LOUISVILLE, KY – The 136-year wait is over.
Justify put forth a resounding effort to win the 144th running of the Kentucky Derby at Churchill Downs. In doing so, Justify became the first horse since Apollo in 1882 to win the Run for the Roses while not having raced once as a 2-year-old.
Breaking sharply from gate 7 under Hall of Fame jockey Mike Smith, Justify was able to clear many of the foes to his inside as the field passed the crowd of over 151,000 cheering fans for the first time. Heading into the first turn, Justify sat just to the outside of early pacesetter Promises Fulfilled, which helped Justify avoid having any mud splashed into his face. Exiting the far turn and heading down the backside, Justify remained glued to Promises Fulfilled’s right hip while blazing through opening fractions of :22. for the first 1/4-mile and :45 for the first 1/2-mile.
For the unitiated, these are almost unsustainable fractions when the leaders still have another 3/4 of a mile to go. For a wunderkind like Justify, though, it’s chump change.
“Going into the race, the main concern was just getting him out of the gate,” Smith said. “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.”
Justify and Promises Fulfilled continued to lead down the backside while the rest of the field got into formation behind them. Heading toward the far turn, Justify took command, then angled down toward the rail to splash mud at Promises Fulfilled, ensuring that he wasn’t going to pose a threat. Behind Justify, however, a three-headed monster consisting Good Magic, Audible, and Bolt d’Oro was beginning to move forward after having closely stalked down the backside. Exiting the far turn, Smith peeked behind him and saw Good Magic inching closer. Smith gave Justify a shake of the reins, then another, but Good Magic kept coming. Transitioning to the riding crop, Smith gave a single crack to Justify’s hind quarters, and the rest was history.
The crowd roared and cheered as the 5-2 betting favorite crossed the wire first by 2 1/2 lengths in a final time of 2:04.20, forever stamping his place in horse racing lore.
“When he got away clean, I thought we had a chance,” said Justify’s trainer, Bob Baffert. “Mike took his time. I knew it was going to be a hot pace, but he was doing it easy. It took a great horse to do what he did today.”
Good Magic dug in gamely under Jose Ortiz to hold off a late-rallying Audible in the shadow of the wire, taking second by a head in a photo finish. A $2 Justify-Good Magic exacta bet paid $69.60.
“I really thought I was going to get there,” Ortiz said. “It felt great to be in the position I was in. My horse tried so hard and I can’t wait for his future. We had a great trip and he ran so hard.”
Though he missed second by such a slim margin, jockey Javier Castellano was satisfied with how his steed performed while rounding out the $1 trifecta payout of $141.40.
“I had a perfect trip,” Castellano said. “That’s why I was looking forward to today, because I knew there was a lot of speed. He was the only horse that came from behind. I was proud the way he did it. He finished good. I’m satisfied the way he did it.”
At 80-1, Instilled Regard was the second-longest shot on the board, but nobody told him that. After breaking from post 15 under Drayden Van Dyke (who was making his Derby debut), he was immediately slammed and had to take back and save ground early. The move might have worked in his favor, though, because Instilled Regard’s stored energy allowed him to get up for fourth late and complete the $1 superfecta, which paid $19,618.20.
“I got slammed out of the gate pretty good,” Van Dyke said. “I would have liked to be a tad bit closer, but I ended up with a pretty good trip without getting stopped. I got in a little situation turning for home as I had to weave through a couple of horses, but I got a clear run down the lane. He had a good chance to really run down the lane. He ran hard and good. Fourth is huge.”
While many pundits predicted that My Boy Jack would be bet down far below his 30-1 morning line odds, nobody could’ve predicted that he would’ve plummeted all the way down to 6-1. My Boy Jack’s recent success winning in similarly sloppy conditions was likely the driving force behind his big push, but his late-running kick wasn’t enough to overcome a traffic cluster in the stretch. Racing under jockey Kent Desormeaux, My Boy Jack was able to secure only a fifth-place finish.
“At the 3/8 pole, I had a wall of horses come back into me,” Desormeaux said. “He got stopped dry, stopped dry. My argument, in the end, would be that he probably would have been third.”
Bravazo moved around as well as he could while running wide for much of the race and took sixth under Luis Contreras as a 60-1 longshot.
“I was surprised how good he handled the sloppy track,” Contreras said. “I got a good break and tried to stay as close as I could. I got a bit of a wide trip, but it happens in a race like this. He moved very good on the far turn, but horses passed me in the end.”
Hofburg, the lightly-raced “Wise Guy” horse entering the Derby, took seventh under Irad Ortiz, Jr.
“It went pretty good at first, then horses came backing up in front of me and I had nowhere to go,” said Ortiz, Jr. “I had to check him a little bit, and after that, he came back. When I asked him, he was there, he was coming.”
Unlike Bravazo, Lone Sailor found himself stuck along the rail under James Graham and could only get eighth.
