A Bob Baffert-trained colt once again has the target on his back going into the Kentucky Derby (Saturday, 6:30 p.m., NBC). Justify, a winner of all three starts to date, including the Santa Anita Derby, is the 3-1 morning-line favorite for this year’s “Run for the Roses.” He’s plenty fast on paper but will have to buck a longstanding trend regarding experience, as he failed to record a start at age two. He would be the first Derby winner to not race at two since Apollo in 1882. He’ll also be making his first start outside Santa Anita when he travels to Churchill Downs this Saturday. Here are three entrants that could take America’s most popular horse race if Justify fails to live up to the hype.
#9 Hofburg (20-1) is the horse with the most upside in what’s probably the most competitive top-to-bottom Kentucky Derby field in years. He’s raced just three times so far but does have two-year-old seasoning, albeit he was fourth after a slow start and wide trip at Saratoga. Hofburg overcame significant trouble in his maiden score back in March before placing second in the Florida Derby, which has produced three of the last five Kentucky Derby winners. He continues to work well for Hall of Fame trainer Bill Mott and lures preeminent rider Irad Ortiz Jr. His pedigree is impeccable, suggesting the demanding Derby distance (1 1/4-miles) will be no problem for him. Hofburg will probably launch from well off the pace, which is projected to be strong.
#16 Magnum Moon (6-1) has answered the bell in every start to date, going 4-for-4 under the care of 2017 Derby-winning trainer Todd Pletcher, but history is not on his side. Like Justify, Magnum Moon did not race at two either. However, Magnum Moon began his career in early January and has won at three different tracks in runaway style each time. That included a victory in the Arkansas Derby, which American Pharoah used as a springboard to the Kentucky Derby just three years ago. He can win from almost anywhere, but jockey Luis Saez will likely try to stalk the pace and keep Magnum Moon from dueling for the early lead. His mount should be able to negotiate 1 1/4-miles based on pedigree.
#15 Instilled Regard (50-1) has had some excuses since his open-length score in January’s Lecomte Stakes at the Fair Grounds, getting no pace to work within both the Risen Star and the Santa Anita Derby (he finished fourth in both). He should get the tempo he needs in the Kentucky Derby and the added ground should help him. Drayden Van Dyke, an up-and-coming California-based rider making his Derby debut, will be in the irons for Jerry Hollendorfer, who trained Battle of Midway to a third-place finish in last year’s event.