(Vino Rosso rolls to victory in the Wood Memorial, after a bumping incident / Photo Courtesy of NYRA & Coglianese)

Here are some notes and quotes along the “Kentucky Derby Trail” from Saturday, at the Wood Memorial and the Santa Anita Derby:

Wood Memorial:

  1. From Jockey John Velazquez, who rode the winner Vino Rosso, and had to withstand an inquiry and rider’s objection:  “I got close to him and he was coming out. So, I made my horse switch leads and when he switched, I leaned on him a little bit, and then he pushed me out and my horse went right back on him. That’s what happened. I got him easy, anyway. He was holding his ground out and I was holding him back in. He was the horse to beat and I wasn’t going to give him a chance.”
  2. From Trainer Todd Pletcher, who conditioned the winner: “I was a little worried right at the start, because his hind-end kind of slipped out leaving the gate, and it looked [like] it took him about a hundred yards to get engaged,” said Pletcher, who also won the Wood Memorial with Eskendereya (2010), Gemologist (2012), Verrazano (2013), and Outwork (2016). “He was a little farther back than I thought he would be, but when you take the pacesetter out, he really was close to the contenders. I felt good about it. I was just hoping he would sustain his momentum around the turn, and he finished up and did great. We’re feeling like we’re seeing a horse that has that talent, and he’s doing well, and we felt like that mile and an eighth is something he’s looking for. This is the performance we’ve been looking for.”
  3. From Trainer Kiaran McLaughlin, who conditioned the runner-up — Enticed: “We ran very well to finish second, but I thought [the stewards] could have put us up. It was an excellent race, we finished second, and he deserved to win. I’m sure there will be no change [in our plans to continue to the Kentucky Derby]. He ran a great race.”

(Photo of Justify, winning the Santa Anita Derby / Photo Courtesy of Santa Anita.com)

Santa Anita Derby:

  1. From Mike Smith, rider of the winner Justify: “He rides with room to grow. He’s learning and it’s the first time he rides with the infield open, I don’t know if he saw the umbrellas and everyone screaming that he got to looking at them so much that I had to get the bit out of his mouth to really make him pay attention and that’s when he kind of skirted away and focused. What you’re seeing right now is really just raw talent. He’s got so much room to grow and to even get better, believe it or not. I think this race is going to put a lot more bottom into him. He handled a 1 1/8 really well and like I said what you’re seeing right now is just raw talent. If he moves forward off of this race, which he should, then it’s even kind of scary to talk about.”
  2. From Javier Castellano, rider of the runner-up Bolt d’Oro: “We were second best today. I wouldn’t change anything. I have no complaints and unfortunately, we were second best today. He felt great, perfect. He felt good, and did everything the right way. He broke well out of the gate and unfortunately we were running against the best horse in the country. I told Mick that it was a very good race. The best horses in the country showed up today and gave a great performance. This was Justify’s game plan and it suited him, his ability to be able to go to the lead. I had to try and catch him today. I think it will be interesting in the Derby because I think there will be more speed, it will be interesting. It will suit my horse, he’ll be able to sit off that faster pace but I’m still very satisfied with today and my horse’s performance. It was emotional turning for home because I’m trying to catch the best horse in the country and I’m thinking, ‘I’m happy. I’m very pleased.’ Justify has the ability to go to the lead, has a lot of speed and he took it easily today.”
  3. From Trainer Bob Baffert, who conditions Justify: “There was concern down the backside when he took off like that. I was worried about him. Mike (Smith) let him run a little bit but he said he (Justify) saw something in the infield and he sort of spooked. He said I might want to put a little more bit on him to control him, and I told Mike he better start working out between now and then (Kentucky Derby May 5) to hold him down.“It was very exciting. Those are two really tough horses. I figure that race for Bolt d’Oro probably took a little bit out of him with McKinzie (in the San  Felipe on March 10), but they’re two really good horses. I think the whole field is really tough.“But Justify is just a natural and he’s just learning how to run. He has that big, beautiful stride . . . he reminds you a lot of Point Given, just a big, red train type of horse. He’s quick and he’s light on his feet. It’s just good that he showed up, he did what we thought and were hoping he was going to do. I just feel fortunate to have him. It takes a lot of the sting out of what happened to McKinzie. It’s a tough business but we’ve just got to keep going.”
  4. From Mick Ruis, owner/trainer of runner-up Bolt d’Oro: “I didn’t think the fractions were real, real fast. I think it was a good race and was what we needed. Hopefully we come out of here really good and get that mile and a quarter. We knew we were up against it a little at a mile and an eighth and that we would have an advantage when he goes a little longer. This is a good steppingstone – we were within two lengths of the winner, so this is one we can build off and go to Churchill Downs.“I wanted to go in here really positive, so I think this is a nice race coming off that really hard race (the San Felipe Stakes). Hopefully we get to come back really good.”