LOUISVILLE, Ky. — Justify overcame what had to be a record rainfall and the Curse of Apollo when he cruised home the winner of the 144th running of the Kentucky Derby at Churchill Downs on May 5.
With a reported three inches of rain beating down on Central Kentucky, Justify became the first 3-year-old colt in 136 years to win the Derby without ever racing at age 2. Apollo was the last to it and, thus, the curse was named for him.
Racing for owners Kenny Trout of WinStar Farm, Ah Khing Ten of the China Horse Club, Jack Wolf and others' Starlight Racing and Sol Kumin's Head of the Plains Partners — Justify kept his perfect racing record intact at 4 for 4.
Once the race got going, long shot Promises Fulfilled and Corey Lanerie seized the lead and kept it for the first half mile that was run in in a snappy 45.77 seconds. But, Lanerie didn't have to crane his neck to find Smith and Justify. The colt's nose was just alongside the leader's girth.
Smith and Justify went after the lead with five furlongs remaining. They were racing on the engine around the far turn and opened a 2-1/2-length cushion.
The only serious challenge to Justify came at the three furlong marker when Breeders' Cup Juvenile winner Good Magic and New York riding champion Jose Ortiz loomed into view.
Smith switched his stick to his left hand and Justify put that rival away.
From there on, it was all Justify winning by 2-1/2 over Good Magic as the rain-soaked crowd of 157,813 roared. Audible, the Florida Derby winner, took third with Hall of Fame rider Javier Castellano in the saddle. They were just a head behind Good Magic.
Instilled Regard and jockey Drayden Van Dyke, the longest shots on the board at 85 to 1, finished fourth.
Hall of Fame jockey Mike Smith, who was riding his second Derby winner and his first since winning with Giacomo in 2005, said his mount has “unbelievable talent.” Referring to the rain and the huge field of 20 starters, Smith said, “He was lovin' this stuff. My vocabulary don't have the words for it.”
Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert reported early confidence in his colt's chances saying, “I knew we had a chance when he got away clean.” The silver-maned conditioner, who has saddled five Derby winners, said “I'd put him right up there with my top ones”
Those “top ones” include Silver Charm (1997), Real Quiet (1998), War Emblem (1992) and the Triple Crown Champion and Horse of the Year American Pharoah in 2015.
Winning the Kentucky Derby in only a horse's fourth lifetime start has been accomplished just twice before.
Big Brown did it in 2008. The New Jersey-bred filly Regret was the 2015 recipient of the bouquet of roses.
Justify earned $1.24 million for his owners and raised his lifetime purse total to over $1.90 million, a considerable profit over the $500,000 the son of Scat Daddy from the Ghost Zapper mare Stage Magic fetched at the Keeneland September Yearling Sale of 2016.
It may take partner Sol Kumin a little longer to total his Churchill winnings since he is also a partner in Monomoy Girl, the winner of the Kentucky Oaks on May 4.
If all the office 'pick-a-number' pools could be added in, the Kentucky Derby would be one of the largest per capita betting operations in the world. As it is, its inter-track and on site wagering is enough to catch a bettor's eye.
This year, Justify was the pari-mutuel favorite who returned $7.60 to win for every $2 wagered. He was worth $6.00 and $4.40 to place and show.
Good Magic, 2017 Breeders' Cup Juvenile winner, was worth $9.20 to place and $6.60 to show. Audible, the Holy Bull and Florida Derby winner paid $5.80.
A $2 exacta of Justify and Good Magic paid $69.60. A 50-cent trifecta bet on Justify, Good Magic and Audible to finish in that order brought back $70.70.
The day after the Derby, the Baffert camp had not yet made firm commitment to the May 19 running of Leg 2 of the Triple Crown, Pimlico's Preakness.
Trainer Chad Brown did indicate he was considering a trip to Baltimore for Good Magic.
Elliot Walden of WinStar reported the June 9 running of the Belmont might be on Audible's schedule.
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