• Justify becomes first winner not to race as juvenile since 1882
• Mendelssohn fails in bid to be first European-trained winner
Mendelssohn’s ambitious attempt to become the first European-trained winner of the Kentucky Derby floundered on a sloppy, rain-drenched track here on Saturday as Bob Baffert’s Justify laid another long-standing hoodoo with victory in the 144th running of the race.
Leading up to this year’s contest, much was made – as it always is – of the fact that no horse since 1882 had won without racing as a juvenile. Justify, though, made light of the difficult conditions and his relative inexperience as he took up the running towards the end of the back stretch. He led from there to the line under Mike Smith to become the sixth consecutive favourite to win the race.
Ryan Moore was slow to stride from stall 14 aboard Mendelssohn and appeared to take a bump as his jockey went inside to try to find a position that gave him a chance to travel and attack. He ended up buried in midfield, however, and while Moore did his best to work his way towards the leaders, he accepted three furlongs from home that it was not going to be his day. The track had started the day riding fast, as it was in Dubai when Mendelssohn took the UAE Derby by nearly 19 lengths, but a combination of the torrential rain and his slow start meant he never got a chance to show what he could do.
Justify, though, was ideally positioned just behind a strong pace by his 52-year-old rider Smith, who is nicknamed “Big Money Mike” for his prowess in America’s major events. He cruised into the lead with more than a quarter of a mile to run and never looked likely to be reeled in from there. Good Magic, last year’s Breeders’ Cup Juvenile winner, was second with another well-fancied runner, Audible, in third.
Baffert, who saddled American Pharoah to become the first triple crown winner for 37 years in 2015, now has a live contender for another on his hands. It was his fifth win in the race in all and Justify is also unbeaten after four starts, prompting some to reminisce after the race about Seattle Slew, the only triple crown winner to retire undefeated.
“I just feel blasted lucky to have a horse like this,” Baffert said. “This horse came around, the first time we worked him I thought we had something really special. After his maiden win I thought the timer was wrong, I really didn’t think he ran that fast.
“Winning the Santa Anita Derby, we knew how special he was. I couldn’t believe the weather [today], I was feeling really bad. We were ready to head out the gate the moment they crossed the wire.
“But he broke clean and I knew that he wasn’t going to lay down. It’s like having LeBron James on your team, you’d better win a championship with him. Good Magic was coming, there’s some really good horses in there, but I knew in the last eighth [furlong] that he was going to win.
“He’s a specimen of a horse, he’s just special. He has that presence about him. Everybody at Santa Anita says: ‘Who’s that?’ and it’s the only one that I know who it is.”
Smith, the second-oldest jockey to win, said that the race had gone very much to plan. “My main concern was getting him out of the gate,” he said. “He’s so talented, it’s unbelievable. I knew if I could get him out of there, he could go fast because that’s how good he is. Once we jumped well, I basically stepped out of the way and kept a leg on each side and my mind out of the way.”
Courtesy: The Guardian