Justify early 3-1 Derby favorite
Bob Baffert had no chance to fret over the Kentucky Derby draw.
By the time the Hall of Fame trainer managed to get into Churchill Downs, the process was halfway done and Justify had landed in the No. 7 post on Tuesday.
“We didn’t want the 1-hole, that’s for sure,” the four-time Derby winner said. “I was relieved when I saw him in seven.”
Justify was made the early 3-1 favorite for the Derby, with Europe-based Mendelssohn the second choice in a full field of 20 horses.
Six horses have won from the No. 7 post, most recently Street Sense in 2007.
“The only reason I’m the favorite is because I beat Bolt d’Oro and he was the horse to beat,” said Baffert, referring to Justify’s three-length win over his rival in the Santa Anita Derby last month.
Justify is one of two horses in Saturday’s 1 1/4-mile race who didn’t race at age 2. The other is 6-1 third choice Magnum Moon. No horse since Apollo in 1882 has won the Derby after not racing as a 2-year-old.
“I don’t buy into the Apollo Curse or whatever at all, mainly because Bob Baffert and Todd Pletcher have got the horses,” four-time Derby-winning trainer D. Wayne Lukas said. “Todd’s going to have his (horse) ready, and Baffert is going to have his.”
Justify is 3-0 in his brief career, winning by a combined 19 lengths. Magnum Moon is 4-0, winning the Arkansas Derby and Rebel Stakes in his last two starts.
“It’s one of the toughest Derbies I’ve ever seen,” Baffert said. “All the important horses got good draws.”
More history is working against Mendelssohn. A horse coming from Europe has never won America’s biggest race. Trained by Irishman Aidan O’Brien, UAE Derby winner Mendelssohn is the 5-1 second choice. He drew the No. 14 post.
O’Brien wasn’t at the draw and Mendelssohn won’t hit the Churchill Downs dirt strip until Wednesday after clearing quarantine. The colt arrived Monday from Ireland.
Pletcher has a leading four horses in the field: Magnum Moon, 8-1 Audible, 12-1 Vino Rosso and 30-1 Noble Indy. He surpassed Lukas, his mentor, this year as the trainer with the most starters in Derby history with 52.
Pletcher won last year with Always Dreaming.