Kentucky Derby  - Baffert's New Star Justifies Favouritism

 Apr 16 2018

st horses as big and powerful as Justify cannot carry their strength. They are hopeless one-pacers, or else hard-charging tearaways but weak as a kitten off the bridle. 

But not this horse - like Usain Bolt v humans, Justify v thoroughbreds is not a fair fight.

From the moment Mike Smith took Justify to the lead he was out there running a time trial. 

The high-class Bolt d’Oro chased him in vain but he could land a glove on this heavyweight with this reach and punching power. 

Justify could have gone round again – seemingly at the same speed – and he crossed the line with the authority that good horses do.

As a time trial, the race was slow by absolute measure but really fast considering the conditions. 

There is so much more to using the information of the clock than the raw time, and this is an example.

Since 2002, only last year’s winner Gormley has run slower than 1:49.72, which Justify achieved via fractions of 23.96; 23.89; 24.76; 24.41 and 12.70.

He never broke 24 seconds for the latter quarters, but such was the tiring nature of the Santa Anita track that this is not surprising. 

Allowing for the speed of the surface using the measuring stick of all the dirt races on the card, it is soon apparent that Justify ran faster than most horses would be able. 

He was awarded a Beyer Speed Figure of 107 – 1pt higher than Mendelssohn in the UAE Derby.

Could the transatlantic symmetry here be any better? 

Any real difference between 107 and 106 is merely an estimation error, both Justify and Mendelssohn are by Scat Daddy and both are trained by the best on the Continents – Aidan O’Brien in Europe and Bob Baffert in the US.

Given the zeal to find a successor to their late sire, both colts are competing for the first prize in the Kentucky Derby but this is one of the strongest renewals of the Derby for years. 

There is no way that Justify will get another solo lead at Churchill Downs without running hard to get there. 

Here, again, we see a similarity with Mendelssohn, who will also compete for the lead on the basis that he didn’t have to take a grain of kickback at Meydan.

When you watched the Santa Anita Derby live, an early thought was that Bolt d’Oro could be in a more favourable spot when the pair meet again. 

Chasing a powerful, sole front-runner down is not an easy spot compared to when that rival is harried by another with similar designs on the lead. For this reason, Bolt d’Oro should not be written off. 

But Justify simply looks a better model than him, or most any other horse for that matter.


BLUEGRASS STAKES - GOOD MAGIC
Bluegrass Stakes winner Good Magic is completely bombproof, able to survive anything a large field can throw at him and come running out the other side.

We saw it first when he survived torrid fractions in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile. Here, in a less punishing race, he might have produced one of the most underrated Kentucky Derby trials of recent years.

To allude to Good Magic as a robot horse is not to think he is some sort of insentient machine; neither is it to underplay the role of his world-class rider Jose Ortiz. 

At Keeneland Good Magic first received a bump on rounding the first turn. He was four-wide there, and we have frequently pointed out that the physics of the issue makes ground lost on the first turn more punitive than the second. 

They went 23.55; 23.85; 24.48; 24.98 and home 13.31, meaning that the energy cost of running wide was greater early.

The way Good Magic picked up ground running into the far turn was characteristic of a top horse. 

Wide again there, he nevertheless took over the lead from the likeable Flameaway with authority in the straight after he had done a ton of running.

The final time here of 1:50.18 was admittedly not flash but this is more of a concern for those trailing the winner than for Good Magic himself. 

Notwithstanding Good Magic’s defeat of Bolt d’Oro in last year’s finale at Del Mar, there will be rivals who line up against him at Churchill Downs with more burnished talent.

In a match race, for instance, it is hard to see how he could beat Justify in a month of Sundays, but the Derby tests other qualities that are expressed nowhere near so markedly as in the robust outlook of this son of Curlin.

The tougher the task, the more Good Magic will thrive. 


WOOD MEMORIAL – VINO ROSSO
Yet another Derby trial winner for Todd Pletcher. Vino Rosso was a big eye-catcher in the Sam F. Davis Stakes at Tampa but in the regional Tampa Bay Derby down there he barely lifted a leg. 

One race too late for some of his backers, here at the Big A he reaffirmed the impression that he is a long-winded stamina-glutton after all.

This son of Curlin – also responsible for Blue Grass winner Good Magic – does not do anything quickly. From that standpoint, this race could not have been drawn up better. 

When speedball Old Time Revival clicked off 22.96 for the first quarter at a track that is usually far removed from glib, it had to be the prelude to a meltdown.

The winner could have gone round again. He is out of a Street Cry mare and looks as if he can run all day – in his own time, perhaps. 

Fractions of 22.96; 23.72; 24.76; 25.54; 12.81 for a final time of 1:49.79 is short of classic standard but he has outlying capabilities if he encounters another race run like this at Churchill Downs.
 

 



By James Willoughby - TRC

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