DERBY CONTENDER: Justify

By Kaitlin Free (@kaitlinefree on Twitter)

Jockey: Mike Smith

Trainer: Bob Baffert

Justify comes into the Kentucky Derby with 100 points sitting at #9 on the leaderboard. He secured all 100 of those points with an eyecatching victory in the Santa Anita Derby. Justify came home with ease over strong Kentucky Derby contender Bolt d’Oro, while defeating another Derby entrant in Instilled Regard along the way.

He first came onto our radar before he even started in his first race. A strong morning worker, Justify showed that he had talent early in the beginning of 2018. He finally made his debut in February–making short work of his opposition.

Justify’s second race was equally impressive, an easy win in a allowance race in the slop. Despite only having three races in his very short career, Justify’s versatility has been on display all along. He has proven he can run on fast and wet dirt, and set or sit off of the pace.

In the Santa Anita Derby, Justify got to an uncontested lead and never looked back – winning for fun and scoring a massive 107 figure. Bolt d’Oro tried to head him and rallied twice, only to be turned away without Mike Smith even having to ask him for more. This important victory was what the racing industry needed to see from Justify, solidifying he was the top contender everyone thought he was. Heading into the Kentucky Derby, he has been stamped as the clear horse to beat.

Justify’s pedigree is the making of an absolute machine. By Scat Daddy out of a Ghostzapper mare, this pedigree has everything to offer. Packed with speed and stamina, Justify is immensely gifted pedigree wise compared to the average thoroughbred. His sire Scat Daddy was a top colt in the deep 2007 Derby class with several dominant prep wins, but unfortunately faltered in the Derby and finished a disappointing 18th.

The late Scat Daddy has gone on to become one of the top sires of his generation before his premature death in 2015. Scat Daddy is represented by 4 of the 20 Derby starters this year, including two of the favorites (Justify, Mendelssohn, Flameaway, and Combatant.)

Justify’s dam, the Ghostzapper mare Stage Magic adds just the right mix to complement Scat Daddy on top. Stage Magic was a decent race mare herself, winning a quarter of her races and was graded stakes placed. This along with her bloodlines have always made her a top broodmare candidate.

One subtlety in Justify’s pedigree that is often missed is his 2X inbreeding to legendary broodmare Narrate. She appears in his pedigree twice, through her daughters Yarn and Preach. Narrate was a breed shaping mare and a double dose of that blood is a rarity and adds a great touch to an already splendid pedigree. When analyzed on TrueNicks, Justify’s pedigree rates an A++. A pedigree analysis absolutely proves that Justify’s pedigree is a Derby winning one.

Justify’s chances to win the Derby are very top heavy compared to his chances to fail. When examining the risks, one that immediately jumps out is lack of experience. Having only raced just three times, that is the shortest career of any horse in this year’s Kentucky Derby. Although all three starts were very different and very impressive, all of them came at Santa Anita.

Most would like to see a horse with travel experience coming into the Derby. New surroundings and conditions can be very overwhelming to a horse, especially one lacking in experience. Justify’s short race record also brings up the infamous “Apollo curse”. No horse that is unraced at two years old has won the Kentucky Derby since Apollo in 1882. In order to wear the roses on Saturday, Justify must buck a 136 year trend that through the years has become a well discussed factor.

The Apollo curse can easily be thrown out this year as 2 of our top contenders are “Apollo horses.” Disproving this theory is simple – only a small number of horses ever enter the Kentucky Derby without a start as a 2 year old. Of the few that have entered aside from Curlin, none of them have had the talent that Justify and perhaps Magnum Moon have.

Experience aside, Justify has enough raw talent to win the Kentucky Derby on ability alone. He is a horse that is both physically and mentally gifted, and still stands out in an exceptionally tough field. As stated earlier, Justify’s versatility has been apparent from the beginning. He has shown that he can sit on or off the pace, even set it.

With a projected fast pace expected in the Derby, Justify will be just fine in any position as long as he remains in striking distance. And with a chance of an off track looming, Justify also has another edge having won on a muddy track with ease. Taking all factors into account, Justify seemingly towers over this field and has a great chance to prove himself yet again. He is a deserving favorite in this year’s Kentucky Derby.

Chance to finish in Kentucky Derby superfecta on a scale of 1-10 : 10/10

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