By Alan Carasso
The lightly raced ‘TDN Rising Star’ Justify (Scat Daddy) drew post seven and was promptly installed the 3-1 favorite on Mike Battaglia’s morning line for Saturday’s 144th running of the GI Kentucky Derby at Churchill Downs.
“That’s a good spot,” trainer Bob Baffert, who will be seeking his fourth Derby win, said after the post position draw Tuesday at Churchill. “We didn’t want to be in the one-hole and we didn’t want to be 20. Seven is fine, but he still has to break well. If he doesn’t break well, it doesn’t matter what hole he’s in. We only have one option. We have to break. He’s lightly raced and he has to leave there running.”
Baffert admitted he had had little time to worry about the post position draw.
“I’m glad I got here late,” he said. “I was still in the parking lot when it happened, so I didn’t get a chance to fret. I walked in and saw Justify seven and was like, ‘I’ll take that.'”
Owned by China Horse Club, Head of Plains Partners, Starlight Racing and WinStar Farm, Justify is undefeated and really untested in his three career appearances to date, including a sound defeat of Bolt d’Oro (Medaglia d’Oro) (8-1, post 11) in the GI Santa Anita Derby Apr. 7.
Justify is one of two unbeaten colts in the race, joining fellow ‘TDN Rising Star’ Magnum Moon (Malibu Moon), who is 6-1 on the morning line and will break from the auxiliary gate in stall 16 for owners Robert and Lawana Low and trainer Todd Pletcher.
Pletcher entered four horses in the Derby and three of the four will break from the auxiliary gate, with GII Louisiana Derby winner Noble Indy (Take Charge Indy) in post 19 at 30-1 and GII Wood Memorial winner Vino Rosso (Curlin) in post 18 at 12-1. Audible (Into Mischief) will be the lone ‘Todd Squad’ runner in the main gate, having drawn post five. The GI Florida Derby winner is 8-1 on the morning line.
“Ideally, I wouldn’t want three of my four horses in the auxiliary gate,” Pletcher admitted. “But it’s horse racing and that’s what happens. We’ve all seen it before: good trips from bad posts, or vice versa. But in the end, it’s out of my control, so it’s all good. Both Magnum Moon and Noble Indy have tactical speed, so in a best-case scenario, they’ll be able to get good spots despite the post. This is very much a rider’s race and I’ve got four of the best riders around, which makes me feel good. When they went through the first 10 horses and I hadn’t gotten in the mix yet, I thought maybe they’d lost my entries. But it all worked out for the best. We’ll hope for a good break for our horses and then see what happens. It figures to be a very interesting race.”
Mendelssohn (Scat Daddy), one of four in the race for his late sire and recent tearaway winner of the G2 UAE Derby, was made the 5-1 second choice on the morning line. The 2016 Keeneland September sales topper at $3 million drew gate 14 and it waits to be seen what sort of trip he will sit. He’s proved before he can take back and make a run, but should connections elect to go forward, he could be looking at a three- or four-wide run into the first turn. That owes to the fact that speedy Promises Fulfilled (Shackleford) and Flameaway (Scat Daddy) have drawn three and four, respectively.
Curlin is in with three chances to win the Derby. In addition to Vino Rosso, the Hill ‘n’ Dale stallion will be represented by the Baffert-trained Solomini (post 17, 30-1) and by last year’s juvenile champion Good Magic. Trained by Chad Brown for e Five Racing and Stronestreet Stables, Good Magic drew post six and is 12-1 on the morning line.
“I’m perfectly fine with the six,” Brown said. “I wouldn’t want to be any farther inside, but he’ll get to save some ground there and he’s got a really good horse to his outside in Justify that will provide him with a horse to follow into the first turn.”
Baffert, who is expecting a contentious renewal of the ‘Run for the Roses,’ said the draw seemed to be fair to all the main competitors.
