Much was made of the “Apollo Curse,” whereas no horse since Apollo in 1882 has won the Kentucky Derby without running as a two-year-old, prior to Saturday’s 144th Run for the Roses at Churchill Downs.
Justify turned that stat on its head when splashing home an easy winner of the 2018 Kentucky Derby (G1) over a sloppy, sealed track under the Twin Spires.
The Bob Baffert trainee tracked in second as Promises Fulfilled established fractions of :22.24, :47.77 and 1:11.01. Jockey Mike Smith kept Justify out of trouble on the pacesetter’s outside and was in prime position to take over when that rival began fading on the turn.
Justify had command through a mile in 1:37.35 but was threatened entering the lane by champion Good Magic, who bided his time between runners early on before shifting out to commence his bid upon hitting the stretch. However, despite his best effort, Good Magic just could not reel in Justify, who proceeded home in a final time of 2:04.20 for the 1 1/4-mile classic.
Justify lived up to his near 3-1 favoritism in the Kentucky Derby, paying $7.80 for the win. The chestnut son of Scat Daddy is campaigned by China Horse Club, Head of Plains Partners LLC, Starlight Racing and WinStar Farm, resulting in quite a crowded winner’s circle.
Good Magic finished 2 1/2 lengths behind Justify and just held second by a head over the rallying Audible. It was another 1 3/4 lengths back to Instilled Regard, who was followed under the wire by 6-1 second choice 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 and Mendelssohn.
Justify only began his career on February 18 and his three starts at Santa Anita Park prior to Saturday. The Kentucky-bred colt broke his maiden going seven furlongs by 9 1/2 lengths and followed a month later on March 11 with a 6 1/2-length score against allowance/optional claimers stretching out to a mile.
He kept his record perfect while capturing his stakes debut in the 1 1/16-mile Santa Anita Derby (G1) last out on April 7 by three lengths.
Bred by John D. Gunther, Justify is now a perfect four-for-four having banked $2,098,000 in lifetime earnings. He is out of the Grade 3-placed Ghostzapper mare Stage Magic, making him a half-brother to stakes runner-up The Lieutenant who just finished third in the Californian Stakes (G2) last Saturday. His third dam is Grade 3 heroine Voodoo Lily, and this female line also boasts Grade 2 victress Spellbound and multiple Grade 3 conqueror Kid Cruz.