JUSTIFY (c, Scat Daddy–Stage Magic, by Ghostzapper)
‘TDN Rising Star’ O-China Horse Club, Head of Plains Partners LLC, Starlight Racing & WinStar Farm. B- John D. Gunther (KY). T-Bob Baffert. Sales history: $500,000 yrl KEESEP ’16. Lifetime Record: MGISW, 4-4-0-0, $2,098,000.
Justify’s emphatic, real-deal Derby victory comes with no excuses or caveats to suggest that it was anything other than a world-class unveiling for a potentially crop-defining phenom. The field of 20? The slop? The demanding 10-furlong distance? The burden of favoritism on such a lightly raced but highly hyped contender? None of these were issues for this undefeated, long-reaching $500,000 KEESEP Scat Daddy colt who toyed with a deeply talented field on Derby day with the precision of a tightly torqued metronome. This ‘TDN Rising Star’ assertively pressured an aggressive pacemaker through fast splits while maintaining the composure of a much older, well-seasoned stakes competitor, enabling Justify to take aim and get first run on the tiring Promises Fulfilled (Shackleford) when, where, and exactly how jockey Mike Smith wanted. Justify was still hand ridden through the far turn while repulsing a two-pronged attack from an all-out Bolt d’Oro (Medaglia d’Oro) and then a relentless Good Magic (Curlin), and when Smith finally set his colt down straightening for home the response was rapid, fluid, and probably did not scrape the bottom of this brawny chestnut’s ample stamina reserve. Beyond a “minor” skin irritation that was causing Justify some superficial discomfort on the morning after the Derby, trainer Bob Baffert said the colt emerged from the race healthy and will plan for an assault on Baltimore, where his commanding presence is likely to scare away most of the Derby rivals who finished in his muddy wake on Saturday.