LAS VEGAS, May 6, 2018—When Combatant and My Boy Jack, the last horses to be loaded into the Churchill Downs starting gate, and the camera angle switched to the head-on view so that all 20 horses were on-screen, I zeroed in on the number six and seven slips.

Of course, the Kentucky Derby is the one race every American owner, trainer and jockey wants to win above all others, and it’s that way for handicappers, too. If you’re a member of the racing media, being right about the Derby winner is the equal of making a small score.

Somewhat akin to what the trainers and jockeys always say about the Derby, nobody ever asks a public handicapper “how many Preakness winners have you picked?”

The story of Derby 144 for one such individual lined up side by side in the starting gate. Past performances indicated that undefeated Justify had passed the wet track test but never needed to pass an eyeball test. He was unchallenged to this point. Coupled with inexperience, this was the great unknown.

For Good Magic, it was a different story. Skilled bettors knew he was tough [see the Blue Grass] but his ability on a wet track was his unknown. He would handle the crowd intensity, which was apparent from video of the walkover, but the wet conditions?

Despite breaking slightly out of hand, ‘Magic’ nimbly settled into stride immediately and Jose Ortiz, the undercard riding star, had him tucked away perfectly as dueling leaders outran 18 rivals into the lower clubhouse turn. If you backed him, it could not have been drawn up any better.

Justify’s immense talent was obvious from from FEB 8, the day he broke his maiden on debut. Derby 144 would come only 76 days later. Equally as impressive winning his next two starts, he took an undefeated three-race slate into the biggest horse race run in America.

The speed horses that led the way into the backstretch continued their battle down the backside, prompted by a wide-chasing Bolt D’Oro, with Flameaway and Good Magic, racing between horses now, in close pursuit.

“Promises [Fulfilled] hung in there longer than I thought,” mentioned now five-time Derby-winning Hall of Famer Bob Baffert Sunday morning. That he did but it still wasn’t enough to deter the gorgeous, monstrous chestnut, routinely attached to the leader’s hip in a non-routine 45.77.

As old school racetrackers know, if you run fast early you can’t run fast late. The final time in a slow 2:04.20 bears this out. And the record Derby-day rainfall one hour earlier had turned the track from sealed, top-of-surface mud into a quagmire of standing-water-deep slop.

Finally, when Promises Fulfilled retreated, Justify fulfilled the promise he showed from Day 1, promises that Baffert made when he spoke about a horse of special ability with a mind to match. And he was ready when the only serious challenge mounted against him came at headstretch.

Ortiz was able to finally get Good Magic a bit more comfortable midway down the backstretch and, when Justify and Mike Smith made their move to separate themselves curling into the far turn, Ortiz turned Good Magic loose, looming a possible winner at mid-turn and again turning for home.

But Justify responded to the challenge with courage and bravado, separating himself from Good Magic and a late hard-charging Audible--who needed a little time to adjust to the footing below, and, ultimately, separate himself from the 1882 Kentucky Derby-winning Apollo.

In that final furlong, Good Magic, Justify’s only serious challenger, paid for his exertions but gamely held place by a head over Audible despite tiring in the sloppy and gooey going of deep stretch.

Instilled Regard was a shockingly good fourth after racing farther back than usual, and the very much troubled, seriously overbet My Boy Jack, put on an incredible finish, winding up an excellent fifth on a wet surface upon which he previously had demonstrated an affinity.

In advancing Saturday’s spectacle, we observed how the racing goods wanted to see this battle of six or seven future greats by disseminating post positions that either suited the race dynamics or the running styles of the major contenders.

Apparently, however, the god that writes his name in all caps, rained down upon the proceedings. In replay, had I been tracking Justify closely away from the barrier instead of ‘Magic’, I might have surmised differently. The fleet-footed huge chestnut literally was skipping over the surface.

“He really loved it out there,” Smith told an outrider upon pulling up. In fact, Smith needed a little help pulling up completely because as also-rans attempted to pass him on the gallop-out, the circumstance that only helped recharge Justify’s big engines.

As is his custom, Baffert will walk the Derby winner three days before going back to the track and will ship to Baltimore Preakness week. Justify probably can use some R & R as the colt had some stiffness in his left-hind while making several photo-op turns before the media and video cameras:
https://www.facebook.com/AmericasBestRacing/videos/10160426831105720/
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VYybJiudbEc

Just minutes before this posting, Baffert explained that the colt is not lame but suffers from a skin condition called scratches that becomes irritated by wet conditions. Well, it certainly was no hindrance yesterday, the biggest day of this young colt’s exciting career. http://www.thehorse.com