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Addition of Justify at Santa Anita Derby creates intriguing matchup against Bolt d’Oro

The anticipated rematch of Bolt d’Oro and McKinzie won’t happen in the Santa Anita Derby, but an equally intriguing matchup of Bolt d’Oro and Justify is on schedule for this Saturday.

Justify’s trainer, Bob Baffert, said Monday morning that he will run his undefeated 3-year-old colt at Santa Anita instead of shipping him to Oaklawn for the Arkansas Derby on April 14.

“We’ll run here,” Baffert said after Justify worked six furlongs in 1:13.20 on Monday. “He went nice, and it looked like he handled it pretty well. As long as he comes out of it well, he runs.”

Justify has shown limitless potential in two races, winning by a combined 16 lengths. But Saturday will be a huge step up in class in his first stakes race.

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Bolt d’Oro has won four of his five races, his only loss being a third in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile. He has two Grade 1 wins — the FrontRunner Stakes and Del Mar Futurity. He won the San Felipe Stakes over McKinzie, when that horse was moved down because of interference.

Their rousing stretch duel was making Saturday’s Santa Anita Derby the most anticipated of the last Kentucky Derby prep races. But on Saturday, Baffert announced that McKinzie had an unspecified back leg injury still being diagnosed. It is looking more likely that McKinzie will also miss the Kentucky Derby.

Justify will have to finish first or second on Saturday to qualify for the Kentucky Derby. It’s a points race with the winner getting 100, second place gets 40 and third gets 20. With no points, it’s highly unlikely Justify could qualify for Louisville with only 20 points.

Bolt d’Oro has already qualified with 64 points.

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Justify, with jockey Drayden Van Dyke in the saddle, worked with veteran stakes winner Hoppertunity. The colt made up a length and a half on Hoppertunity in about one-sixteenth of a mile.

“He did it with aplomb,” veteran clocker Andy Harrington told Mike Willman of Santa Anita. “He does everything they ask, and he does it effortlessly. He’s like a big kid who’s just learning how to run. … There’s really no telling how good he is.”

Entries for the Santa Anita Derby will be taken on Wednesday.

johnacherwa@gmail.com

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