Justify enters the Triple Crown season as one of the favorites to find the Winner's Circle. Not only has the horse performed well on the track, but he is helped by a dynamic trainer and jockey duo. Mike E. Smith will take the saddle for the Kentucky Derby, while legendary trainer Bob Baffert has been working with the horse. Justify enters Churchill Downs as the Santa Anita Derby winner, and has soared in his handful of starts. The Kentucky Derby website explains why Justify is one of the favorites to win at Churchill Downs.
"What was so impressive about Justify in the Santa Anita Derby was that he showed he can finish his race even when going slower in the early stages than ever before," The Kentucky Derby notes. "A closer look at his BRIS Pace ratings bear this out – 100, 105, 117. Unlike most dirt horses, he was applying constant pace pressure without any signs of exertion. Rare is the two-turn dirt horse that can run faster pace figures as the race goes on. Justify is that rare."
There are quite a few people with ownership stakes in Justify. China Horse Club, Head of Plains Partners LLC, Starlight Racing and WinStar Farm are part of a large ownership group for the horse. The horse was purchased for $500,000 at the 2016 Keeneland September sale, which looks like it could end up being a bargain. Baffert has four Kentucky Derby victories, including most recently in 2015 with Triple Crown winner American Pharoah.
For Justify to win the Kentucky Derby, the horse will have to overcome Apollo's Curse, as no horse has won at Churchill Downs without racing as a two-year-old since 1882. Baffert is optimistic that Justify can be the horse that breaks the so-called curse.
“He’s a big Baby Huey-type looking horse,” Baffert told the Los Angeles Daily News. “He’s still like a big kid learning how to run. I pinch myself. I had [American] Pharoah, Arrogate, and then I have this one. I’ve been on a roll.”
After Justify's performance at Santa Anita, count Smith as a believer that he is riding a special horse.
“That was extremely impressive,” Smith told the Paulick Report. “He passed the two turn test with flying colors…For a young horse, he has a great mind. That might allow him to catch up [on the Derby Trail] even sooner than a normal horse, because of the talent and the mind to go with it. That [acceleration around the far turn] came so natural. He switched leads and naturally opened up his stride and was two in front. I was like ‘Wow.' I didn't ask him to move and he just did that extremely easily. He came off that turn like it was a stroll. Just very, very impressed.”
According to the Kentucky Derby, Justify's 114 BRIS Speed Figure is the highest number recorded in a Derby prep race in the six years of the current points system. The horse nicknamed "Big Red" will look to break Apollo's Curse. Click next to learn more about Justify's race team including the horse, trainer, jockey and ownership group.