Just Steel – Kentucky Derby Context

April 18th, 2024

Runner-up in the Arkansas Derby (G1), Just Steel likes to race close to the pace and the early/presser rates as an intriguing longshot for the 150th Kentucky Derby (G1) following a career-best effort at 1 1/8 miles. His top performance from seven juvenile starts came sprinting, a dominant win in the 6 1/2-furlong Ed Brown S. at Churchill Downs in late November, but Just Steel stretched back out in distance for Kentucky Derby qualifiers this winter. After seconds in the Smarty Jones and Southwest (G3), the bay colt was too far back early and never fired finishing seventh in the Rebel (G2), but he rebounded commendably in the Arkansas Derby, trying hard to reel in Muth all the way to the wire finishing two lengths back, nearly five lengths clear of third. Just Steel is a throwback – the vast majority of Kentucky Derby starters nowadays don’t enter with four starts at age 3 – and even though he’s the most experienced member of the 20-horse field with 11 career starts, Just Steel appears to be finding his best form presently for a dangerous Kentucky Derby trainer who knows how to win with a late-blooming longshot (see Charismatic at 31-1 in 1999).

Owner: Just Steel will be the first Kentucky Derby starter for owner BC Stables (John Bellinger and Brian Coelho).

Trainer: Still going strong at age 88, D. Wayne Lukas continues to build upon his legacy. He’s been part of the Kentucky Derby scene for 43 years, finishing third with his first starter, Partez in 1981, and Lukas has compiled a 49-4-1-5 record, tied for third all-time in wins. Just Steel will be his first Kentucky Derby starter since Bravazo finished sixth in 2018. A Wisconsin native, Lukas launched his trainer career with Quarter Horses in the late 1960s, training more than 20 champions over a decade before switching his focus to Thoroughbreds, and he’s a member of the Thoroughbred and Quarter Horse Hall of Fames. Known as “The Coach,” Lukas became the first trainer to sweep the Triple Crown with different horses in 1995, winning a whopping 14 Triple Crown races, and Lukas owns a record 20 Breeders’ Cup race wins. The living legend was in the spotlight two years ago, capturing the 2022 Kentucky Oaks (G1) with Secret Oath, and Lukas likes to say that the pursuit of another Kentucky Derby win keeps him young.

Jockey: Keith Asmussen will make his first Kentucky Derby appearance aboard Just Steel. The 25-year-old started his career in 2020, riding at Lone Star Park and Remington, before returning to school to earn a master’s degree in professional accounting in 2022. The son of Hall of Fame trainer Steve Asmussen returned to the jockey ranks that fall, and Asmussen’s career began to take off over this past winter at Oaklawn Park. He earned his first graded stakes win in late February aboard the Lukas-trained Lemon Muffin, who he will pilot in the Kentucky Oaks, and Asmussen ranks second in the Oaklawn jockey standings by wins and earnings.

Breeder/Sales: Summerhill Farm (Tim Hyde Jr.) bred 2016 Kentucky Derby winner Nyquist, and Just Steel will become the second Kentucky Derby starter as a breeder for the Lexington, Kentucky farm. The Kentucky-bred colt sold for $500,000 as a yearling at the 2022 Keeneland September sale.

Sire: The only undefeated Triple Crown winner in 2018, Justify proved to be an immediate success at stud at Coolmore’s Ashford Stud in Versailles, Ky., throwing graded stakes winners on all surfaces and distances, and Just Steel is from the second crop of the in-demand stallion. By Scat Daddy, who hails from the Storm Cat sire line, Justify also will be represented by Blue Grass (G1) runner-up Just a Touch in this year’s field.

Dam: Just Steel is the first third stakes winner from the dam Irish Lights, an Australian-bred daughter of Fastnet Rock and winner of the 2009 Australian One Thousand Guineas (G1). Her other stakes winners came internationally. Irish Lights is by two-time Australian champion and successful sire Fastnet Rock, who has been represented by champions in Australia, Greece, France, Ireland, Italy, New Zealand, and Turkey. Mostly known as a turf sire, Fastnet Rock produced 2021 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies Turf (G1) winner Pizza Bianca.

Top Brisnet Speed: 97
Top Brisnet Late Pace: 96