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Justify races to Kentucky Derby victory

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Jockey Mike Smith aboard Justify crosses the finish line to win the 144th Running of the Kentucky Derby on Saturday at Churchill Downs in Louisville, Kentucky. Photo by Jason Szenes/UPI | License Photo

By ROBERT KIECKHEFER, UPI

The weather was awful for Saturday's 144th Kentucky Derby but the trip was perfect for the favorite, Justify, who cruised home first over a sloppy Churchill Downs track to remain undefeated in four starts.

Justify, with Mike Smith up, got off to a perfect start, raced right with a fast early pace and had plenty left in the stretch run, winning by a comfortable 2 1/2 lengths over last year's 2-year-old champion, Good Magic. On a day featuring some 3 inches of rain, Smith and Justify came to the winner's circle virtually mud-free.

Audible, the Florida Derby winner, was third and long shot Instilled Regard was along for fourth at huge odds. None of those rivals was making up any ground on the winner in the final furlong.

Baffert won the Derby for the fifth time, putting him second on the all-time list behind only Ben Jones, who won six times. Smith, known in the sport as "Big Money Mike", scored his second win in the Run for the Roses.

As good as the trip was for Justify, it was equally tough for the second-favorite, Irish-trained UAE Derby winner Mendelssohn. He was squeezed and slammed hard at the start, took a lot of kickback down the backstretch and faded to finish last of 20.

"I can't describe how amazing this horse is," said Smith, who gave Justify just a few taps with the whip in deep stretch. "My vocabulary doesn't have the words for it. For such a young horse, he's so big and strong."

Baffert confessed to being nervous all day Saturday. "I was worried," he said. "But we just saw a great performance. I rank him up there with my best."

Baffert's best include the last U.S. Triple Crown winner, American Pharoah, making that quite a statement and quickly bringing to mind Justify's chances of repeating that feat with victories in the Preakness Stakes in two weeks' time and The Belmont Stakes three weeks after that.

Justify, a Scat Daddy colt, sold at the Keeneland yearling sale in September 2016 for $500,000 to a syndicate that includes WinStar Farm, China Horse Club, Starlight Racing and Head of Plains Partners. He ran in WinStar's silks.

The chestnut colt won at first asking Feb. 18, returned to win in the mud at Santa Anita March 11 and then easily won the Santa Anita Derby April 7 in his first stakes race. He thus became the first horse to win the Kentucky Derby without a start as a 2-year-old since Apollo in 1882.

Despite the abysmal weather, a crowd of 157,813 showed up at Churchill Downs to cheer home the favorite.

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Sports - U.S. Daily News: Justify races to Kentucky Derby victory
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