Baf­fert try­ing to break Derby curse

Honolulu Star-Advertiser - - LEADING OFF - By Beth Har­ris

LOUISVILLE, KY. >> Bob Baf­fert is back at the Ken­tucky Derby with early fa­vorite Jus­tify af­ter watch­ing the race from his sofa in South­ern Cal­i­for­nia last year.

The Hall of Fame trainer’s abil­ity to pro­duce Derby con­tenders year af­ter year is an en­vi­able feat and why his ab­sence a year ago stood out. It was just his sec­ond since 2009 and oc­curred be­cause his lone can­di­date got hurt.

Baf­fert will sad­dle Jus­tify and 30-1 shot Solo­mini in Satur­day’s Derby.

Jus­tify is one of the green­est colts Baf­fert has brought to Churchill Downs. He’s won all three of his starts by a com­bined 19 lengths. If Jus­tify wins, he’d be the first to do so since Apollo in 1882 with­out rac­ing as a 2-year-old.

“The thing about the Ken­tucky Derby, you have to have the right horse. It just hap­pens. You can’t force it,” Baf­fert said. “All of a sud­den, you have good horses and you’re there. So I’ve been re­ally for­tu­nate to have some re­ally good horses.”

Baf­fert’s four vic­to­ries are tied for sec­ond-most in Derby his­tory. He’s fin­ished sec­ond three times, too, in­clud­ing in 2012 with Bode­meis­ter, also the last time he had two starters in the same year.

Like Jus­tify, Bode­meis­ter didn’t race as a 2-year-old. He set a blis­ter­ing pace and led the Derby un­til the fi­nal 150 yards when I’ll Have An­other over­took him to win by 1½ lengths.

Mag­num Moon, the 6-1 third choice, also is un­beaten and didn’t run as a 2-year-old.

“It’s go­ing to hap­pen,” Baf­fert said, re­fer­ring to the curse be­ing bro­ken. “Whether it hap­pens this year or what­ever, but it will hap­pen be­cause Bode­meis­ter al­most got away with it. But I don’t re­ally worry about that.”

Baf­fert al­most had a third starter this year un­til McK­inzie de­vel­oped a hind end is­sue that knocked him off the Derby trail.

“When McK­inzie got hurt, I wanted to throw up,” he said. “I re­ally think McK­inzie would prob­a­bly be sec­ond choice here. We’d re­ally have a 1-2 here.”

Jus­tify cleared the big­gest preDerby hur­dle by draw­ing the No. 7 post. Jockey Mike Smith can use the colt’s early speed to po­si­tion him well for the long run to the chaotic first turn. Solo­mini ended up in the No. 17 post; no horse has ever won from there.

Baf­fert turned 65 in Jan­uary, mak­ing him el­i­gi­ble for Medi­care and re­tire­ment at most other jobs. How­ever, he en­ter­tains no such thoughts.

“I work hard at it. I just don’t give up,” Baf­fert said.


Ken­tucky Derby en­trant Jus­tify ran dur­ing a morn­ing work­out at Churchill Downs.

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