Kentucky Derby

History was made at Churchill Downs on Saturday as Justify became the first horse in 136 years to capture the Kentucky Derby (Grade 1) after going unraced as a 2-year-old. Sent off as the 5-2 favorite on a rainy day in Louisville, Kentucky, the undefeated son of the late Scat Daddy gave Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert a fifth Derby trophy.

Justify broke cleanly from post 7 and secured a prominent position shadowing pacesetter Promises Fulfilled through a scorching pace on the sloppy track. Under Hall of Fame rider Mike Smith, whose only prior Derby score came with 50-1 upsetter Giacomo in 2005, Justify was traveling with his customary ease despite the fast fractions—including a half-mile in a blazing :45.77.

After putting Promises Fulfilled away, Justify forged ahead. Then Good Magic, last year’s champion 2-year-old male, launched a challenge turning for home. At that moment, thoughts turned to the weight of history stacked against Justify. No unraced 2-year-old since Apollo in 1882 had gone on to win the Kentucky Derby the following spring, and that “Curse of Apollo” loomed down the length of Churchill’s stretch.

But Justify had plenty in reserve. Responding to Smith’s urging, he comfortably repelled Good Magic and continued to hold sway to the wire. He negotiated 1 1/4 miles in 2:04.20 to remain perfect in four starts and paid $7.80 to win.

Good Magic gamely held second from the rallying Audible. Instilled Regard closed for fourth, and My Boy Jack rounded out the top five. Irish shipper Mendelssohn from the Aidan O’Brien yard, bidding to become the first European-based horse to win the Derby, did not have a good start and ultimately retreated to last in the 20-horse field.

Owned by China Horse Club, Head of Plains Partners, Starlight Racing, and WinStar Farm, Justify only made his career debut over Presidents’ Day weekend at Santa Anita Park, in Arcadia, California. He romped by 9 1/2 lengths in a seven-furlong maiden, stretched out to a mile for an entry-level allowance and won by 6 1/2 lengths, and wired the April 7 Santa Anita Derby (Grade 1) to earn his ticket to Churchill Downs.

Justify was bred by John D. Gunther in Kentucky and sold for $500,000 as a yearling at the Keeneland September sale. He is out of the Grade 3-placed Stage Magic, a daughter of Hall of Famer Ghostzapper.

Baffert’s five Derby wins put him just behind legendary Ben Jones’s tally of six. Jones famously trained Triple Crown winners Whirlaway (1941) and Citation (1948). Baffert, who conditioned American Pharoah to end the 37-year Triple Crown drought in 2015, could be in position to try for another this year with Justify.