Triple Crown run might be justified for Kentucky Derby winner
May 08, 2018 3:07 AM
by Steve Davidowitz
So Justify not only justified his role as the betting favorite in Saturday’s Kentucky Derby, he did it while enhancing his reputation as a possible Triple Crown winner.
First things first: While we still have 11 days from this date until the 1-3/16 mile Preakness is run at Pimlico in Maryland, realistically, I must ask this question:
What 3-year-old in the world presently seems a realistic danger to defeat Justify in the next stop of racing’s historic Triple Crown?
I hardly believe second place finisher Good Magic, or third place finisher Audible can overcome a healthy Justify in the Preakness. Realistically, both are questionable starters in the middle jewel in racing’s Triple Crown. Moreover, from what we all saw in the Derby, who would be worried that an unexpected deluge on May 18 and/or 19 might have a negative impact on Bob Baffert’s fifth career Derby winner.
In the heavy rain on Churchill Downs’ sloppy racetrack, all Justify did on Saturday was press fast early fractions normally associated with a sprint race before he took command in the final 5 furlongs to win by 2-1/2 lengths. Make no mistake, the early pace duel and the fast fractions combined to provide a scenario every trainer of a Derby stretch-running contender could only dream about.
Yet, despite those fast fractions – 22.24 for the first quarter, 45.77 for the half – Justify finished his final six furlongs faster than any of the so-called stretch runners who came out of the final turn without gaining an inch to the wire.
When all is assessed – when the dynamics of this 1-1/4 mile classic are put into context – Justify was the winner by 2-1/2 comfortable lengths to earn a solid Beyer Speed Figure of 103. Just as impressively, he galloped-out another quarter mile well in front of the field, with no urging from his highly accomplished jockey, Mike Smith.
Actually, I thought Justify was winning this Derby with speed in reserve and Baffert thought the same just hours after the race and again the following morning.
“Looks like we’ll be going to Pimlico early next week,” Baffert said.
Meanwhile, very few trainers of the 19 horses who finished behind Justify seem willing to consider a similar trip to Maryland. Of course, some owners of those defeated horses might insist upon trying the Preakness, but they probably will have to go against the advice of their trainers.
But, even if Justify does win the Preakness, for him to go on from there to win the 1-1/2 mile Belmont Stakes is beyond simple computation. First, if he does carry a Preakness win into the Belmont, Justify would remain undefeated and be on the verge of a rare sweep of the American Triple Crown. Were he to do all that, Justify’s overall record would place him among the All Time Greats and he would be setting a new standard for equine performance by a 3-year-old that might not be equaled during our lifetimes.
Is Justify that good? Is he really capable of extending his career winning streak to five and/or six races during the next month?
Thus far, it has been relatively easy for him, given that he’s earned Beyer Figures of 104, 101, 107 and 103 in his four strong victories since he started his career on Feb. 18.
Remember also, this was a rare Derby winner who did not race as a 2-year-old. Of equal relevance, this was a Derby where the near-unanimous opinion going into the race was that the field was very good to exceptional.
Not only did the vast majority of racing columnists and public handicappers point out that the race included a long list of Derby prep-stakes winners, there was near unanimity that this Derby was so strong, so balanced, many in the field were picked to land in the Churchill Downs Winner’s Circle.
Forgive me for pointing out that before the race in this publication, I labeled Justify in the strongest possible terms; he seemed so talented and had trained so brilliantly (see his 7-furlong workout in 1:25-1/5 at Santa Anita on April 27) that I could not make a win case for any other horse in the field.
And, if you were at my joint seminar with Richard Eng and Brian Blessing, Friday evening at Sunset Station, you heard me share those same thoughts just as strongly.
Speaking of Rich Eng, he did make a great point, seconded by Brian, when he gave Mendelssohn “absolutely no chance to win the Derby” due to his owner and trainer deciding to bring him to Kentucky with so little time to adjust to the surroundings.
“Can’t come from Dubai with less than a week before the big race and expect to do well,” Richard said. So, all Mendelssohn did in the Kentucky Derby was finished last of the 20 in the field. Nice point Richard!
Added Notes: It is definitely worth noting Monomoy Girl won the Kentucky Oaks on Friday and on Saturday, right before the Derby, Yoshida impressively won the $500K Turf Classic.