LOUISVILLE, Ky. — Jimmy Barnes, the assistant trainer in Bob Baffert’s racing opeation, was in the spotlight Monday at Churchill Downs, but purely for the company he was keeping.
Barnes, a Santa Rosa native and 1977 graduate of Montgomery High School, had the pleasure of walking Triple Crown winner Justify around the grounds while camera-clicking fans followed their every step, intent on getting a shot or horse racing’s newest superstar.
The crowd gathered because Justify hado arrived at the track after shipping on a midday flight from Islip, New York.
Barnes walked Justify outside Barn 33. He said the horse traveled well and will be “just taking it easy” for a few days before this weekend’s celebration and return to California.
“He’ll walk at least the next three days, as long as he’ll allow us to,” Barnes said. “Then we’ll see which direction we need to head as far as training.”
Justify became the 13th Triple Crown champion with Saturday’s 13/4-length victory in the Belmont Stakes that improved him to 6-0 lifetime. His milestone run follows that of 2015 champion American Pharoah, also trained by Baffert.
Baffert, jockey Mike Smith and Justify’s owners will receive engraved trophies for winning the Kentucky Derby.
“There’s been tremendous buzz,” track spokesman Darren Rogers said. “It’s great to have him on the grounds. And, let’s face it, there’s going to be tremendous excitement this year with the Breeders’ Cup being at Churchill Downs (Nov. 2-3). He’s great for the sport. Any Triple Crown winner is great for the sport.”
As was the case with American Pharoah, who ended a 37-year Triple Crown drought, spectators waited as the van carrying Justify turned the corner before stopping in front of Baffert’s barn. A wall featured two new signs, one proclaiming Justify’s achievement below another for American Pharoah.
There was a brief noise as Justify emerged, but fans mostly concentrated on positioning their cameras. Among those in the crowd was Denise King of Raceland, Kentucky, who came to Churchill Downs with a friend and see a bit of history.
“I’d never thought I’d be this close to the most famous race horse in the world,” King said.
“He’s even more magnificent than I thought he’d be.