You don’t tug on Superman’s cape. You don’t spit into the wind. You don’t pull the mask off the Ol’ Lone Ranger and you can’t win the Kentucky Derby unless you raced as a 2-year-old.
Apollo was the last and only horse to win the Kentucky Derby without racing as a juvenile, and that was back in 1882. Rules are made to be broken, though, and this particular “rule,” when it comes to sniffing out the Kentucky Derby winner, will be put to a severe test this year.
Justify was an unstarted Maiden as recently as Feb. 17. After destroying the field in his seven furlong debut Feb. 18, Justify answered the question about two turns in a dominating Allowance win in the mud going one mile March 11.
Wheeled back in the Grade I Santa Anita Derby last Saturday when stablemate McKinzie came up with an injury earlier in the week (McKinzie is now off the Triple Crown trail), all Justify had to do was take on seasoned Grade I winner Bolt d’Oro and prove himself going nine furlongs in his Stakes debut.
Justify broke alertly and was allowed to dictate the early pace when none of the others decided to go after him. He opened up about four lengths entering the backstretch, and was given a breather by Mike Smith entering the far turn. The Hall of Fame jockey purposely kept Justify off the rail as Bolt d’Oro made a run entering the stretch, and Justify responded by pulling away again late to win impressively.
The Bob Baffert trainee earned a 107 Beyer Speed Figure on a very dull Santa Anita main track despite spreading his right front shoe during the race. Baffert told Daily Racing Form’s Jay Privman that Justify “has caught up now.”
The huge son of Scat Daddy (he weighed in at a whopping 1,252 pounds prior to running in the Santa Anita Derby) will do the bulk of his Kentucky Derby prep work at Santa Anita with a shipping date to Churchill Downs still to be finalized.
One statistic in Justify’s corner: Every Kentucky Derby winner since 2011 – Animal Kingdom, I’ll Have Another, Orb, California Chrome, American Pharoah, Nyquist, and Always Dreaming – was undefeated in their 3-year-old season prior to the Kentucky Derby.
On to Magnum
This Saturday’s $1 million Grade I Arkansas Derby is the final prep race for Rebel Stakes winner Magnum Moon. Also unraced as a juvenile, he has enough Kentucky Derby qualifying points (50) to assure a spot in the starting gate on the first Saturday in May. He continues to improve with experience and a big race at Oaklawn Park would make him a major player at Churchill Downs.
His trainer Todd Pletcher has four horses with enough points to start in the Kentucky Derby (Audible, Vino Rosso, and Noble Indy are the others) and Magnum Moon could arguably be his barn’s best shot at the Derby distance of 1-1/4 miles.
Let’s see if he makes another forward move on Saturday.
SA Meet Ends
Last Sunday was closing day for the winter portion of the Santa Anita meet.
Evin Roman went from an apprentice to a journeyman during the meet and won the riding title with 46 victories. Flavien Prat was a clear second with 43 wins, while Drayden Van Dyke rounded out the top three with 37 wins.
Mike Smith only rode 21 winners at the meet, but he led all jockeys as his horses earned a whopping $2,727,618. There is a reason he is known as Big Money Mike.
Bob Baffert was the leading trainer with 35 wins, helped in part when runner-up Peter Miller (30 wins) was forced to sit out the final week of the meet due to a suspension. Richard Baltas saddled 29 winners to be third.
While the winter and spring Santa Anita meet records are kept separately, it seems a bit contradictory that the Pick Six jackpot, which was up to $518,537 going into Sunday, did not have a mandatory payout.
It could have provided a nice handle boost to what overall has been a solid winter meet.
Speaking of the Pick Six, there was a single winning ticket on Sunday good for a payout of $730,315. The winning ticket cost just $2 but was part of a batch bet investment of $39,874 through a Portland Oregon wagering hub.
Given the late odds changes seen on a regular basis, these batch bets are having a bigger and bigger impact on the recreational horseplayer.
Ready for spring
The spring portion of the Santa Anita meet starts this Friday and will have three-day race weeks (April 13-15 and 20-22) purposely scheduled to give the turf course some time to recover.
Given the rain in March, the turf should be in terrific shape for the final three months of the nearly seven month long meet at Santa Anita.
Several stables plan on having second strings on other circuits, including Baffert (Churchill Downs), Doug O’Neill (Keeneland), and Mick Ruis (Keeneland).
Track management is keeping a close eye on field size and participation from barns stabled on the backstretch.
Keep a close eye on apprentice Franklin Ceballos at the new meet. With Evin Roman now a journeyman and several of the top riders likely to be out of town during the Triple Crown races, Ceballos figures to get plenty of opportunities until his apprenticeship ends in late May.
Play of the Week
Santa Anita, Friday, Race 7 – Cinnamon Twist (1 post): Filly got parked wide throughout March 23, gets a positive rider switch to Joe Talamo, and her stalking style should play well in a field loaded with early speed.