Congratulations to Justify, Bob Baffert, and Mike Smith on the convincing victory in the 2018 Kentucky Derby. By galloping off to 2 ½ length victory over the sloppy rain-soaked track at Churchill Downs, Justify did away with the 136 year Curse of Apollo. The wait for a Derby winner that did not run as a 2-year-old is now over.
For trainer Bob Baffert, this was his fifth win in the Derby, which puts him in second place for career victories just one behind Ben Jones. Baffert began in 1997 with Silver Charm and now has won two of the last four with American Pharoah in 2015 and Justify.
Jockey Mike Smith notched his second win, with his first coming back in 2005 aboard the 50-1 longshot Giacomo. But this year, Smith was on an unbeaten lightly raced colt that was the 2.90-1 favorite with $8,262,372 bet on him to win by racing fans world-wide.
The contrast in the odds of Smith’s two Derby winners points out a dramatic change in the kind of horses that recently have won on the first Saturday in May. When Justify crossed the finished line, it meant yet another betting favorite had notched a first-place finish in the Run for the Roses. The record shows that the big race has now been won by the top betting choice the last six times. It is probably not a coincidence that those consecutive chalky victories correspond to the implementation of the Kentucky Derby points qualifying program.
The times have changed and the way that the trainers prepare for the Derby has been dramatically affected by the structure of the races on the road to the Kentucky Derby. The points qualifying races seem to have, for better or for worse, created a system that by the First Saturday in May, identifies an elite group of seven three-year-olds. For the last six years, that group has produced a Derby winner with strikingly similar characteristics.
•The winner has been the favorite.
•The winner has been unbeaten as a three-year-old.
•The winner was victorious in one of seven 100-point races with three in the Florida Derby, three in the Santa Anita Derby, and 1 in the Arkansas Derby.
•The last five winners have raced from a stalking position, no more than a few lengths from the lead in the early going.
Is all of this just a statistical anomaly and the next Mind That Bird or Giacomo will win Kentucky Derby 2019? I’m dubious. One thing is for sure, I would not want to see this pattern continue for too much longer.
Photo of Justify courtesy of Coady Photography