A year ago we were treated to the grand brilliance of Justify, who finished his career in the Belmont Stakes as a Triple Crown Champion –a perfect six for six in his career– all while having consumated those tremendous achievements in the span of 111 days; a feat that will likely never be broken. What’s most impressive about what Justify and Bob Baffert accomplished? They expected the enormous hype of last spring.
We all knew that the best dirt trainer in the world thought of his rising star Justify last year, when Baffert entered the three year old in a Santa Anita allowance race the day after the G2 Santa Felipe stakes, also at the great race place. In March, it was two months until the Kentucky Derby, and with only a maiden win to his credit, Justify needed to accrue points to be allowed entry. The natural spot would have gone to the San Felipe or the Rebel but Baffert knew Justify was his one from the start; nevermind another trainee of his, McKinzie who was much more accomplished and seasoned at the time. Baffert sent Justify to the Santa Anita Derby after an easy allowance score versus what were comparably tin cans, knowing he could handle the impossibly ambitious class hike, and he easily bested Bolt d’Oro loose on the lead. The rest is history.
This go-round, Baffert is again leading on the triple crown trail with Game Winner (last year’s juvenile champion), and Roadster, who he’s signaled from day one last year that the Quality Road colt was his best horse of the crop. Roadster has run to the part, winning the Santa Anita Derby last out while stepping up in class just second off the layoff. If this sounds familiar, Roadster may actually be further along in his development than Justify at this time last year, as the former got two races under his belt as a two-year-old.
Now with three wins and a third in four career starts, the main difference between Roadster and Justify going into Churchill was the quality of their Santa Anita Derby wins. In Justify’s case, it was a much-the-best easy win over the two year old. Roadster beat his crop’s two year old champ as well, but he barely won the race, only making the lead at the 16th pole, and benefited greatly from a quick pace up front that ultimately collapsed. Runner-up Game Winner may not have ever opened this race up like we thought a horse of his caliber should have, but he still ran just as well as Roadster, if not better, contesting the pace too early and covering 38 more feet than the winner. This was Game Winner’s race to lose which he did, mainly due to circumstance. So Roadster, unable to keep the early pace in the SA Derby, may need a bit of a setup to win the KY Derby; something that Justify was unencumbered with.
While he’s a massive talent, Roadster is not Justify, even if he wins in the KY Derby which he is very well capable of. Roadster has class, a pedigree, a running style that will ensure he sees out the demanding distance, fast speed figs, and is now third off the layoff. Some two year old bottom, as well.
While he needed a bit of a nudge to win his first stakes in the SA Derby against top company, with all of his ample class there’s a great opportunity that Roadster will improve against the best after feeling his way through his big win. Most importantly, when you bet on Roadster to win the run for the roses, you’re betting on who Bob Baffert has the most confidence in. That seem to go a long way these days.
Here are our trip notes of Roadster:
4th career start: April 6th, Santa Anita, G1 Santa Anita Derby, one mile and an eighth
Roadster is #1
Broke fine, not much early speed, settled a few lengths off the pacesetting Instagrand (eventual 3rd place finisher), shuffled back almost ten lengths off leaders beginning to battle up front, made up a lot of ground into the stretch on the outside, kept to the outside, got to leader Game Winner at the 16th pole with all the momentum, did not want to totally go by but still won going away. Roadster, who did not have enough early speed to stalk the pace as would have been intended going into the race, was a fast and visually impressive winner here, but this was largely due to a fantastic setup to notch his first stakes win.
3rd career start: March 1st, Santa Anita, optional claimer/non-winners of one, one mile
Out fine, settled outside, pressing huge longshot on the lead through slow fractions, made his move late rounding into the stretch, withstood a mild bid from Manhattan Up (eventually finished third), completely disposed of that one to his outside by mid-stretch, ridden out. In hindsight, this appears similar to last year’s March allowance in a win over inferior foes by Justify. However, Roadster was not even favored in this spot off the long layoff, but made short work of this small field, aided by a slow pace.
2nd career start: September 3rd, Del Mar, G1 Del Mar Futurity, seven furlongs
Roadster is #3
Broke well, good speed, settled outside in second tier behind Rowayton who went on to open up a big lead, with Game Winner to his outside into the turn, moved on even terms with that one until mid-stretch, could not go any longer as Game Winner was about to inhale Rowayton, missed second. With very similar trips, Roadster was certainly bested by stablemate Game Winner here, but it appears that Roadster is a tactical type who needs to be close to the early lead. The fast pace Rowayton threw down here may have totally taken him off of his game.
1st career start: July 29th, Del Mar, maiden special weight, six furlongs
Roadster is #1
Broke a bit slow from inside post, rushed up, settled in among horses off a quick pace, zoomed up to tired leader rounding into the stretch before opening up, hand ride to the wire. This was a machine-like effort from Roadster, finishing very nicely without being asked.