The Highlights

  • Justify was the favorite at the Kentucky Derby, but his performance at Churchill Downs left Paul Lo Duca impressed.
  • Lo Duca was so impressed, in fact, that he believes Bob Baffert’s horse will run for a Triple Crown in June.

The first Saturday in May is over, and there’s a lot to get to as we look ahead to the meat of the horse racing season with the Preakness and Belmont Stakes looming.

So what did we learn over the weekend in Louisville?

The Oaks

Monomoy Girl is the baddest girl in the land. This Kentucky-bred daughter took the Kentucky Oaks from just off the pace Friday for jockey Florent Geroux. She came from the 14-post and left no doubt who the best 3-year-old filly in North America is.

Wonder Gadot challenged Monomoy Girl to the finish, with a bit of bumping occurring in the deep stretch. Monomoy Girl won by half a length, and Johnny Velazquez, Wonder’s jockey, cried foul.

“We were battling head and head down the stretch,” Velazquez told the stewards. “When they came out and knocked her sideways, she went back to the left lead. At least I have to take a chance on it. I mean, I’m fighting the whole way around, and all of a sudden the last sixteenth of a mile she goes back to her left lead because she got bumped.”

 

The stewards decided there was no foul, and I feel they made the right call. Monomoy Girl was the best horse on that track, and the bumping was slight. The victory was worth $564,200, increasing her earnings to $1,120,750 with an impeccable 7-6-1-0 record.

After a close look at the replay, I think Midnight Bisou was the unlucky horse. She was the favorite at post time but had a nightmare start.

“We didn’t get the best of starts,” Bill Spawr, Midnight Bisou’s trainer, said. “(Jockey) Mike (Smith) told me that when she got banged at the start it knocked the air out of her. She got hit again on the turn (for home). She still ran well to be third; we are very proud of her.”

Monomoy Girl is now undefeated in three starts in 2018 with victories in the Rachel Alexandra (Grade II) at Fair Grounds and the Ashland (Grade I) at Keeneland, a victory that gave trainer Brad Cox — a Louisville native — his first Grade I win. Now he has his first Kentucky Oaks win.

Dominant Derby

What can you even say about Justify at this point? He just broke a 136-year curse, becoming the first horse since Apollo in 1882 to win the Derby after not racing as a 2-year-old. Is Justify the next Seattle Slew — the only horse to ever go unbeaten and win the Triple Crown? Well, he has the best dirt trainer — Bob Baffert — of all time.

I’ve said for years that Baffert is the best because he’s quality over quantity. He keeps his operation in one place and sees all of his horses. I’ve never seen a guy do the things he can do. Winning the Kentucky Derby with a horse after only three starts is truly amazing. We don’t race or even breed horses anymore to run this far, but Bob can accomplish things that most can’t. He proves it year after year. Even after the race, he was not worried about anything to do with the actual running of the race. The only thing he was worried about was the track.

“We saw something really great,” Baffert said in his postrace statement. “That’s greatness right there. When he won his second race, we knew we were in (American) Pharoah territory.”

 

This is scary, because Bob tells it like it is. The relationship he has with Smith, a Hall of Famer, is insane. Smith is so cool and calm in big situations, and he just lets Bob do his job and doesn’t get in the horse’s way.

“Going into the race, the main concern was just getting him out of the gate,” Smith said. “This horse is so talented. I keep using the term ‘above average’ because he has a mind to him as well. It was a sigh of relief when I got him out of the gate, and I just stayed out of his way. Bolt d’Oro came to my outside the first time by the wire, and I figured if we were going fast up front, they’re going fast behind me as well.”

That’s what separates great from good. All Smith was worried about was getting Justify out of the gate. They knew they had the goods, and that’s why both Bob and Mike are going down as two of the greatest the sport has ever seen. And maybe Justify joins that conversation soon.

Good Magic ran his heart out for a great second-place finish. He and Justify were the only two horses up early that hung around for the entire race.

Audible ran the best of Todd Pletcher’s brigade. He flew up the rail for third. The unlucky horse was My Boy Jack. He was unexpectedly bet heavily in the lead-up to the race, and nobody really knew why. It turned out to be pretty smart money, even though he finished fifth.

“At the three-eighths pole, I had a wall of horses come back into me,” My Boy Jack’s jockey, Kent Desormeaux, said. “He got stopped dry, stopped dry. My argument, in the end, would be that he probably would have been third or maybe even better. We will never know.”

What we do know is Justify is the real deal … and as my colleague BlackJack Fletcher always says, “I like to believe in things.”

I believe a Triple Crown will be on the line at the 150th Belmont Stakes.

Credit:

Credit: Mark Zerof-USA TODAY Sports