Justify is the favorite in the Kentucky Derby (6.46pm ET Today) but does he deserve to lead the betting market? Bob Baffert knows this tall, stunning son of Scat Daddy has plenty of talent but is he sufficiently streetwise to win in a field of this quality?
Justify first hit the track in mid February and has won all his three starts with such ease that we do not know how he will react in a fight for the wire. Only two colts have won the Run for the Roses on their fourth start, Big Brown in 2008 and Regret way back in 1915.
It is probably no coincidence that all the Kentucky Derby winners since Curse of Apollo triumphed in 1882 have raced as two-year-olds. Justify’s veteran jockey Mike Smith has more experience than most with a record number of Breeders’ Cup wins but he has only scored in this race once, in 2005. Starting from gate seven, Smith will need a truly phenomenal engine underneath him to gain his second win.
Trained by Todd Pletcher, the unbeaten 6/1 third favorite Magnum Moon also has the ‘Curse of Apollo’ to overcome. He made his debut in January at Gulfstream Park and subsequently won the Rebel Stakes and Arkansas Derby by impressive margins. Pletcher thinks that Magnum Moon’s experience at Saratoga as a juvenile, including gate work and half mile breezes, should help him. Luis Saez will partner him, starting from gate 16.
Pletcher also saddles three other colts with 100 Kentucky Derby point wins that should not be overlooked. Audible (8/1) the Florida Derby winner has been favorably drawn from gate five and has Javier Castellano to do the steering. Vino Rosso (12/1) and John Velasquez and Noble Indy (30/1) ridden by Florent Geroux have been less fortunate starting from gates 18 and 19 respectively.
The Mick Ruis-trained Bolt D’Oro (8/1) is the only colt with two grade 1 wins to his name but both were achieved as a juvenile. Baffert trainees have got the better of him this time, although he was promoted to first place in the grade 2 San Felipe Stakes after being beaten a head by McKinzie. Most recently he was beaten three lengths by Justify in the Santa Anita Derby but the assistance of Victor Espinoza has to be a big positive for his chances.
Bolt D’Oro started as the favorite in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile but was beaten by Chad C Brown’s Good Magic (10/1). This son of Curlin was a beaten favorite in the Fountain of Youth won by the pacesetting Promises Fulfilled (30/1) but went on to win the Blue Grass Stakes at Keeneland under Jose Ortiz. Good Magic usually sits behind the leaders which could be a race-winning tactic in this field full of speed. Drawn in gate six, he should be able to do so without wasting ground.
The European raider, Aidan O’Brien’s Mendelssohn, is the 5/1 second favorite after his runaway win in the UAE Derby on his debut on dirt. Another son of Scat Daddy, this colt won the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf but showed extraordinary talent on the surface he was bred to enjoy in Dubai, winning by nearly 20 lengths from the front.
Mendelssohn will be partnered by the very capable Ryan Moore but one former jockey employed by his bosses at Ballydoyle thinks that Moore should have stayed at home. Ballydoyle saddle the favorite in the 2,000 Guineas on the same day. Starting from gate 16 is not going to help Mendelssohn’s cause.
Many experts believe that at least eight colts stand a chance of winning the 144th Kentucky Derby. There is an extraordinary amount of talent in this line-up but most of the market leaders including Justify, Mendelssohn, Magnum Moon and some of the less fancied colts have recently won their races from the front. Only one horse can lead.
This will be a test of temperament as well as talent for both the horses and their jockeys. If the market leaders post suicidal fractions contesting the lead, there could be a big upset.
Audible and Good Magic are both more adaptable than many on race tactics but Good Magic appears to offer outstanding value drawn in gate six.
- So our preview’s 2018 Kentucky Derby prediction and betting pick is a wager on GOOD MAGIC at current best odds of +1000 (10/1) with Bovada Sportsbook.