Trainer Bob Baffert has smashed a 136-year hoodoo with Justify splashing through the mud to win the Kentucky Derby at Churchill Downs.
Not since Apollo in 1882 had a colt won the Run to the Roses without racing as a two-year-old.
Baffert is now in a position to make another run at the Triple Crown.
Three years ago he trained American Pharoah to the sport’s first sweep of the Derby, Preakness and Belmont in 37 years and just the 12th ever.
Records and streaks are made to be broken and Baffert is certainly on a roll.
The Derby record for most wins by a trainer is within Baffert’s grasp too. With his fifth victory, the 65-year-old is tied for second and trails only Ben Jones who won six.
Mike Smith earned his second Derby victory, becoming at 52 the second-oldest winning jockey. Bill Shoemaker was 54 when he won with Ferdinand in 1986.
Smith crossed the finish line at Churchill Downs with only a few specks of mud on his white and green silks in the wettest Derby in the race’s 144-year history. Nearly three inches fell on the crowd of 157,813 throughout the day.
“Amazing horse,” Smith said. “He’s got that ‘it’ factor. He is so above average.
“He’s got unbelievable talent and he’s got a mind to go with it. He was loving this stuff.”
Smith kept the 5-2 favourite near the lead throughout the race. He gunned Justify out of the barrier = something Baffert said had to happen – and the colt’s early speed helped hook leader Promises Fulfilled from the start.
“When he got away clean, then I thought we had a chance,” Baffert said. “We had to get away. Then Mike took his time.”
They set a blistering pace through the muck, going a half-mile i(800m) n 45.77 seconds.
Entering the final turn, Justify took the lead and kept on going to the finish under Smith’s left-handed whip.
“I was just in awe of the performance,” Baffert said. “He just put himself up there with the greats.”
Good Magic, last year’s two-year-old champion and Breeders’ Cup Juvenile winner, was the only horse to have a serious shot at Justify turning for home but could not bridge the gap.
“Justify looked like a big monster,” Good Magic’s trainer Chad Brown said.
“We thought he was the horse to beat and it was true.”
Justify won his career debut on February 18 at Santa Anita under 23-year-old Drayden Van Dyke.
Baffert, sensing he had a special horse, knew he needed a rider who could handle the pressure of the Triple Crown trail and reached out to Smith.
They teamed to win Justify’s second race on March 11 in the mud, foretelling his ability to handle what he would face at Churchill Downs on the first Saturday in May.
Justify announced his presence nationally last month in the Santa Anita Derby with a front-running, three-length victory over Bolt d’Oro who ended up 12th on Saturday.
“He’s the most beautiful horse,” Baffert said. “He has that presence about him. Every day at Santa Anita everybody says, ‘Who is that?”‘
They’ll be talking about him leading up to the Preakness in Baltimore on May 19.
The victory was worth $1,432,000 ($A1.89 million) to owners WinStar Farm, China Horse Club, Starlight Racing and Head of Plains Partners. They bought Justify for $500,000.
The Aidan O’Brien-trained Mendelssohn, trying to become the first European horse to win the Derby, finished last.
“He got beat up out of the gate and proceeded to check on the first turn and was never in a good place,” jockey Ryan Moore said. “The race was over for him then.”
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