Powell on the 'Wow' moments from Justify, Army Mule, Wood Memorial

TwinSpires Staff

April 9th, 2018


There were a few “Wow” moments from this past weekend’s racing action but none bigger than JUSTIFY’s win in the Santa Anita Derby (G1).

When JUSTIFY broke his maiden back on February 18, Bob Baffert immediately said that he had a plan to get him to the Kentucky Derby (G1). He came back with an easy allowance win going a two-turn mile then Baffert had to decide on running him back four weeks later, and have four more weeks to the Derby, or wait another week for the Arkansas Derby (G1) and have three weeks to the Derby.

When Baffert’s MCKINZIE was injured after the San Felipe (G2), Baffert kept JUSTIFY at Santa Anita and entered him in the Santa Anita Derby even though multiple Grade 1 stakes winner BOLT D’ORO was going to be in the field.

JUSTIFY looked a little warmer than usual going to the gate and when the latch was sprung, he broke alertly. Mike Smith was not going to get into a crazy speed duel but if nobody wanted the lead, he was happy to have it. He and JUSTIFY cruised to an easy lead and while the fractions looked slow, they were pretty solid since the Santa Anita main track was very dry and played very slow.

Javier Castellano was in a tough position aboard BOLT D’ORO since he did not want to use him too much but wanted to get enough out of the race. Nearing the quarter pole, Castellano went to a right-hand whip and he might have narrowed JUSTIFY’s advantage by a yard.

Smith kept JUSTIFY well off the rail, daring Castellano to go to the inside. Castellano took the bait but it didn’t really matter since he was not making up any ground. JUSTIFY came over to the inside and felt three cracks of Smith’s left hand. It might not have been that noticeable but JUSTIFY was pulling away from BOLT D’ORO in the last 100 yards.

JUSTIFY covered the 1 1/8 miles in 1:49.72. His final margin was three lengths and he earned a spectacular BRIS speed rating of 114. And, he raced off the rail for most of the race.

A close look at his BRIS pace figures show how great JUSTIFY’s race was. Despite leading every step of the way, he ran 100, 105 and 117. This is unheard of in dirt racing.

But, it’s not that JUSTIFY had a good race four weeks before the big prize. He did what Mike Smith wanted him to do and little else. Winning by 10 lengths in track record time would have proved nothing and set him up for an adverse reaction to a strenuous effort. As good as this was, it did not look strenuous.

So, Baffert’s plan has worked out perfectly and he goes to Churchill Downs with three races under his belt, the ability to either relax early or set a comfortable pace, do exactly what Mike Smith wants him to do and still race like there is more to come. Wow!

ARMY MULE is a freak. The Pennsylvania-bred son of FRIESAN FIRE cost $825,000 at Fasig-Tipton Midlantic May 2YO-in-Training sale. He came back almost 12 months later and broke his maiden by over eight lengths at Belmont Park going 6 1/2 furlongs. Off for another eight months, he crushed first-level allowance foes at Gulfstream Park in 1:08 and change while coming from just off the pace.

The Carter Handicap (G1) is not what it used to be but here was ARMY MULE being sent off at 21/10 last Saturday at Aqueduct. After breaking a big slow, he used energy down the backstretch to keep up with the leaders but had to bide his time around the far turn, waiting for room. The room came at the top of the stretch and he surged to a 6 1/4-length win in 1:20.94. ARMY MULE earned a BRIS speed rating of 112 and now that he has shown he can come back and race without a trip to the sidelines, the Met Mile (G1) looks to be next for him.

Two races later we had another “Wow” moment but not for what took place on the racetrack. The Wood Memorial (G2) drew a field of nine and since it attracted a Grade 1 stakes winner, FIRENZE FIRE, its purse was raised to $1 million.

At the start, Jeremy Rose aboard OLD TIME REVIVAL kept a straight path going into the clubhouse turn from post 4 and carried ENTICED extremely wide. OLD TIME REVIVAL opened up a huge lead but nobody seemed too worried and he came back to the pack nearing the top of the stretch.

ENTICED, RESTORING HOPE and VINO ROSSO were tightly bunched and as they straightened away, it was ENTICED on the inside and VINO ROSSO on the outside. Johnny Velazquez went to a right-hand whip and herded ENTICED to the inside and then bumped him twice. Don’t take my word for it; here is how the Equibase chart caller described it: … was still directly abreast of ENTICED as they hit the top of the lane, but back into path four, began to come in after the rider switched over to a strong hand ride, intimidated the nemesis into moving closer to the rail, rider still asking his mount for run all the while, bumped solidly two times in rapid succession with the runner-up during the run leading up to and then through the furlong grounds, held an even course thereafter, put away ENTICED coming up to the sixteenth pole and drew clear.

After a long review, which had technical difficulties on the NYRA simulcast feed, the stewards decided to let the result stand. “WOW” and a few other expletives. It’s as bad as the National Football League’s “Catch Rule.” A foul might have occurred and it might not have affected the outcome so two “mights” make a right.

Finally, the Blue Grass Stakes (G2) was run at Keeneland and it attracted a field of 14. Last year’s juvenile champion, GOOD MAGIC, drew post 11 and it looked like he could not avoid an extremely wide trip. With Jose Ortiz looking for a place to drop in that never materialized, he was five wide the first part of turn one and four path the second part.

Ortiz had him relaxed while losing ground and patiently maintained his stride. Turning for home, Ortiz asked him to go and while he didn’t crush the field, he was a dominating 1 1/2-length winner in a very professional performance. FLAMEAWAY held well for second after dueling for the lead most of the nine furlongs and FREE DROP BILLY was placed third after SPORTING CHANCE bolted to the outside in the deep stretch.

When GOOD MAGIC was third in the Fountain of Youth Stakes (G2), trainer Chad Brown said he was bringing him along slow and would have him ready when necessary. His Blue Grass win was excellent and should be a sign of better things to come. His BRIS speed rating was another 98 but he ran a 105 as a two-year-old and looks to be coming back to that level at the right time.