Bob Baffert has done it again.
The world-renowned horse trainer claimed his fifth Kentucky Derby victory Saturday when Justify raced to a convincing 2½-length triumph on a rain-soaked track in Louisville.
The victory was Baffert’s fifth at the Kentucky Derby and moved the La Cañada Flintridge resident into second place all time, just one win behind Ben Jones, who set the record in the 1940s.
The recognizable silver-haired, sunglasses-sporting trainer also reached the winner’s circle with Silver Charm in 1997, Real Quiet in 1998, War Emblem in 2002 and then again in 2015, with American Pharoah, who proceeded to break a 37-year-old Triple Crown drought and become just the 12th horse in history to sweep the Kentucky Derby, the Preakness Stakes and the Belmont Stakes.
Baffert’s next Triple Crown race win, which could occur in two weeks at the Preakness, will be his 14th, tying him with D. Wayne Luckas for the most all time.
“Bob’s a great trainer,” said Elliott Walden, CEO of WinStar Farms, which bought Justify at auction for $500,000 and then delivered him to Baffert. “He’s very capable on so many fronts. And one thing that we try to do is hire trainers who are very good at their craft. As far as integrity and doing the right things, Bob fits that mold perfectly.”
This past weekend’s victory is being called Baffert’s best by some, such as USA Today’s Dan Wolken, who wrote: “The job he did to get Justify in the winner’s circle Saturday will go down as perhaps the greatest training feat in his career.”
Justify became the first horse since Apollo in 1882 to win the Kentucky Derby without racing as a 2-year-old. The impressive chestnut colt made his first start Feb. 18 and has improved to 4-0 since, a span during which his victories have come by a combined 21½ lengths.
“I’m blessed and lucky to have a horse like this,” Baffert said at the post-race news conference. “I was just in awe of the performance. That’s the best Kentucky Derby-winning performance that I’ve brought up here.”
Baffert credited jockey Mike Smith, of Sierra Madre, for his job on Justify, who became the sixth consecutive favorite to emerge victorious at the Kentucky Derby.
“He was just hall of fame today; he came through,” Baffert said. “That’s a lot of pressure.”
Smith said he lost sleep thinking about the race, “but in a good way.”
“When Bob picked this one out, he told me, ‘You are going to ride him the next time,’” Smith said. “I have been so excited just dreaming about this horse. I just knew he was capable of this.”
The Preakness will be run Saturday, May 19, at Pimlico Race Course in Baltimore.
“We certainly feel like he’s got a chance to pull off the two weeks,” Walden said. “What he did today was phenomenal. And Bob had great success in the Preakness as well. So we’ll hope for that.”