• Bill Caine, Woodford Sun Sports Editor

WinStar's Justify wins 144th Kentucky Derby

WINSTAR FARM’S JUSTIFY won the 144th Kentucky Derby Saturday, fending off late challenges by Audible, seen here just behind Justify, and Good Magic, which finished second. The wettest Kentucky Derby on record was also the sixth in a row won by the favorite. There’s much more on the Derby in Sports on page 15. (Photo by Charles Bertram, Lexington Herald-Leader)

WinStar Farm's Justify won the 144th Kentucky Derby by two-and-a-half lengths on Saturday, May 5, becoming the first horse to wear the roses without racing as a two-year-old since Apollo won the Derby in 1882. The chestnut colt is undefeated in four starts and has earned $2.098 million. Justify is owned by WinStar Farm in Versailles in a partnership with Head of Plains Partners, Starlight Racing and China Horse Club. The group purchased the colt at the Keeneland September yearling sale for $500,000 in 2016. He was bred by John Gunther and daughter Tanya Gunther of Glenwood farm in Woodford County. The Gunthers also bred Vino Rosso, ninth in the Derby. Justify is by Ashford Stud's Scat Daddy, who died unexpectedly in 2015, and Stage Magic, was also bred by the Gunthers.

Justify broke his maiden on Feb.18 when he won a maiden special race at Santa Anita by nine and a half lengths. He won again in an allowance claimer race March 11 in the mud. On April 7, he won his stakes debut in the Santa Anita Derby by three lengths over Bolt d' Oro, bred by WinStar bred and sold as a yearling at Saratoga. Justify's reputation grew so large that he was the favorite to win the Derby despite his short career.

The driving rain was relentless around post time and track conditions were muddy with nearly three inches of rain falling on Saturday. Despite the conditions, Justify still managed the third best half-mile time (45.77) in Derby history. For the sixth year in a row, the favorite has won the Derby.

“This whole experience is unbelievable to me,” said John Gunther. “We were all a bit concerned about the condition of the track, but once he got in front after the first turn I was confident that he would win the race. Then you sit back and realize that you are the breeder of the Kentucky Derby winner. There aren't words to describe the feeling.

“This win has put Glenwood on the map and I am very happy for my daughter, who works 24/7 and has given her entire heart to the business. The win really brands Glenwood in a major way. We've had a lot of calls from major farms about the dams. It's a very exciting time.”

Hall of Fame jockey Mike Smith, who won his first Derby aboard Giacomo in 2005, said he tried to stay out of the way and let the horse do his job. “He got out fast and I kept a leg on each side and my mind in the middle,” said Smith at his post-race press conference. “When we hit the stretch, I felt like he could have gone around the track again and wouldn't let anyone by him. I have never been on a three-year-old like this.”

Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert won his fifth Kentucky Derby and now trails only Calumet Farm's Ben Jones, who won six career Derbies. Baffert put Justify in the same category as Triple Crown Winner American Pharoah. “Him, American Pharoah, these are great horses and it took a great horse to win today,” said Baffert after the race. “Having a horse like him is like having Lebron James. You better win a championship with him.”

The top three horses in the Derby had connections to Woodford County farms. Stonestreet Farm's Good Magic finished second in the Derby and went head to head with Justify before the winner pulled away down the stretch. Trainer Chad Brown said after the race that he had a horse that could win several Derbys, just not this one. “That horse (Justify) had another gear and found more,” said Brown. “He's a deserving winner. He's a super horse.”

WinStar's group also placed third in the Derby with Audible. The Florida Derby winner entered the race with 6 to1 odds. The Amazon.com owned company Audible.com got behind the horse and offered everyone in America a free audio book if he won the Derby. After the race, the company released a statement on Twitter stating “We will always be team Audible. To celebrate his efforts today, you still get a copy of the American Pharoah audio book.”

Justify looks to add to his short, but successful career, in two weeks on May 19 at the Preakness.

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