The Curse of Apollo has finally been broken. Justify emerged from a muddy Saturday at Churchill Downs to storm the 144th Kentucky Derby and become the first three-year-old to win the illustrious competition despite not racing as a juvenile. It’s a crowning achievement for the colt, who entered as the favorite and left as a champion.
The 144th Kentucky Derby track was rated sloppy for just the 8th time in its history, but that didn’t seem to impact Justify. The last time we saw him compete was in the Santa Anita Derby on a beautiful, California day. If there was anything that was going to prevent the Baffert trainee from winning, it was going to be adverse conditions. Or the curse. Or maybe Mendelssohn.
Nothing got in Justify’s way. With Mike Smith in the saddle, Justify settled in to second behind the expected pace setter, Promises Fulfilled. The field slogged through the half-mile at :45 3/5ths and as they careened around the final turn, Justify took over and bullied his way down the home stretch with a confident pace. He won in 2:04.20.
Good Magic, the 2017 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile winner who had become an afterthought in the lead up to the 144the Kentucky Derby, rallied from the middle of the pack to take over second place. He was fortunate to fend off a hard charging Audible, one of the favorite outsiders in the race, who finished third by a neck. It was actually an important statement for Good Magic, a horse that we’ve taken a bit for granted that routinely shows up strong on race day. Audible might have run a better race if he had been a favourable track. The fact that he rallied so well in the weather speaks well of him as well.
Rounding out the remainder of the field was Instilled Regard in fourth, My Boy Jack and Bravazo.
Finishing dead last was Mendelssohn, the 5/1 second choice who simply couldn’t keep up in the muck. His connections have already stated that they will return home and attempt to build their $3 million colt up for the 2018 Breeders’ Cup Classic.
Bob Baffert won his fifth Kentucky Derby and knew all along he had the favorite, but admitted that, “It’s been stressful for me all week, coming in here with a favorite that I knew was a real favorite. I knew we had the horse, but everything has to go well.” The team overcame weather, curses, an intensely deep field and the pressure of it all. What a moment.
“I think we won the toughest one—the Kentucky Derby, that’s the toughest and most important one,” Baffert continued. “If he wins the Preakness, then after that we’ll see. But I’m not like, we’re going to do this or that. We’re going to take it one race at a time.”
The 2018 Preakness Stakes will come down the pipe in a few weeks on Saturday, May 19th. Justify absolutely looks like he has the goods to be a Triple Crown champion. Beyond that, he has the steely resolve necessary. If everything continues to break his way, we could be looking at another living legend. The 144th Kentucky Derby was an excellent start for a horse that will continue to capture our attention.