Photos show how favorite Justify, jockey won the Kentucky Derby
Monday’s Kentucky Derby workouts included a surprise appearance by trainer Bob Baffert to watch over Improbable, one of his three likely entrants in the Run for the Roses on May 4.
Improbable, the runner-up in both the Arkansas Derby and Rebel Stakes, worked 4 furlongs on a fast racing surface at Churchill Downs. With regular exercise rider Jose Contreras up, Improbable ran it in 48 seconds flat and galloped out 5 furlongs in 1:01.40.
“I picked a beautiful day here,” said Baffert, who stopped by on his way to Ocala, Fla., for this week’s horse sale. “He went really nice. I liked the way he bounced over the track. Everybody is happy with him.”
There was one noticeable difference for Improbable: no blinkers. So why the change?
“Did you watch the Arkansas Derby?” Baffert said. “He got a little anxious in there with them, so I don’t think we’ll put blinkers back on him.”
Baffert also took some time to recap Improbable’s second-place finish to Omaha Beach in that race.
“There are pretty good horses going around there,” he said. “That’s what happens in all these prep races, they start separating themselves, and those two (Omaha Beach and Improbable) separated themselves out there. We’re just fortunate to be in there, and really fortunate with Improbable, because they could have scratched him in the gate. I thought they could have scratched him. It looked like he was trying to sit down, and that could have been a disaster for him. He still ran a great race after all that, and I was just thankful that he got in there, and looked unbelievable to finish second.”
Baffert, who had the Kentucky Derby favorite and eventual Triple Crown champion with Justify last year, said this year’s race at Churchill Downs is going to be difficult to predict.
“It’s a tough Derby this year,” he said. “We’re fortunate to have three in there. There’s a lot of parity.”
While Omaha Beach has defeated two of Baffert’s three potential Derby starters — Improbable and Game Winner — he pointed out that “he hasn’t beaten Roadster. All right, so we’ve got that going for us. That’s my hole card. But you know what? He’s a good horse.”
Jockey Mike Smith has chosen to ride Omaha Beach, instead of Roadster, in the Derby.
Omaha Beach “is a really good horse,” Baffert said. “He must be, since Mike Smith went ahead and took him. So he feels pretty good about that. I have a really good relationship with Mike Smith, and we talked a long time. I told him, ‘If you want to ride that horse, then go ride him.’ … He wanted to make sure I wasn’t upset about it. And I told him, ‘No, you won’t have a problem with me, but you might have a problem with my wife, Jill.’ … Mike is a great guy, and I’m not upset with him.”
Irad Ortiz Jr. is expected to be aboard Improbable in the Derby. The colt is expected to have one more breeze, probably Sunday, Baffert said.
Tacitus and By My Standards also worked out at Churchill Downs on Monday morning.
Tacitus, the winner of the Tampa Bay Derby and Wood Memorial and the top points-getter on the Kentucky Derby Leaderboard, covered a half-mile in 50 seconds under exercise rider Juan Quintero. Working in company with Ballagh Rocks, Tacitus galloped out 5 furlongs in 1:02.80 and 6 furlongs in 1:15.80.
“It was his first work since the Wood Memorial and I thought it was very good,” trainer Bill Mott said. “He doesn’t work fast; he does what his companion does. I thought his gallop out was very good.”
Mott, whose first Derby starter came in 1984, will be trying to win the Run for the Roses for the first time. Hofburg’s seventh-place finish last year was Mott’s best result from eight career starters.
“You always want to feel like you have a chance, even if you are 20-1,” Mott said. “You always think that and I think that way for him. He is very well bred, has a good race record and seems to be a horse on the improve.”
Louisiana Derby winner By My Standards turned in a 6-furlong move in 1:12.80 with jockey Gabriel Saez aboard. Trained by Bret Calhoun, By My Standards galloped out 7 furlongs in 1:26.
“That was about as good as you can get two weeks out from the race,” Calhoun said. “This horse is just hitting his best stride and I think that’s what we’ll see from him going into the Derby.”