Triple Crown talk intensifies after Justify comes out of Kentucky Derby in great shape
Spectators watch Promises Fulfilled, ridden by jockey Corey Lanerie, and Justify, with Mike Smith aboard, lead the field into the first turn during the 144th running of the Kentucky Derby.(Jamie Squire / Getty Images)
Promises Fulfilled on the rail and Justify on the outside begin to churn around the first turn during the 144th running of the Kentucky Derby.(Rob Carr / Getty Images)
Mike Smith guides Justify down the homestretch ahead of the field during the 144th Kentucky Derby.(Darron Cummings / Associated Press)
Justify, with Mike Smith aboard, nears the finish line ahead of Audible (5) and Good Magic (6) during the Kentucky Derby on Saturday(Kiichiro Sato / Associated Press)
With the Chuchill Downs spires in the background, Mike Smith rides Justify to victory in the 144th running of the Kentucky Derby.(Morry Gash / Associated Press)
Mike Smith celebrates after riding Justify to victory during the 144th running of the Kentucky Derby.(Jeff Roberson / Associated Press)
Jockey Mike Smith celebrates after riding Justify to victory during the 144th running of the Kentucky Derby.(Darron Cummings / Associated Press)
Jockey Mike Smith poses with Justify for a photo in the Winner’s Circle after winning the 144th Kentucky Derby.(Sean M. Haffey / Getty Images)
A few minutes after 8 a.m., the morning after Justify won the Kentucky Derby, trainer Bob Baffert came wheeling out of the Barn 33, leading the colt by his rein for what was clearly a photo opportunity.
The sound of at least 30 cameras buzzing and clicking broke the silence of the backstretch as Baffert tried to steady his horse.
Justify was frisky and Baffert was seemingly having trouble controlling his horse.
“You better get used to this,” the five-time Derby winner said to his colt.
Baffert was foreshadowing just what an upside awaits Justify.
“He came out of it really well,” Baffert said of the Derby. “I mean he’s full of himself. … Today he’s been a handful. He knows that he’s a stud. He’s so beautiful. He’s got the body. When he came out of the stall, he was pulling me around. Usually they are a little bit tired.”
The day after the Kentucky Derby is usually reserved for talk of a Triple Crown. Although in this case, it started in earnest moments after the race Saturday. Justify’s next step is in two weeks at the Preakness Stakes at Pimlico Race Course in Baltimore.
Justify’s commanding 2½-length victory over one of the toughest fields in memory has people talking more about the Belmont Stakes in five weeks than the Preakness. It’s as if a win in Baltimore is already assured with what is expected to be a small field that likely won’t include any of the top horses that ran at Churchill Downs.
There’s a historical reason to back that theory. Baffert is four for four in winning the Preakness after winning the Derby. It started in 1997 with Silver Charm, followed by Real Quiet in 1998, War Emblem in 2002 and American Pharoah in 2015.
Baffert has been continually asked to compare Justify to American Pharoah, who won the Triple Crown three years ago. Now, after winning the Kentucky Derby, Baffert is more confident in comparing the horses.
He thought Justify’s win in the Santa Anita Derby was just so-so, unlike his win on Saturday. He even went so far as to indicate that Justify ran a better Derby than American Pharoah.
Justify has run only four races, so it can safely be assumed that the Kentucky Derby was his best one.
“[Jockey] Mike [Smith] was telling me he had trouble pulling him up,” Baffert said. “The outrider had to help pull him up. When the horses came to him, he wanted to take off again. I don’t know if he’s so strong or Mike (age 52) is just too old to pull him up. It was a pretty awesome performance.”
The Preakness field won’t have the star power of the Kentucky Derby.
It’s already been declared that most of the better horses are skipping the last two legs of the Triple Crown or are holding off until the Belmont Stakes.
“I want him back in New York and that gives me time to decide what’s next,” trainer Chad Brown said. “You run a horse back in two weeks off an effort like this — even if he’s not going to run for a while — it doesn’t mean it’s good for the horse long term. That said, his sire [Curlin] came back in two weeks and won the Preakness.”
Wayne Lukas is expected to take Bravazo, who finished sixth in the Derby, and Sporting Chance to Baltimore. Quip, who qualified for the Kentucky Derby but whose trainer believed he needed more time, was also scheduled to run in two weeks. Diamond King, who won the Federico Tesio Stakes at Laurel, is also possible for the race.
“We won the toughest one, the Kentucky Derby,” Baffert said. “To me it’s not only the toughest one but the most important one. He’ll run in the Preakness and after that, we’ll see. If I like the way he comes out of that, then we’ll take a shot at the Belmont.”
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