WASHINGTON — When it comes to Justify, the favorite horse in the 144th running of the Kentucky Derby, history at Churchill Downs can be either a blessing or a curse.
Justify and the colt’s trainer, Bob Baffert, can take solace in the fact that the last five post-time favorites have won the Derby (Orb in 2013, California Chrome in 2014, American Pharaoh in 2015, Nyquist in 2016 and Always Dreaming last year).
The flip side of history is the Curse of Apollo. Since Apollo crossed the line first in 1882, no horse has won the Kentucky Derby after not starting as a 2-year-old. Since 1937, 61 horses that did not race as 2-year-olds have entered the Derby — just three of them have finished as high as second.
Only picking Justify to win at his current odds isn’t going to be much of a payday, so including trifecta and superfecta tickets should be considered.
See the full field for the 144th running of the Kentucky Derby below (post time 6:34 p.m. Eastern) and my picks for Saturday underneath the gallery.
WIN: No. 7 Justify
Despite all of the above written about 2-year-olds and the curse, Justify was one of the best last year and has all of the tools not only to win the Kentucky Derby but also to capture the Triple Crown. One knock that can be justified (no pun intended) is that he’s never really faced this deep of a field, so there is some worry if he gets swallowed up. At the Santa Anita Derby, Justify was challenged by Bolt D’Oro, but when Justify turned it on he won by three lengths. It could be even a greater distance Saturday as Justify will look to stay undefeated.
PLACE: No. 14 Mendelssohn
On the flip side of the traffic issues that could plague Justify, Mendelssohn proved on the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf that he could escape a traffic jam, as he faced 14 other horses and won. He’s got the pedigree and the ability to go the distance, and his trainer, Aidan O’Brien, is one of the best in the world. History isn’t exactly in the European horses’ favor, as a horse hasn’t won the Kentucky Derby without having its last prep race in the United States since 1971 (Venezuela’s Canonero II). However, one cannot ignore his dominating performance at the UAE Derby in Dubai, winning by 18.5 lengths in course record time.
SHOW: No. 18 Vino Rosso
Think about this: Hall of fame jockey John Velazquez had a chance to ride the Florida Derby champion Audible, but decided to try to win his second consecutive Kentucky Derby with Wood Memorial Champion Vino Rosso. That tells you what kind of potential Vino Rosso has to disrupt the top favorites in this year’s race. Trainer Todd Pletcher will run not only Vino Rosso and Audible, but Magnum Moon and Noble Indy as well. He’s undefeated and has a great pedigree, and has the capability to close out a race. He’s got a shot; it’s just heavy at the top this year.
DARK HORSE CANDIDATES: No. 10 My Boy Jack; No. 12 Enticed
You could include either in your superfectas or pick them to win outright, as both are 30-1 odds as of Thursday evening.
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