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.

369 horses nominated to compete in Triple Crown series

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LOUISVILLE, Ky. – A total of 369 3-year-olds were made eligible to compete in this year’s Triple Crown series during the early nomination period.

Each of the horses was nominated through a $600 payment to compete in the Kentucky Derby, Preakness and Belmont stakes. The Triple Crown opens May 6 with the Derby.

The number of nominated horses increased by 57 from last year’s total of 312. They include a record 37 horses based in Japan.

Among the notable horses is Forte, last year’s 2-year-old champion trained by Todd Pletcher.

Also among the predominantly male horses nominated was a filly named Hoosier Philly.

Brad Cox led all trainers with 38 horses nominated to the series. Pletcher was second with 36 horses, followed by Steve Asmussen and Ken McPeek with 13 each. Chad Brown and Hideyuki Mori had 12 each.

Others nominated include Arabian Knight, Cave Rock and Newgate, all trained by Bob Baffert. He is currently banned by Churchill Downs Inc. through this year’s Derby, although Baffert is challenging his two-year punishment in federal court.

For the Derby, horses under the care of any suspended trainer may be transferred to another trainer and become eligible to earn Derby qualifying points as long as the transfer is done by Feb. 28.

Last year, Baffert transferred two horses to another trainer and both ran in the Derby, although neither was highly placed.

Horses that were not nominated to the Triple Crown series by the early deadline of Jan. 28 can make a late payment of $6,000 through March 27 to become eligible.

Newgate wins Robert B. Lewis Stakes; Baffert runs 1-2-3-4

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ARCADIA, Calif. — Newgate won the $200,000 Robert B. Lewis Stakes by a neck, with Bob Baffert as the trainer of all four horses in the Kentucky Derby prep race at Santa Anita.

Ridden by Frankie Dettori, Newgate ran 1 1/16 miles in 1:43.11 and paid $4 and $2.60 as the even-money favorite. There was no show wagering because of the field size.

Hard to Figure returned $5.20 at 12-1 odds. Worcester was another 1 3/4 lengths back in third. Arabian Lion was fourth.

“So much improvement in all these horses,” Baffert said. “I was actually nervous before the race, worried that something weird might happen, but I can relax now.”

The Lewis was a Kentucky Derby prep race, but no points were awarded because Baffert has been banned for two years by Churchill Downs Inc. The Hall of Fame trainer was in Louisville to testify in federal court as he seeks a temporary injunction to end the suspension, which runs through the end of the upcoming spring meet. It was meted out following a failed drug test by Medina Spirit after the colt finished first in the 2021 Kentucky Derby.

Newgate earned his first graded stakes victory. The colt was second, beaten by a neck in the Sham Stakes last month in his previous start.

“Frankie Dettori has been teaching him how to just sit back, relax and come with a punch and that’s what he did today,” Baffert said.

The victory, worth $120,000, increased Newgate’s career earnings to $241,975, with two wins in six starts.