Justify drew the No. 7 post on Tuesday and was installed as the early 3-1 favorite in the 20-horse field for Saturday’s Kentucky Derby.
Trained by four-time Derby winner Bob Baffert, Justify is undefeated, including a victory at the Santa Anita Derby. However, Apollo (1882) is the last horse to win the 1 1/4-mile “Run for the Roses” after not racing as a 2-year-old.
Justify and Magnum Moon (6-1, post No. 16) are the only horses in this year’s field who did not race as 2-year-olds. UAE Derby winner Mendelssohn is the 5-1 second choice after drawing the No. 14 post.
Justify has made only three starts, but won the April 7 Santa Anita Derby by three lengths over the more experienced Bolt d’Oro. Baffert has sent out 27 Derby horses, and is tied with D. Wayne Lukas with four victories. He also trains Solomini, who landed the No. 17 post and was installed as a 30-1 long shot by Churchill Downs’ oddsmaker Mike Battaglia.
Justify races for WinStar Farm, China Horse Club, Head of Plains Partners and Starlight Racing.
“I walked in and looked at the board,” Baffert told reporters Tuesday. “I forgot which colors we were using. I said,’There’s a WinStar. Is that Justify in seven?’ I’ll take that.
“I’m happy; everybody should be happy with their posts. I wanted to be in the middle or outside. We didn’t want the one-hole, that’s for sure.
“The break is so important. If you are in the seven, you have to break.”
Justify took to the track at Churchill Downs for the first time Tuesday, with the son of Scat Daddy going through a morning gallop. Justify broke his maiden at Santa Anita Park on Feb. 18 and posted a 6 1/2-length allowance win March 11 before winning the Santa Anita Derby.
“I think he looked great,” Baffert said. “The track is real soft and he bounced around there pretty well, happy. It was a good first day and that’s what we’re all looking for.”
Mendelssohn was the most expensive sale yearling in 2016 when he went to M.V. Magnier for $3 million at the Keeneland September yearling sale. He won the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf race at Del Mar last fall before having his training disrupted a bit by a cold winter in Europe.
However, he won the March 31 UAE Derby by 18 lengths, then arrived in the States on April 30. Mendelssohn is bedded down in the quarantine barn on the backstretch, according to Bloodhorse.com, and is expected to take the track Thursday.
Magnum Moon, like Justify, is unbeaten and posted an impressive victory at the Arkansas Derby. Trainer Todd Pletcher, who has two Derby victories on his resume, has four horses in this year’s race. Magnum Moon drew post 13, with the other three in the auxiliary gate (posts 15-20).
“It’s kind of strange the way it unfolded with all four of them being so late,” Pletcher told reporters. “Three of the four in the auxiliary gate wouldn’t have been what I ideally wanted. But you know you can work out good trips from bad posts and get bad trips from good posts.”
Told by NBC Sports that three of the last seven Derby winners came from the auxiliary gate, Pletcher said, “We’ll go with that angle.”
Solomini, Justify’s stablemate, Enticed, Bolt d’Oro, Instilled Regard and Firenze Fire also got their first gallops in on the track Tuesday.
The $2.192 million Kentucky Derby, the first leg of the Triple Crown, is scheduled for 6:46 p.m. ET Saturday (NBC) at Churchill Downs in Louisville, Kentucky.
The full 20-horse field:
Post, horse, trainer, jockey, odds
1. Firenze Fire, Jason Servis, Paco Lopez, 50-1
2. Free Drop Billy, Dale Romans, Robby Albarado, 30-1
3. Promises Fulfilled, Dale Romans, Corey Lanerie, 30-1
4. Flameaway, Mark Casse, Jose Lezcano, 30-1
5. Audible, Todd Pletcher, Javier Castellano, 8-1
6. Good Magic, Chad Brown, Jose Ortiz, 12-1
7. Justify, Bob Baffert, Mike Smith, 3-1
8. Lone Sailor, Tom Amoss, James Graham, 50-1
9. Hofburg, Bill Mott, Irad Ortiz Jr., 20-1
10. My Boy Jack, Keith Desormeaux, Kent Desormeaux, 30-1
11. Bolt d’Oro, Mick Ruis, Victor Espinoza, 8-1
12. Enticed, Kiaran McLaughlin, Junior Alvarado, 30-1
13. Bravazo, D. Wayne Lukas, Luis Contreras, 50-1
14. Mendelssohn, Aidan O’Brien, Ryan Moore, 5-1
15. Instilled Regard, Jerry Hollendorfer, Drayden Van Dyke, 50-1
16. Magnum Moon, Todd Pletcher, Luis Saez, 6-1
17. Solomini, Bob Baffert, Flavien Prat, 30-1
18. Vino Rosso, Todd Pletcher, John Velazquez, 12-1
19. Noble Indy, Todd Pletcher, Florent Geroux, 30-1
20. Combatant, Steve Asmussen, Ricardo Santana Jr., 50-1
If a horse is scratched before 9 a.m. Friday, Blended Citizen (50-1) is entered as an also-eligible replacement.
Always Dreaming was the 2017 Derby winner.
–Field Level Media