(RNN) – Mike Smith rode Justify to victory in the 144th Kentucky Derby on Saturday.
Justify will take the next step in pursuit of the triple crown when he races in the Preakness Stakes on May 19.
Bob Baffert is America’s preeminent horse trainer, having produced now five Kentucky Derby winners, including the most recent Triple Crown champion American Pharoah, in the last 21 years.
In Saturday’s 144th running of “the most exciting two minutes in sports,” he fielded one of his best bets in more than four decades in horse racing.
Justify was the heavy favorite for the 2018 Derby, with 3-1 odds. The three-year-old colt only ran his first race in February, in Santa Anita, CA. He has since raced twice more, in March and again last month.
He won all three races.
In his debut, he won by nine and a half lengths, which would easily be a Derby record. Then in March, he won with ease on a muddy track before taking his biggest prize yet, the $1 million Santa Anita Derby, in April.
It’s an impressive race record for a horse so fresh to the track.
“For a young horse, man, he’s got a great mind,” hall of fame jockey Mike Smith, who’s ridden him in two of the victories, told the LA Times. “That might allow him to catch up maybe sooner than a normal horse would take, because of his talent and the mind to go with it.”
Baffert fully understands what he has in Justify.
"We don't dream to have a horse like him. He’s special,” he told WAVE last month.
Justify is favored just ahead of Mendelssohn (5-1), another 3-year-old under the care of another star trainer, Aidan O’Brien.
The Irishman has fielded winners in some of the world’s biggest races – including the $2 million UAE Derby, which Mendelssohn won in Dubai in March.
But never the Kentucky Derby.
“It’s something we couldn’t really dream about,” he told The New York Times.
Also among the favorites will be Magnum Moon (6-1), Audible (8-1) and Bolt d’Oro (8-1).
There was a 20-1 longshot owned by a Saudi prince in the mix, as well. That horse, Hofburg, like Justify has only ran three races before.
But Baffert wasn’t worried about him.
“Too lightly raced,” he joked to Sports Illustrated.
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