“It’s one of the toughest Derbys that I’ve ever seen and one of the best draws that I’ve ever seen,” Baffert said. “The most important horses got good draws. My excuses are really dwindling, so now I’ve got to come with the horse. [Justify] is a horse that just going to fall away from there. I would’ve preferred to have seen him somewhere on the inside to save some ground, but I think everyone should be happy with their draw. I have Solomini in there to pick up the pieces in case things fall apart up front. It’s nice to have a couple more weapons.”
What They’re Saying at the Draw…
“I think it’s a lot better than 19 or 20, really. I’d rather be inside. I’m OK with it.”
Trainer Jason Servis, Firenze Fire, post 1, 50-1
“If I had to handpick the posts, I probably would’ve picked a little differently. It is what it is. We’ll work with what we have. Promises Fulfilled will go to the front and Free Drop Billy will be closing late.”
Trainer Dale Romans, Free Drop Billy, post 2, 30-1; Promises Fulfilled, post 3, 30-1
“I love it. We’ve said all along we’re going to be up close to the lead. And look, we know that we need some things to go our way, and I think that this was the start of it. It’s always nice to run the shortest way around on the inside. I think it’s great.”
Trainer Mark Casse, Flameaway, post 4, 30-1
“We couldn’t be happier. All the speed is to the inside, I’m sure it’ll go; there’s some speed to the outside. Hopefully there’ll be plenty of room for us to settle somewhere midpack. It’ll be entirely up to the jockey, but you don’t want to be too far back and I don’t think he has to be. But he won’t be fighting for the front here, for definite. The front here is positioned to go, so I would hope there’s going to be room there in the middle for people to just pick a nice spot. I just hope he gets a nice, comfortable position so he can move in the second half of the race. The draw seems to set up for everybody to be relatively happy.”
Juddmonte Farm manager Garrett O’Rourke, Hofburg, post 9, 20-1
“Perfect; right in the middle. We wanted to be there or farther outside. With our [late-running] style, we just didn’t want to be inside and taking a lot of dirt in the face right away.”
Trainer Keith Desormeaux, My Boy Jack, post 10, 30-1
“It’s great. We’re very happy. We weren’t going to be unhappy unless we had the 1 hole. The 12 is a good spot in the middle of the pack.”
Trainer Kiaran McLaughlin, Enticed, post 12, 30-1
“I was hoping for 15, but 13 is pretty close. I like the horses around us. I thought it was an excellent draw. I’m really pleased.”
Trainer D. Wayne Lukas, Bravazo, post 13, 50-1
KENTUCKY DERBY 144
1 Firenze Fire (Poseidon’s Warrior), Lopez, Jason Servis, 50
2 Free Drop Billy (Union Rags), Albarado, Romans, 30
3 Promises Fulfilled (Shackleford), Lanerie, Romans, 30
4 Flameaway (Scat Daddy), Lezcano, Casse, 30
5 Audible (Into Mischief), Castellano, Pletcher, 8
6 Good Magic (Curlin), Ortiz, Brown, 12
7 Justify (Scat Daddy), Smith, Baffert, 3
8 Lone Sailor (Majestic Warrior), Graham, Amoss, 50
9 Hofburg (Tapit), Ortiz Jr., Mott, 20
10 My Boy Jack (Creative Cause), Desormeaux, Desormeaux, 30
11 Bolt d’Oro (Medaglia d’Oro), Espinoza, Ruis, 8
12 Enticed (Medaglia d’Oro), Alvarado, McLaughlin, 30
13 Bravazo (Awesome Again), Lukas, Contreras, 50
14 Mendelssohn (Scat Daddy), Moore, O’Brien, 5
15 Instilled Regard (Arch), Van Dyke, Hollendorfer, 50
16 Magnum Moon (Malibu Moon), Saez, Pletcher, 6
17 Solomini (Curlin), Prat, Baffert, 30
18 Vino Rosso (Curlin), Velazquez, Pletcher, 12
19 Noble Indy (Take Charge Indy), Geroux, Pletcher, 30
20 Combatant (Scat Daddy), Santana Jr, Asmussen, 50
AE Blended Citizen (Proud Citizen), Frey, O’Neill, 50