Every year, because of the big fields, horses run into trouble in the Kentucky Derby. Always.
Throw in almost 3 inches of rain, much of which hit in the hour before the Derby, and the race become a demolition derby.
Think roller ball in a swamp.
Which is why Mike Smith's ride on Justify was so brilliant. He hurried his green, in terms of experience, mount out of the gate and settled him behind Promises Fulfilled, who was the perfect rabbit by running fractions of 22.1 and 45.3.
Smith was mostly a length and a half back and slightly to the side, which meant he and his horse were not eating mud for two minutes. They were in front of the pack, many of whom did not like running in the mud; Justify had won in the mud at Santa Anita.
The four horses who did all or part of their training at Oaklawn were affected by the weather and or the traffic.
Magnum Moon, winner of the Arkansas Derby, didn't break well and immediately got boxed in. He was bumped quickly out of the gate, recovered a little but that was just the beginning. He was getting it from all sides until My Boy Jack, winner of the Southwest Stakes, blasted past the disaster zone but was still behind a wall of horses. Down the stretch he rallied from 20th to finish fifth.
Magnum Moon never recovered from the shots he took in the first 300 yards and finished 19th.
Solomini, third in the Arkansas Derby and second in the Rebel Stakes, broke dead last and stayed there, behind a wall of horses, for a half mile until his jockey decided to stop being covered with mud and took him inside. Still, he couldn't seem to get his stride and finished 10th.
Combatant, who like Justify was sired by Scat Daddy, ran in all the Oaklawn Prep races. He went off at 70-1, the second-longest shot in the field and for good reason. He broke 13th but was five wide trying to avoid the wall of horses, many of who would tire in the stretch. Combatant stayed wide and finished 18th.
Now the big question is will any of the 19 horses who didn't get a masterful ride come back and challenge Justify in the Preakness. The answer is probably a couple.
Just how good Justify is will be determined in the next five weeks.
He had the slowest winning Derby time (2:04.20) since Super Saver in 2010 (2:04.45). Granted it was in the mud and a downpour, but still it was the second slowest winning time since Sunday Silence in 1989, who ran the race in 2:05.
Last year, Always Dreaming won the Derby in 2:03.59 and that was also on an off track. Like Justify, it was his fourth consecutive win, but he was eighth in the Preakness and hasn't won since last year's Derby, including running fifth Saturday in the Grade II Alysheba Stakes at Churchill.
Bob Baffert, who now has the second most Derby wins with five, boldly claims Justify is the most beautiful horse he has brought to the Derby.
Justify did stare down those fast fractions that included 1:11 for 6 furlongs, but when he took the lead he was 5 lengths ahead of Audible, who got caught behind traffic.
Good Magic already was giving chase, but he wasn't going to catch Justify. Audible made up half the distance in the final quarter of mile and finished a closing third.
Audible is trained by Todd Pletcher, who as a rule will skip the Preakness with horses who don't win the Derby and point them at the Belmont Stakes.
So, yes, Justify should win the Preakness, but getting the Triple Crown will be tough.
Sports on 05/08/2018
Print Headline: Too early to crown impressive Justify