On a rainy, muddy, splish-splash day, Smith, clad all in white, and his horse, with his white blaze, looked hardly in need of a hose-down, unspotted by flying mud.
No sooner had Justify crossed the line than thoughts turned, as they always do after the Derby, to the next race — the Preakness in two weeks — and the possibility of a Triple Crown. Can Justify do what American Pharoah did?
The first horse since 1882 to win despite not racing as a 2-year-old, Justify seems to have that certain something, and his trainer, Bob Baffert, certainly knows it when he sees it.
“He’s the most beautiful horse. He is a specimen of a horse. . . .,” said Baffert, who now stands second with five Derby victories. “He has that presence about him. That’s one thing about every day at Santa Anita, everybody says, ‘Who’s that?’ And that’s the only one I know for sure who it is.”
Smith knows it, too, and keeps landing on the word “above-average” to describe the horse.
“It takes a lot to try and keep up with him, and then you’ve got to try to run him down after that,” Smith said. “You’ve got to let a fast horse be fast sometimes.”
Mick Ruis, the owner/trainer of Bolt d’Oro, had another word for Justify. “Bob’s got a monster.”
The horse looked good Sunday morning, and the next stop is Pimlico as talk turns to whether Baffert can duplicate his 2015 Triple Crown success with American Pharoah, now retired to a career of siring future American Pharoahs.
The odds would not seem to favor another Triple Crown fresh on the heels of the last one, but who knows?
“I knew I had something really special,” Baffert said. “But he had to prove it today.”
“I’ve never been on a 3-year-old like this,” Smith said, and Baffert admitted the conditions affected his hope that the horse might justify his faith Saturday. “I knew I had something really special,” Baffert said. “But he had to prove it today.”
On May 19, we’ll know just how special the horse is.