'Just' That Good: Justify Completes Meteoric Ascent in Derby

Justify wins the Kentucky Derby | Horsephotos


The so-called Apollo curse–in existence for some 136 years since the colt of the same name won the 1882 Kentucky Derby without the benefit of a racetrack appearance at two–wasn't just stopped on a dismal Saturday afternoon at Churchill Downs; it was completely obliterated by WinStar Farm, China Horse Club, Starlight Racing and Head of Plans Partners' 'TDN Rising Star' Justify (Scat Daddy–Stage Magic, by Ghostzapper). The strapping chestnut, deemed by many an observer as a 'man among boys' in a 3-year-old crop widely judged as one of the strongest in perhaps a generation, rose to the occasion with a performance that evoked memories of and comparisons to the most recent 'horse of a lifetime,' namely Triple Crown winner American Pharoah (Pioneerof the Nile).

It has taken all of 76 days for Justify to go from an unraced prospect with a big reputation to king of the hill.

Sent off at 50 cents on the dollar for his Feb. 18 debut going seven furlongs at Santa Anita, he romped home by 9 1/2 lengths and the talk turned almost immediately to 'how do we get this colt to the Derby.' With rumors running rampant that Justify would jump straight into stakes company in a race like the GIII Sunland Derby at the end of March, connections quietly hoped that a first-level allowance in the book restricted to 3-year-olds at a mile at Santa Anita would fill and were in all likelihood loathe to hone in on that race, lest it not fill. In the end, the race went–one day after stablemate McKinzie (Street Sense) was demoted to second in the GII San Felipe S.–and Justify got the soft two-turn introduction connections were after with a 6 1/2-length success over a muddy strip.

“When he won his second race we were in [American] Pharoah territory,” Baffert said following Saturday's triumph, recounting the colt's development.

With his Derby future on the line in the GI Santa Anita Derby Apr. 7, Justify was sent off the 9-10 chalk and didn't have to work overly hard, as he led Bolt d'Oro around the track and was never in danger, winning by three lengths.

Justify turned in another jaw-dropping move prior to shipping to Kentucky, was the bee's knees as his every move was scrutinized following his arrival at Churchill early in the week and was sent off the 29-10 chalk in Derby 144. And the rest, as the saying goes, is history.

'Just' As They Drew It Up…

Bob Baffert hadn't yet made it to the Derby draw Tuesday, but was elated to learn that Justify had drawn gate seven. Even better, the main speed of the race, GII Xpressbet Fountain of Youth S. winner Promises Fulfilled (Shackleford) and potential pace influence Flameaway (Scat Daddy) drew even lower stalls, and that presented the possibility-on paper, at a minimum-of taking a sit outside one or both of those rivals. It doesn't always go as planned, but Justify was off to an alert beginning, even if he was bothered slightly by Good Magic (Curlin) to his inside, and, as scripted, strode forward with his powerful strides to sit second over a surface that began the day sound, but gradually deteriorated into a quagmire well before the Derby jumped at around 6:50 ET. Good Magic showed a fair bit of early interest to track from just behind the top two, while Bolt d'Oro raced just off Justify's flank and Flameaway saved ground from fifth. The pace figured fast and so it proved, as the first quarter was up in :22.24 and the field turned down the backside following a half-mile in an otherwise testing :45.77. If it was taking a toll on Justify, he certainly wasn't showing it, as he galloped along comfortably, appearing to have the front-runner at any point at which Mike Smith deemed appropriate. The pace slackened through the middle furlongs-three-quarters were up in 1:11.01–over a track that was bound to be tiring, and with the half-mile pole in the rearview, Smith gave Justify a bit of rein and allowed him to take the race by its throat. As anticipated, Promises Fulfilled was a spent force, but Bolt d'Oro and Good Magic were positioned perfectly to capitalize on any misstep from the favorite. Unfortunately for those two well-bet rivals and for the rest of the field, there were no chinks in the armor. Justify scraped the wood turning into the stretch and he and Good Magic pulled well clear of the remainder. Thrown a cross or two and cracked left-handed with a little more than an eighth of a mile to glory, Justify stuck to his guns and remained straight and strong through the line to make and simultaneously break history. Good Magic just lasted for second over GI Xpressbet Florida Derby winner Audible (Into Mischief), who may have won that photo but for being stopped momentarily behind the retreating Promises Fulfilled at the quarter pole. Instilled Regard (Arch), the last to make the Derby field and the race's biggest pari-mutuel outsider at 85-1, rattled home for fourth.

“Going into the race the main concern was just getting him out of the gate,” said Smith, who earned his first Derby win atop longshot Giacomo (Holy Bull) in 2005 and became the second-oldest jockey to win a Derby (Bill Shoemaker was 54 when riding Ferdinand in 1986). “This horse is so talented. I keep using the term 'above average' because he has a mind to him as well. It was a sigh of relief when I got him out of the gate and I just stayed out of his way. Bolt d'Oro came to my outside the first time by the wire and I figured if we were going fast up front, they're going fast behind me as well.”

Baffert was effusive in his praise of his fifth Derby winner.

“I knew the last eighth he was going to win. I was just in awe of the performance,” he said. “That's the best…Kentucky Derby-winning performance that I've brought up here. He just put himself up there with the greats. It takes a horse, you know, like American Pharoah. We knew he was capable. He showed me that–we were talking about–I didn't want to say it. Hey, I don't want to jinx myself, but we knew–I knew I had something really special, but he had to prove it today.”

