He was a late addition, but Justify is the top pick to win one of the most prestigious Kentucky Derby prep races on Saturday. The 6/1 pick to win the Run for the Roses is a 4/5 favorite at Santa Anita over Bolt d’Oro, who is listed at 6/5.

Justify has captured horse racing’s attention in just two outings, and is the Santa Anita Derby favorite. (Image: Benoit)

The 3-year-old gelding has little experience, winning only two minor races at the Southern California track over the past two months. Trainer Bob Baffert isn’t concerned with the amount of races he has run.

“We call him Big Red at the barn,” Baffert said. “We’re always looking for the big red sonofagun, but he’s got to pass this test before we start calling him anything special.”

That may happen on Saturday. It is considered a two-horse race and even though Bolt d’Oro has a more impressive resume, Baffert is confident his horse can compete.

Second Choice Chances

Justify was not Baffert’s preferred horse to run in the Santa Anita Derby. His first choice was McKinzie, but the colt got injured in its hind end. Out of an abundance of caution the longtime trainer decided to hold the horse out of competitions.

“You hate to see a horse get hurt,” Baffert said. “But things happen, so you just have to keep moving forward. You can’t look back.”

It was a blow to Baffert, who saw McKinzie climb all the way to third at 17/2 in the Kentucky Derby Futures betting. That horse looked to have beaten Bolt d’Oro in the San Felipe Stakes in March, but was disqualified to second for bumping Bolt d’Oro down the stretch. Shortly after that race, Bolt d’Oro was installed as the 4/1 favorite at Churchill Downs on May 5. The only loss in four races by Bolt d’Oro was by Good Magic at the Breeders Cup in November.

McKinzie will miss the Derby, as well as the other two Triple Crown races, The Preakness and the Belmont. Baffert is hopeful for a return by summer.

“We’ll give him 30 days of R&R and point to races like the Haskell, the Pennsylvania Derby and the Travers,” Baffert said.

New Kentucky Derby Favorite

Inexplicably bettors prefer Justify over Bolt d’Oro in the Kentucky Derby. In updated odds at the Westgate Las Vegas SuperBook, the Baffert-trained horse is at 6/1, as opposed to Bolt d’Oro at 7/1. The Baffert name is one reason for the lower odds, as is seasoned jockey Mike Smith piloting the horse.

Those odds may change again after Saturday’s Santa Anita Derby. But neither horse may be able to overtake current Kentucky Derby favorite Mendelssohn. That horse recently set a track record in winning the UAE Derby, and that impressed some sportsbooks to put him as the favorite. The Westgate has him at 5/1.

But Wynn Sportsbook director Johnny Avello told VSIN there were a couple of factors that should be considered with the horse’s performance.

“That track was pretty souped up, but he just buried it,” Avello said. “We’ve had good action on Mendelssohn not just to win the Kentucky Derby but to win the Triple Crown (now 75/1). They liked him even before the race. That race just put the exclamation point on him.”

He isn’t totally sold on the horse. He has Mendelssohn at 12/1, while Justify is the favorite at 6/1.

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