Kentucky Derby 2018: Is the Hype on Justify… Justified? – Super Screener
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Kentucky Derby 2018: Is the Hype on Justify… Justified?

Photo by Eclipse Sportswire


On Sunday, the massive Bob Baffert-trained chestnut colt, Justify, served notice that he is the real thing and despite his lack of seasoning, this Scat Daddy colt emerges as a top win contender in whatever April Kentucky Derby final prep race to which he will be pointed. As a result of his flashy win in the Optional Claimer on Sunday, Justify jumped to the the lowest priced individual horse — passing both Bolt d’Oro and McKinzie — in the 3rd Kentucky Derby Futures wagering pool, which closed on Sunday. Is this lofty opinion regarding Justify’s chances in the 2018 Kentucky Derby … justified? Let’s break it all down and we’ll close with using the Jerry Hollendorfer horse, Shivermetimbers, to offer us some clues on just how good Justify might be.  

First, the knocks:

  • Justify just debuted a month ago so he has no 2 year-old seasoning.
  • Sunday’s Optional Claimer was just his 2nd race, so if he were fortunate enough to earn a sufficient number of Kentucky Derby points in his final prep, he would be going into the Kentucky Derby with just 3 lifetime races. Big Brown won the 2008 Kentucky Derby off just 3 lifetime starts but he did have a race as a 2 year-old. Bodemeister finished a game 2nd in the 2012 Kentucky Derby and, like Justify, he did not have a start as a 2 year-old, but he did go into that Derby with more foundation, having 4 starts under his belt. The big question is not whether Justify is talented or not…it’s will he have sufficient foundation and enough energy in reserve to command that final critical 1/8th mile in the Kentucky Derby against 19 other rivals with superior conditioning?  
  • His impressive victory on Sunday at Santa Anita was over a rare muddy, sealed track, and his breeding screams mud – so there it came as no surprise that he would relish the muddy going. In addition, Calexman set suicidal fractions and Justify enjoyed the perfect off-the-pace trip as a result.

Now the pluses:

  • Justify is a massive, late-developing colt that is finally growing into himself and he will just get better with added ground.
  • He won his debut laying out elevated energy levels throughout that 7 furlong race and in a very balanced way… that is definitely not easy to do. He then passed the two-turn test in his last race.
  • The ease in which he blew by Shivermetimbers and then throttled down late in the stretch while drawing away was visually impressive.
  • While he got the perfect trip, he was forced to lay out a ton of energy early and while the rest of the field was gasping at the end, Justify continued on finishing the final two furlongs in a solid but not flashy 26 seconds flat.
  • He is clearly a colt with a good mind and a professional demeanor which are key criteria possessed by most Kentucky Derby winners. That is just so rare for young horses with just two races to their name. His stablemate, Solomini, is probably just as talented right now but that colt is quite lazy and a bit of a head case and is still learning.
  • It appears Mike Smith would be the horse’s jockey should he continue on to the Kentucky Derby… interesting considering Smith has first call on McKinze who just won the G2 San Felipe and is a top 3 Kentucky Derby contender on just about everyone’s list.

Often, Comparative or Relative Handicapping can offer some clues as to how a sudden star like Justify compares to some of the more established top Kentucky Derby contenders. It’s not a perfect science by any means, but it is a very useful tool in case like this. Take a look at the BRIS PP’s for the horse that finished 2nd to Justify in the Sunday’s Optional claimer race, Shivermetimbers:

Note that Justify defeated Shivermetimbers (who came off the Kentucky Derby trail) by 6.5 lengths in a race in which Shivermetimbers submitted a very similar effort to what he did in the G3 Sham (same mile distance) when he finished 7 3/4 lengths behind McKinzie. Then back in October, Shivermetimbers finished 6 1/4 lengths behind McKinzie in a 7 furlong race. Based on conducting this Comparative Handicapping — in which McKinzie and Justify defeated Shivermetimbers by similar margins in races in which Shivermetimbers ran nearly the same type of race — we can safely conclude that Justify would have been at least competitive to Bolt’ d’Oro and McKinzie in the G2 San Felipe run the prior day… especially since the track was taking moisture even though it was listed as fast. In fact, had Justify run in the G2 San Felipe, the Super Screener projects that he would have finished a close 3rd to the McKinzie, just about 2 lengths behind that leader. The one caution here is that while this conclusion is useful, directionally, you don’t really know until you pit these young brilliant horses against the best.  

So, just when you thought the California contingent that includes Bolt d’Oro, McKinize and Solomini couldn’t get any stronger, add Justify to that impressive list as a viable Kentucky Derby contender that — while he has a lot to prove and overcome — the effort he submits and how he lays out energy in his final Derby prep will tell us everything we need to know about his chances in the Kentucky Derby. Is he a Big Brown or Bodemeister in the making?… or one of the dozens of lightly raced horses that flashed brilliance in their first few races only to be a no show come the first Saturday in May? Right now, he looks more like the former type from a barn that knows how to manage these young stars well. Let the debate continue and can’t wait for that next start in April.

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