Pedigree Notes:

One of two horses in the race bred by John Gunther, Justify is out of a Grade III-placed daughter of Magical Illusion (Pulpit), third to Ashado (Saint Ballado) in the 2004 GI Coaching Club American Oaks when it was contested over 10 furlongs. Justify's third dam was Grade III winner Voodoo Lily, dam of MGSP Lily O'Gold (Slew o'Gold) as well as Shah Jehan (Mr. Prospector), a $4.4-million KEESEP yearling who was stakes-placed at two in Ireland before adding a pair of graded placings in this country in 2002. The further female family includes MGSW Kid Cruz (Lemon Drop Kid) and GSW Spellbound (Bernardini). Stage Magic's 4-year-old daughter Holiday Music (Harlan's Holiday) was claimed for $30,000 out of a winning effort at the Fair Grounds Jan. 1. R.S. Evans and West Point Thoroughbreds teamed to purchase Justify's now 2-year-old half-sister for $230,000 from the Glennwood consignment at last year's Keeneland September sale. Now named Egyptian Storm, she recently worked a bullet three furlongs in :37.40 at Payson Park. Stage Magic's foal of 2017 is a colt by Will Take Charge and she produced a Pioneerof the Nile colt Apr. 19. Justify's win was the second Grade I of the afternoon as a broodmare sire for Ghostzapper, whose daughter American Story is responsible for GI Humana Distaff S. winner American Gal.

What They're Saying:

“I'm very proud of him. He attended a very fast pace. We knew going in that Justify looked like a big monster and we didn't want to be too far away. Jose (Ortiz) executed it perfect. I asked him to follow him even if the pace was a little quick to keep him in close range. We thought he was the horse to beat and it was true. Very proud of our horse. He held on for second there. We're working our way toward that winner's circle. It wasn't to be this year. It was a tough field. But I'm real proud of this horse. He kept fighting all the way to the end and he showed that he's a top-class horse.”Chad Brown, trainer, Good Magic

Audible ran best of our horses. Javier (Castellano) told me he couldn't get going early in the race. He said the horse had trouble with the track and the kickback. He just couldn't get him going. It's frustrating when something like this happens. Javier said he thought he might have been on the best horse if he could have got going earlier. Magnum Moon, Luis (Saez) said he didn't like the track at all. He said the kickback got to him. Johnny (Velazquez) said Vino Rosso didn't like it (the track) either. He just didn't want to be out there. Florent (Geroux) on Noble Indy got his trip; he just wasn't good enough.”Todd Pletcher, trainer of Audible (3rd), Vino Rosso (9th), Noble Indy (17), Magnum Moon (19th)

“At the three-eighths pole, I had a wall of horses come back into me. He got stopped dry, stopped dry. My argument, in the end, would be that he probably would have been third.”

jockey Kent Desormeaux, My Boy Jack, fifth

“He just got knocked over coming out of the gate and then he got knocked over again going into the first bend, but he'll be fine. He was never used to getting that much kickback. It's a totally different experience, you know, so, we'll be fine. We'll take him home and give him a break and come back (for the Breeders' Cup Classic). We'll look forward to the Classic with him.”

Aidan O'Brien, trainer, Mendelssohn (20th)

Saturday, Churchill Downs
KENTUCKY DERBY PRESENTED BY WOODFORD RESERVE-GI, $2,192,000, CD, 5-5, 3yo, 1 1/4m, 2:04.20, sy.
1–JUSTIFY, 126, c, 3, by Scat Daddy
1st Dam: Stage Magic {GSP, $133,981}, by Ghostzapper
2nd Dam: Magical Illusion, by Pulpit
3rd Dam: Voodoo Lily, by Baldski
'TDN Rising Star' ($500,000 Ylg '16 KEESEP). O-China Horse
Club, Head of Plains Partners LLC, Starlight Racing, WinStar
Farm; B-John D. Gunther (KY); T-Bob Baffert; J-Mike E. Smith.
$1,432,000. Lifetime Record: 4-4-0-0, $2,098,000. Werk Nick
Rating: A++. Click for the eNicks report & 5-cross pedigree.[bullet ad=”glennwood-bred-raised-sold”][bullet ad=”bsw-bloodstock-hop”][bullet ad=”kbif-derbyoaks-only-bullet”]2–Good Magic, 126, c, 3, Curlin–Glinda the Good, by Hard
Spun. ($1,000,000 Ylg '16 KEESEP). O-e Five Racing
Thoroughbreds and Stonestreet Stables LLC; B-Stonestreet
Thoroughbred Holdings LLC (KY); T-Chad C. Brown. $400,000.[bullet ad=”stonestreet-bredraised”][bullet ad=”hillndale-consigned”]3–Audible, 126, c, 3, Into Mischief–Blue Devil Bel, by Gilded
Time. ($175,000 Ylg '16 SARAUG; $500,000 2yo '17 FTFMAR).
O-China Horse Club, Head of Plains Partners LLC, Starlight
Racing, WinStar Farm; B-Oak Bluff Stables, LLC (NY); T-Todd A.
Pletcher. $200,000.[bullet ad=”equix-optimatch”][bullet ad=”crupi-trained”]Margins: 2HF, HD, 1 3/4. Odds: 2.90, 9.70, 7.00.
Also Ran: Instilled Regard, My Boy Jack, Bravazo, Hofburg, Lone Sailor, Vino Rosso, Solomini, Firenze Fire, Bolt d'Oro, Flameaway, Enticed, Promises Fulfilled, Free Drop Billy, Noble Indy, Combatant, Magnum Moon, Mendelssohn. Scratched: Blended Citizen. Click for the Equibase.com chart, the TJCIS.com PPs or the free Equineline.com catalogue-style pedigree. VIDEO, sponsored by Fasig-Tipton.

Not a subscriber? Click here to sign up for the daily PDF or alerts.

Copy Article Link


Never miss another story from the TDN

Click Here to sign up for a free subscription.