By Christie DeBernardis
‘TDN Rising Star’ Justify (Scat Daddy) has done everything right in his brief career, winning all three of his races in style, including a victory over highly regarded MGISW Bolt d’Oro (Medaglia d’Oro) in the GI Santa Anita Derby Apr. 7. The hulking chestnut has continued to impress the racing world since with dazzling workouts and strong gallops at Churchill Downs. While many have Justify fever, there are plenty of people making the argument against the favorite based on Apollo’s curse, lack of travel, limited experience and good trips. All of the questions will be answered Saturday as Justify lines up as the morning-line favorite for the GI Kentucky Derby.
The Bob Baffert trainee won’t have it easy as he faces what is arguably one of the saltiest fields in Derby history. In addition to his past foe Bolt d’Oro, who has all the right qualities to take this 10-furlong test, Justify will take on a strong candidate that he shares ownership with in GI Florida Derby hero Audible (Into Mischief). The rapidly improving colt enters on a four-race win streak, capped off by powerful victories in the GII Holy Bull S. Feb. 3 and the Mar. 31 Florida Derby, a race which fellow Todd Pletcher pupil Always Dreaming (Bodemeister) used as a springboard to taking home the roses last year, as did 2013 Derby hero Orb (Malibu Moon) and 2016 victor Nyquist (Uncle Mo). Florida Derby runner-up Hofburg (Tapit) has been one of the talking horses in Louisville this week and clearly has the confidence of his Hall of Fame conditioner Bill Mott, who is known for his patient tactics. The Juddmonte homebred last effort makes him one to watch for the exotics.
Drawn in between Audible and Justify in post six is champion Good Magic (Curlin). Looking like a short horse when third in the GII Fountain of Youth S., the chestnut rebounded with a decisive score in the GII Toyota Blue Grass S. and comes from a barn known for having horses ready to roll on the big days. Runner-up Flameaway (Scat Daddy) may be one of the most consistent horses in the field and should be considered for a minor award.
Another horse who has been the talk of the town since his last race and his arrival in Louisville is the regally bred Mendelssohn (Scat Daddy). Winner of the GI Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf last term, the $3 million KEESEP topper is two-for-two this term with a win on synthetic in the Patton S. at Dundalk Mar. 9 and an 18 1/2-length tour de force when trying dirt for the first time in the G2 UAE Derby Mar. 31. The knocks against this runner are the weak field he faced in Dubai and the failures of past European/Dubai invaders on the First Saturday in May, but he is bred for this being a half-brother to four-time champion Beholder (Henny Hughes) and trainer Aidan O’Brien can never be counted out.
The other unbeaten contender looking to defy Apollo’s curse is ‘TDN Rising Star’ Magnum Moon (Malibu Moon). His record stands at a perfect four-for-four, including dominant scores in the GII Rebel S. Mar. 17 and GI Arkansas Derby Apr. 14, in which he bore out in the stretch. Pletcher also sends out two more Derby hopefuls in GII Wood Memorial S. victor Vino Rosso (Curlin) and GII Louisiana Derby winner and ‘TDN Rising Star’ Noble Indy (Take Charge Indy).