Justify has come into his first piece of luck as he tries to break the “Curse of Apollo” and become the first horse in 136 years to win the Kentucky Derby after not running as a 2-year-old.
The Bob Baffert-trained colt will start from the coveted No. 7 post in the 20-horse field and was listed as a 3-1 favorite in the morning line after the post-position draw at Churchill Downs on Tuesday morning.
“That’s a good spot,” Baffert said, looking ahead to Saturday’s race. “We didn’t want to be in the one-hole and we didn’t want to be 20. Seven is fine, but he still has to break well. If he doesn’t break well, it doesn’t matter what hole he’s in. … He’s lightly raced and he has to leave there running.”
The Hall of Fame trainer is seeking his fifth Kentucky Derby victory and his first since American Pharoah won in 2015 on the first leg of his Triple Crown romp. Baffert sent California-based Justify to the track at Churchill for the first time Tuesday and pronounced him fit and happy.
“It’s one of the toughest Derbys that I’ve ever seen and one of the best draws that I’ve ever seen,” Baffert said. “The most important horses got good draws. My excuses are really dwindling, so now I’ve got to come with the horse.”
Justify, undefeated in three career starts, heads a strong field that includes entries from the sport’s most decorated trainers and also features a dash of international intrigue.
That comes from Mendelssohn, the Irish-trained horse who earned his Derby spot with a sensational victory in the UAE Derby in Dubai. Mendelssohn will start from the No. 14 post as a 5-1 second choice in the morning line.
Trainer Todd Pletcher, who won last year’s Derby with Always Dreaming, will saddle a quartet of starters, including Magnum Moon, the 6-1 third choice in the morning line, and Audible, the 8-1 co-fourth choice. Audible, the Florida Derby winner, will start from the No. 5 post and Magnum Moon, the Arkansas Derby winner, from the No. 16 post. Pletcher’s other two horses, Wood Memorial winner Vino Rosso (12-1 in the morning line) and Louisiana Derby winner Noble Indy (30-1), will start in the No. 18 and No. 19 posts, respectively.
“Ideally, I wouldn’t want three of my four horses in the auxiliary gate,” Pletcher said, referring to the outside post positions. “But it’s horse racing and that’s what happens. We’ve all seen it before: good trips from bad posts, or vice versa. But in the end it’s out of my control, so it’s all good. Both Magnum Moon and Noble Indy have tactical speed, so in a best-case scenario they’ll be able to get good spots despite the post. This is very much a rider’s race and I’ve got four of the best riders around, which makes me feel good.”
Bolt d’Oro, the co-fourth choice at 8-1, will start from the No. 11 post. Good Magic, his old rival from last year’s Breeders’ Cup Juvenile, will start from the No. 6 post as a 12-1 choice.
“It’s ironic. We had 11 and Good Magic had the 6 in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile,” said Bolt d’Oro’s trainer and owner, Mick Ruis. “We drew the same numbers. That’s kind of fun. I’m fine where we are.”
Bolt d’Oro lost that race and lost to Justify in the Santa Anita Derby, so he’ll be seeking revenge on two rivals. Jockey Victor Espinoza will be aboard, seeking his fourth Derby victory and first since he rode American Pharoah.
As for Good Magic’s draw, trainer Chad Brown said, “I’m perfectly fine with the No. 6. I wouldn’t want to be any farther inside, but he’ll get to save some ground there and he’s got a really good horse to his outside in Justify that will provide him with a horse to follow into the first turn.”
Hofburg, the lightly raced Florida Derby runner-up, will start from the No. 9 post as a 20-1 choice in the morning line.
From there, the odds for the rest of the field grow substantially longer.
Wood Memorial runner-up Enticed, trained by Kiaran McLaughlin, will start from the No. 12 post as a 30-1 choice.
Trainer Dale Romans’ two 30-1 choices, Free Drop Billy and Promises Fulfilled, will start side by side in the Nos. 2 and 3 posts, respectively. Next to them in the No. 4 post will be another 30-1 shot, Mark Casse-trained Flameaway.
Battle-tested My Boy Jack, yet another 30-1 choice, will start in the middle from the No. 10 post, a “perfect” spot, according to trainer Keith Desormeaux.
Baffert’s other entry, Solomini, will start from the No. 17 post as a 30-1 choice in the morning line.
Trainer D. Wayne Lukas will seek his fifth Kentucky Derby win and first in 19 years with 50-1 long shot Bravazo, starting from the No. 13 post. Fellow 50-1 choices Lone Sailor and Instilled Regard will start from the Nos. 8 and 15 posts, respectively.
Finally, 50-1 long shots Firenze Fire and Combatant drew the posts no one wanted, the Nos. 1 and 20, respectively.
Field for Saturday’s 144th Kentucky Derby, with post position, horse’s name, jockey’s name and opening odds:
Post; Horse; Jockey; Odds
1. Firenze Fire; Paco Lopez; 50-1
2. Free Drop Billy; Robby Albarado; 30-1
3. Promises Fulfilled; Corey Lanerie; 30-1
4. Flameaway; Jose Lezcano; 30-1
5. Audible; Javier Castellano; 8-1
6. Good Magic; Jose Ortiz; 12-1
7. Justify; Mike Smith; 3-1
8. Lone Sailor; James Graham; 50-1
9. Hofburg; Irad Ortiz Jr.; 20-1
10. My Boy Jack; Kent Desormeaux; 20-1
11. Bolt d’Oro; Victor Espinoza; 8-1
12. Enticed; Junior Alvarado; 30-1
13. Bravazo; Luis Contreras; 50-1
14. Mendelssohn; Ryan Moore; 5-1
15. Instilled Regard; Drayden Van Dyke; 50-1
16. Magnum Moon; Luis Saez; 6-1
17. Solomini; Flavien Prat; 30-1
18. Vino Rosso; John Velazquez; 12-1
19. Noble Indy; Florent Geroux; 30-1
20. Combatant; Ricardo Santana Jr.; 50-1
AE: Blended Citizen; Kyle Frey; 50-1
(AE-Also eligible, if one of first 20 horses is scratched)