Tom Pedulla is interviewing prominent owners, trainers and jockeys for America's Best Racing as they travel the Road to the Kentucky Derby Presented by Woodford Reserve (G1) May 5 at Churchill Downs.
The series continues this week with Bob Baffert, who will saddle undefeated Justify and Solomini in a bid to win his fifth Kentucky Derby. Baffert's four wins tie him for second all-time with D. Wayne Lukas and Herbert J. Thompson. Ben A. Jones leads with six wins, accomplished from 1938-1952.
Justify, 3-for-3 after he defeated Bolt d'Oro by three lengths in the Santa Anita Derby (G1), will try to become the first horse to win the Derby after going unraced as a 2-year-old since Apollo in 1882.
Solomini, runner-up in the Sentient Jet Breeders' Cup Juvenile (G1), bears the colors of Zayat Stables, which owned 2015 Triple Crown winner American Pharoah .
Silver Charm (1997), Real Quiet (1998) and War Emblem (2002) preceded American Pharoah as Derby winners for Baffert. He also placed second three times, with Cavonnier (1996), Pioneerof the Nile (2009) and Bodemeister (2012). His first three Derby winners added the Preakness Stakes (G1) only to be denied the Triple Crown in the Belmont Stakes (G1).
PEDULLA: What kept Justify from running as a 2-year-old?
BAFFERT: I don't know. When I got him, he didn't have any obvious problems. They just took their time with him. He was a big horse. They just brought him along at his own pace.
PEDULLA: Does the fact that he was unraced at 2 bother you?
BAFFERT: He probably could have run as a 2-year-old. I think his raw talent makes up for his seasoning. He's a superior racehorse.
PEDULLA: What makes him superior?
BAFFERT: He's probably the most beautiful 3-year-old. When you see him, he'll catch your eye on the track. He's just a grand-looking animal. He's one of the most attractive 3-year-olds you'll ever see. He's just a standout conformation wise.
PEDULLA: Are you optimistic he will get the mile-and-a-quarter distance?
BAFFERT: He's done everything so quickly. He beat a top contender in Bolt d'Oro in his third out, so I'm not really worried about that. He just needs racing luck.
PEDULLA: How is Solomini doing?
BAFFERT: He's a grinder. He's tough. He doesn't give up. He's tough to train. He's a little bit of a lazy horse. He needs a lot of encouragement, but he always shows up. If somebody stubs their toe, he's going to be right there.
PEDULLA: Is there any timetable for McKinzie's return?
BAFFERT: He's a really good horse. That was devastating when he injured his hock. But it's pretty minor. I'm going to give him 30 days before I start him back. I'm looking at the Haskell. We'll have plenty of time to get him ready for it.
PEDULLA: Is the Derby as much a goal as it's ever been?
BAFFERT: It's always a goal. You're trying to get there with different people.
PEDULLA: You always seem to enjoy Derby week. What is it about that time?
BAFFERT: It's a lot of fun. The Derby is a lot of fun. There is nothing like the excitement that surrounds it. It's priceless. The Derby week is the most exciting week in racing. It's all about those 20 horses. The town of Louisville, they really accept you. You're getting interviewed constantly, and it's all about horse racing.
PEDULLA: What is the key to your Derby success?
BAFFERT: You have to have the right horse. They have to be tough. We've seen it with horses like Silver Charm, just as tough as nails.
PEDULLA: The Derby has always held a special place for you. May I ask you to talk about that?
BAFFERT: The Derby is everybody's dream. It is the greatest race that you can be involved in. There is a lot of dreaming that goes on, and sometimes those dreams come true.