Justify wins Kentucky Derby in convincing fashion


On Saturday, 20 horses will step into the gates at Churchill Downs, with one winning the "Run for the Roses" and making the first step toward Triple Crown immortality.

Why he can win: Justify is undefeated in his three career races, and is a deserving favorite coming into the Kentucky Derby.

Baffert now trails only Ben Jones (six Derby wins).

Mike Smith earned his second Derby victory, becoming at 52 the second-oldest winning jockey.

Justify had only 3 starts entering the race, but was a 7-2 favorite to win.

Justify won in such convincing fashion as to stamp himself as a legitimate Triple Crown threat, while another colt partly owned by Starlight, Audible, just barely missed catching Good Magic (trained by Mechanicville's Chad Brown) for second. Smith was also the jockey of the last Triple Crown victor, American Pharoah, so don't rule that out for Justify just yet either. Justify, though, made light of the hard conditions and his relative inexperience as he took up the running towards the end of the back stretch. He is the ninth undefeated Kentucky Derby victor and is undefeated in four career starts.

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Secretariat, also known as "Big Red", went on to clinch the Triple Crown in 1973, ending a 25-year wait.

"My job was just to get him out of there", he said.

"We are deeply grateful to all the fans of the Kentucky Derby around the world who once again made this an incredible and memorable experience", said Churchill chief executive officer Bill Carstanjen in a statement.

Baffert said he knew he had a "really, really special horse" after Justify won a maiden race California's Santa Anita Park in February. I was slowing him down when we went 45 - I was leaning back on him probably more than I normally would. He didn't let Justify get away and win by 10 lengths, but he never posed a serious threat. "This is the best performance I've ever put up here (on the Kentucky Derby)", said Baffert. Good Magic, under Jose Ortiz, drifted out while Justify and Smith kept a clear and straight inside path.

In years past, I've been at parties where finding a quick way to stream the big race turns into a massive headache. In all but two of those races, he has sent out more than one runner. Trainer Todd Pletcher knows how to coach a victor, having helped Always Dreaming to a first-place finish at the Derby past year. They bought Justify for US$500,000. Lone Sailor was eighth, then Vino Rosso, Baffert-trained Solomini, Firenze Fire, Bolt d'Oro, Flameaway, Enticed, Promises Fulfilled, Free Drop Billy, Noble Indy, Combatant and Magnum Moon.

"Just keeping riding horses like this and that'll keep you around a long time", Smith said. The US$3 million purchase was beaten by 73 lengths for Irish trainer Aidan O'Brien.