There could be some ‘Magic’ in the Kentucky Derby
By Bob Ehalt
Finally, it’s here.
After all of the preps, all of the twists and turns, all of the excitement and disappointment, Kentucky Derby Day is at hand.
The 144th Kentucky Derby will be contested on Saturday, with the focus of sports fans from all across the country and from all walks of life centered on Churchill Downs and the answer to the burning question of the year in horse racing.
Who will be that one horse who wins the Most Exciting Two Minutes in Sports and becomes the lone hopeful with a chance to become the sport’s 13th Triple Crown champion.
In an instant, about a dozen horses can be rattled off and labeled as legitimate contenders to prevail in the $2 million opening leg of the Triple Crown. It’s surely a field so deep and talented that some very good horses are going to be overlooked in the wagering.
Take, for example, Magnum Moon. He’s merely undefeated in four starts, capped by a win in the Arkansas Derby last time out. He’s trained by seven-time Eclipse Award winner Todd Pletcher, who won the Derby last year with Always Dreaming. He’s also the 6-1 third choice in the morning line.
And yet, in a 20-horse field with so much star power, there’s been little buzz about him this week and it would not be surprising if he was closer to 12-1 than 6-1 at post time.
Meanwhile, the consensus favorite and 3-1 morning-line choice is Justify. Like Magnum Moon, he’s undefeated, though he has only started three times. His last race was a three-length score in the Santa Anita Derby and with Bob Baffert training him, there’s little doubt he’ll be poised for a big effort on Saturday. He’s also the one carrying the grand distinction of trying to register an unprecedented six straight Derby win by a betting favorite.
As much as all of that weighs heavily on one side of the scale, the other is balanced by areas of concern. With just three starters, he’s lightly seasoned and faced only a combined 14 rivals in that trio of starts. The Derby, as always, promises to be a mad scramble with 19 foes trying to beat Justify.
He also had things his own way in the Santa Anita Derby, cruising along on the lead through moderate fractions with his only real challenger being runner-up Bolt d’Oro, whose late kick was compromised by having to stay close to the pace to keep within range of the freewheeling Justify.
Finally, there’s the royal rumble between Justify and “The Curse of Apollo,” with Magnum Moon serving as a tag-team partner for Baffert’s colt. No horse since Apollo in 1882 has won the Derby without the benefit of a race at two. Neither Justify nor Magnum Moon raced at two.
So where should you turn?
How about with the horse who was good enough to be the division’s 2-year-old champion? Good Magic captured the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile and received an Eclipse Award, even though it was his maiden win.