Usually a week after the Kentucky Derby, the dust has settled and most eyes will turn to the second leg of the Triple Crown, the Preakness Stakes with mild curiosity. Some Thoroughbreds bring a large following due to an impressive two-year-old campaign or impeccable breeding and connections. Some Thoroughbreds bring a rags-to-riches story that warms the hearts of the public and racing fans alike and sometimes, Thoroughbreds captivate their audiences with supreme shows of athleticism in spite of extenuating circumstances or challenges. Justify, winner of the 144th Kentucky Derby, would be the latter.
Justify came to the Kentucky Derby lightly raced but highly praised by his trainer, Bob Baffert. There was no shortage of compliments in the days leading up to the Derby as Baffert described the Thoroughbred as a “superior racehorse”, a term that he has used before with champions like Arrogate and 2015 Triple Crown winner, American Pharaoh. The message was loud and clear. Justify stepped out as the morning line favorite when he was paraded into the soggy paddock at Churchill Downs on May 5th. The presence and mind of the animal spoke volumes about the brilliance seen in his morning works and his previous races, the most recent being the (G1) Santa Anita Derby where Justify faced a serious contender in Bolt D’oro.
At Santa Anita, Bolt D’oro couldn’t catch the chestnut colt in what was essentially a match race between the (G2) San Felipe winner and Justify. When the rain poured down (2.33″) on Churchill Downs, many with Baffert included started to wonder – the colt proved he liked an off track in his third start but this wasn’t Santa Anita. This was Churchill Downs and his first time racing on any other track. The colt got the start he needed, breaking eagerly and quickly from the gate to stride easily beside expected-pacesetter Promises Fulfilled. By the final turn for home, Justify passed the Dale Romans runner while Bolt D’oro gave a valiant show of heart as he tried to make a move on the Winstar runner in the final turn. Bolt faded, failing again to maintain the speed that Justify so easily maintained while Good Magic gave a brave effort in securing second-place to Justify.
He came striding powerfully forward and gave a moment of doubt as he tried to close against Baffert’s “Big Red”. Somewhere in the mud and mire, Justify found another kick of energy and secured his place in the history books as the winner of the 144th Kentucky Derby. There was something eerie about how effortlessly the colt made the win look, reaffirming that he was “a man among boys” as he came powerfully striding in those last few muddy lengths as Good Magic tried to find a way to compete with what might be the top runner of 2018.
Justify teased audiences of the show he is capable of giving on this Triple Crown season. With rain in the forecast for Pimlico and with Chad Brown trying to recreate the magic seen before in the Breeder’s Cup Juvenile and Bluegrass Stakes, the possibilities are endless.