“I had a great trip,” Graham said. “I was on the fence the whole way and got a little unlucky.”
Vino Rosso wasn’t able to make his strong turn of foot work in the mud and finished ninth after breaking wide from post 18. His jockey, John Velazquez, had ridden Audible to both of his Kentucky Derby prep race wins at Gulfstream Park but opted to stay aboard the Grade 2 Wood Memorial winner here.
“He broke well,” Velazquez said. “It’s tough, obviously, starting that far outside. We got into a good position in the far turn but just couldn’t make up that much ground.”
Wearing the same colors as American Pharoah, the 2015 Triple Crown, Solomini wasn’t able to find the same success, crossing in 10th under Flavien Prat.
“The track (condition) didn’t bother him,” Prat said. “We stayed on the fence and made a nice run at the end. He ran the way he was supposed to.”
Firenze Fire tracked the leaders in the opening stages with Paco Lopez aboard but faltered in the stretch and faded.
“I had perfect position,” Lopez said. “My horse tried very hard, but he got tired.”
Bolt d’Oro couldn’t sustain his run, either, fading badly after closely chasing the early pace to finish 12th under three-time Derby winner Victor Espinoza.
“I had a great trip,” Espinoza said. “I just didn’t have enough horse to run with them. I was where I wanted to be. I was stalking the favorite all the way around, but I was pretty much done at the 1/2-mile pole.”
As the day wore on and the track continued to deteriorate in the rain, some bettors recalled Flameaway‘s proven success in the dirt and bet accordingly, but they were surely disappointed when he faded to finish 13th.
“We broke well and were in a good spot into the turn,” said rider Jose Lezcano. “We got to the rail and rated well on the backstretch. When I asked him to go, he didn’t respond.”
Enticed was bumped at the start and never recovered over a course not to his liking, finishing 14th under Junior Alvarado.
“I don’t think he got over the track well today,” Alvarado said.
To the surprise of very few, the early speedster Promises Fulfilled faded after leading initially and crossed in 15th with jockey Corey Lanerie.
“The distance was just too much for him,” Lanerie said.
Free Drop Billy, Promises Fulfilled’s stablemate in the Dale Romans barn, followed behind in 16th. Breaking from post 2, he was off slow before settling on the rail, then failed to move when rider Robby Albarado asked him.
“It’ll be fun one year whenever Dale wins the Derby,” Albarado said. “He didn’t fire.”
Noble Indy was up close but very wide early, and when jockey Florent Geroux tried to make him move, the extra distance seemed to have taken its toll and he faded to finish 17th.
“My horse did not like the wet track,” Geroux said. I was happy with the trip I had on the outside. I was about to take a good position but floated two-three wide on the first turn. He just didn’t handle the off going very well.”
Combatant broke from post 20, the widest of any horse, but despite his style as a closer, the mud seemed to bother him and he never fired, finishing 18th under Ricardo Santana, Jr.
“I tried to get him into the best spot I could breaking from that far out, but he never really handled the kickback,” said Santana, Jr.
Magnum Moon, winner of two straight prep races at Oaklawn Park before the Derby, was also unraced as a 2-year-old. Unlike the eventual winner, however, Magnum Moon was hit multiple times and experienced severe traffic trouble early. Under Luis Saez, he crossed in 19th.
“He broke and put his ears back,” Saez said. “A couple of jumps after the start, everyone was on top of me and I couldn’t get the spot I wanted. We will see in the next race if he will be any better. I didn’t think liked the track, either.”
Perhaps the biggest heartbreak of all, though, was the internationally-famous Mendelssohn. A winner of several top-tier events on three different continents, Mendelssohn was the 6-1 co-second favorite at the betting window. As soon as he broke from post 14, though, a wall of horses broke inward from his outside and slammed into him. While jockey Ryan Moore tried to push Mendelssohn through the mess and get him forwardly-placed, he continued to get hit from both sides while also facing severe kickback. By the time he entered the first turn, Moore knew that Mendelssohn was finished.
“He got beat up out the gate and proceeded to check on the first turn and was never in a good place,” Moore said. “The race was over then. The track condition did not bother him; he had a rough trip early on.”
Those disappointed with the result need not worry, though. Assuming he returns sound to his home base in Ireland, American fans will get another chance to see Mendelssohn in the fall, at this very same location.
“We’ll take him home and give him a break and come back (for the Breeders’ Cup Classic),” said his trainer, Aidan O’Brien. “We’ll look forward to the Classic with him.”
Justify’s win kept his spotless record intact through four career starts. The son of Scat Daddy increased his career bankroll to $2,098,000 for owners China Horse Club, Head of Plains Partners, Starlight Racing, and WinStar Farm.
“We saw something really great,” Baffert said. “That’s greatness right there.”
Justify returned $7.80 to win, $6 to place, and $4.40 to show. Good Magic brought back $9.20 to place and $6.60 to show, while Audible paid $5.80 to show.