Justify in the mists of the Kentucky Derby

Out of the Mists and on to History

On May 19th, looking like ghosts in the mist, two horses emerged from the fog. Two white blazes battled side-by-side, matching stride for stride as both steeds tried to pull away. For the crowds that waited in the grandstand, watched in the Club House, stared from the infield, they were heart-wrenching, agonizing moments that seemed to stretch into eternity.

Two weeks earlier in Kentucky, these two individuals had battled it out beneath the Twin Spires. Justify kept stride with early pacesetter Promises Fulfilled, setting fractions that had even Bob Baffert a little nervous. He had good reason to be – Justify’s Kentucky Derby first half mile would go down as the third fastest in Derby history. Good Magic, Eclipse Champion Two-Year-Old, came charging down the stretch to duel with Justify and earn a well-respected second-place finish. Justify found another gear as Good Magic came barreling down the stretch and pulled away from the Breeder’s Cup Juvenile winner.

It was an impressive finish. Not only had Justify broken the Curse of Apollo (no unraced two-year-old haJustify’s Kentucky Derbys won the Kentucky Derby since Apollo in 1882), the Winstar colt maintained his undefeated streak. Justify suffered a minor setback in the form of a bruised heel which sent the media into a frenzy and doubters of the Scat Daddy son thinking that he had possibly reached the end of his Triple Crown campaign. The impressive romp in the mud with one of the deepest fields of colts in recent memory had exacted a price outside of the betting window.

However, Bob Baffert and his team can work wonders, as seen with American Pharaoh in 2015. In October 2014, the future Triple Crown winner developed a deep bruise on following a workout at Santa Anita. It would prevent him from running in that year’s Breeder’s Cup Juvenile, but farrier Wes Champagne kept him outfitted with a unique shoe throughout his Triple Crown run and well into the summer Classic’s. Champagne was called on again on May 9th, flown from Florida and gave the Kentucky Derby winner a ¾ shoe to workout with the following week. That shoe was changed out to a Victory shoe with a covered area to protect the bruise and Justify was flown to Baltimore.

The chestnut colt has a way with Mother Nature, and his victories, where Churchill Downs saw the most rain ever in Kentucky Derby history, Maryland saw little to nothing thanks to the record-setting fog. Both Good Magic and Justify broke strongly, immediately going for the lead, identifiable only by their white blazes in a shadowy pack of horses. Good Magic and Justify dueled for an impressive 5/8 of a mile, lost entirely in a race all their own, fulfilling the words of Jose Ortiz, jockey of Good Magic, that he would “have to turn it into a match race” refusing to give Justify an inch.

The final furlong turned into a strenuous one as Good Magic faded to a disappointing 4th while Calumet’s Bravazo came thundering down to almost catch the undefeated Justify with Tenfold, the 5th place finisher in the (G2) Arkansas Derby, right behind him.

Despite going almost 3 seconds faster than American Pharaoh, whom the racing community can’t help but compare the newest Triple Crown contender with his ties to Bob Baffert, many felt that the Scat Daddy colt showed a less than impressive win over 20-1 longshot Bravazo. Perhaps it is the bruised heel, the track which Bob Baffert considered much deeper than the sloppy track at Churchill Downs, the essential match race that Good Magic and Justify ran or maybe the big red colt is finally getting tired. Justify has been undefeated in his five starts since his breaking his maiden in February. If he goes on to the Belmont, which all indications for that race are a go, that will make six races in four months. That is something that might have been commonplace in the golden age of racing but isn’t often seen in today’s era.

The colt has propelled himself to the top tiers of the sport, going from an allowance race in February to the Kentucky Derby in May. Should he find a way to beat the “Test of Champions” on June 9th, Justify will go down in the history books as another great in the Sport of Kings.