Justify lives up to hype, slays curse in Kentucky Derby win
HOW IT HAPPENED
Photo of Justify by Coady Photography.
The hype proved true. And now the curse of Apollo is dead.
Justify was a dominant winner in the 144th running of the Grade 1, $2 million Kentucky Derby at Churchill Downs today, becoming the first horse since Apollo in 1882 to win the classic event without having raced at age two. It was Justify’s fourth win in four starts in a career that began February 18 — less than three months ago.
Under Hall of Fame jockey Mike Smith, here winning his second Kentucky Derby, Justify broke sharply to press the early pace of longshot speedster Promises Fulfilled. That duo ran one-two through the race’s first three marker, navigating the opening quarter-mile in a sharp 22.24 seconds, the half in 45.77, and three-quarters in 1:11.01.
Smith and Justify moved to command soon thereafter, and the duo had a 1 1/2 length lead after the mile was completed in 1:37.35. By that time, other contenders were revving up; Bolt d’Oro made a menacing move while wide but emptied out. Good Magic posed a threat. Audible ran on bravely once finding a seam along the rail.
But once he seized command, Justify would not cede it, pushing the lead to 2 1/2 lengths leaving the furlong grounds, the margin it would remain at the wire. Good Magic held second, holding off the late bid of Audible by just a head, with 85-1 Instilled Regard nearly two lengths farther back in fourth.
Justify, the 2.90-1 post time favorite, paid $7.80 to win and topped a $2 exacta worth $69.60. Running time for the 1 1/4 miles over a sloppy, sealed main track was 2:04.20.
For Justify’s trainer Bob Baffert, it was the fifth Kentucky Derby of his remarkable career and his second in four Derbies. He also won this event in 2015 with Triple Crown champion American Pharoah, as well as wins in 1997 (Silver Charm), 1998 (Real Quiet), and War Emblem (2002).
“Going into the race the main concern was just getting him out of the gate. This horse is so talented. I keep using the term ‘above average’ because he has a mind to him as well. It was a sigh of relief when I got him out of the gate and I just stayed out of his way. Bolt d’Oro came to my outside the first time by the wire and I figured if we were going fast up front, they’re going fast behind me as well.” — winning rider Mike Smith
“We saw something really great. That’s greatness right there. When he won his second race we were in (American) Pharoah territory.” — winning trainer Bob Baffert
FACTS AND FIGURES
- Winner paid: $7.80 – $6.00 – $4.40
- Winning time: 2:04.20
- Margins: 2 1/2 lengths from Justify to Good Magic in second, a nose farther back to Audible in third, 1 3/4 lengths farther back to Instilled Regard in fourth
- Winner’s record: 4-4-0-0, earnings of $2,098,000
- Owner: China Horse Club, Head of Plains Partners LLC, Starlight Racing, WinStar Farm
- Trainer: Bob Baffert
- Breeder: John D. Gunther
- Pedigree: Scat Daddy-Stage Magic, by Ghostzapper
- Jockey: Mike Smith
HOW WE ‘CAPPED IT
- #11 – Bolt d’Oro (8-1): Highly touted 2yo picks up Hall of Fame jockey Victor Espinoza, looks to get a more favorable pace scenario here than when second to the favorite (Justify) last out in the Santa Anita Derby; experience a plus
- #14 – Mendelssohn (5-1): Ultra-impressive winner in the UAE Derby, proving that day distance should be no issue as that event is contested at 1 3/16 miles; half to top racemare Beholder
- #9 – Hofburg (20-1): Runner-up in the G1 Florida Derby one race after breaking his maiden taking giant steps forward for a Hall of Fame trainer in Bill Mott, a patient horseman with no known case of Derby fever
And about Justify… Talented and plenty of hype, but do you want short odds on a horse entering the Kentucky Derby just 77 days after making his career debut? No horse since Apollo has won the Derby without racing at two — and that was in 1882…
IN YOUR STABLE MAIL
Show horse Audible, twelfth after a quarter-mile, began to gather steam leaving the three-eighths, moved inside on the far turn, had to steady, losing valuable momentum, slipped through along the rail and finished well, just missing the place while two-and-a-half lengths behind the winner.