensign Stakes at Saratoga.

This weekend presents the final North American “Win and You’re In” opportunities for the Breeders’ Cup. In New York, California, and Kentucky, 14 horses will gain entry into the “Big Dance” of Thoroughbred Racing. Most of us will be getting a case of “Breeders’ Cup Fever” this weekend, as the reality of those races on the first weekend of November draws ever so much closer.

Alpinista overcomes heavy ground to win l’Arc de Triomphe

Qatar Prix de Arc de Triomphe
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PARIS – Alpinista made light work of the rain and heavy ground to narrowly win the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe.

Jockey Luke Morris attacked heading into the last furlong and the 5-year-old mare just held off a late charge from Belgian jockey Christophe Soumillon on Vadeni and last year’s 80-1 winner Torquator Tasso, ridden by veteran Italian jockey Frankie Dettori.

“I had a beautiful draw in stall six and after being perfectly placed, there was a second when I thought we were getting drawn into it too early,” Morris said. “But once she had taken charge, I was able to sit on her from 100 meters out.”

Morris felt the conditions would have made it harder for Alpinista to attack the way she did.

“I was concerned when all that rain came but the race went very smoothly,” he said. “I couldn’t believe how it could have in a 20-runner Arc. It was incredible.”

Alpinista was among the pre-race favorites.

“If it hadn’t been my horse, I would have thought it was going to win every inch of the way, but when it’s your own of course it’s a nightmare,” Alpinista trainer Mark Prescott said. “I didn’t think all that rain would help, but she’s never traveled better and has come on with each race.”

It was not yet clear if Alpinista will next race at the Breeders’ Cup or the Japan Cup next month.