Justify receives warm welcome at Santa Anita

Eric Sondheimer
Contact ReporterVarsity Times Insider

Naomi Anderson of La Puente arrived at Santa Anita at 7 a.m. on Saturday to be first in line for jockey Mike Smith signing posters featuring Triple Crown winner Justify.

“It’s a big deal,” she said.

By 10:30 a.m., the line around the Kingsbury Fountain had grown to an estimated 3,000 and stretched from the West Paddock Gardens to the paddock walking ring.

“This is the biggest I’ve ever seen,” said Frank Gomez, an Arcadia native who has been coming to the races for 50 years and was showing off his signed poster. “It’s precious.”

Smith was the warmup act before the real star made an appearance after the fourth race.

Justify, who joined Seattle Slew as the second undefeated Triple Crown champion, was escorted from trainer Bob Baffert’s barn by six security guards and Baffert’s assistant, Jimmy Barnes.

“Here comes the parade,” said Barnes, whose golf cart has a license plate that reads, “JUSTIFY.”

Justify was taken into the paddock, then the walking ring before being led to the track’s winner’s circle. A statute of Seabiscuit was given a makeover that included a white saddle cover with Justify’s name on it.

Baffert, wearing the same “Belmont blue” jacket he wore after Justify’s triumph in the Belmont Stakes, received cheers and congratulations from fans.

“You are the love of my life,” one fan shouted.

Baffert’s American Pharoah won the 2015 Triple Crown. Arrogate won the Breeders’ Cup Classic in 2016. Then came the chestnut 3-year-old son of Scat Daddy who’s six for six in his career after taking the Kentucky Derby, Preakness and Belmont.

“To get these great horses is incredible,” Baffert said. “After winning with Pharoah, I thought that was it. Then Arrogate and this guy. It still hasn’t really sunk in yet.”

Racing fans won’t have many opportunities left to see Justify. He’s expected to race in New Jersey in the Haskell at Monmouth on July 29 or the Travers at Saratoga on Aug. 25 before the Breeders’ Cup Classic on Nov. 3 at Churchill Downs. Then it’s likely on to a lucrative career as a stallion.

“It takes a couple of weeks to see if there’s any wear and tear,” Baffert said of his future plans with Justify.

He said he learned from American Pharoah’s post-Triple Crown experience how to handle Justify’s potential summer and fall campaign. American Pharoah won the Haskell, finished second to Keen Ice in the Travers and won the Breeders’ Cup Classic

“You can’t lose focus,” he said.

As for comparisons of the two Triple Crown winners, Baffert said, “The only thing they have in common is they’re so fast. Horses can’t keep up with them.”

Meanwhile, Baffert is hardly resting on his laurels. His next group of 2-year-olds has begun to arrive. A sister to American Pharoah had a workout earlier this week.

eric.sondheimer@latimes.com

Twitter: @latsondheimer

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