The result, unpredictable with the slop and yet predictable based on the history, marked the sixth year in a row the favorite has won the Derby. It was Baffert’s fifth Derby win.
The ironman Mike Smith, who at 52 is in the type of shape that makes his younger counterparts ogle or stew, or both, once again lived up to his nickname Big Money Mike by expertly guiding his supremely talented but woefully inexperienced mount to victory in America’s greatest race. It was his second Derby victory — his first coming in 2005 aboard the 50-1 shot Giacomo — in a career overflowing with success.
Justify is owned by WinStar Farm, Head of Plains Partners, Starlight Racing and the China Horse Club. WinStar, which won its first Derby when Super Saver romped in the slop in 2010, owns the majority of the horse.
The group reflects the rise of partnerships across the industry, even among the sport’s most powerful, to reduce risk by pooling capital and buying into proven horses. Nine of the 20 Derby horses were owned by partnerships.
Head of Plains is run by the hedge fund executive Sol Kumin, who earned his first Oaks victory on Friday when Monomoy Girl held off Wonder Gadot to net the first-place check for another of his successful partnerships, Monomoy Stables. Monomoy also co-owns My Boy Jack, who finished fifth.
China Horse Club, the exclusive and secretive group that has become a major global player in the sport in just five years, won the Oaks last year with Abel Tasman and then one-upped itself with Justify.
Winning the Derby is always high on horse owners’ bucket lists, but Kumin said this week that, for him, winning the Oaks was higher. After the Oaks, he stood his ground.
“This feels about as good as it gets,” he said. “This is Kentucky Oaks Day, the biggest race. Winning it with all your friends, with a trainer you love, with a jockey you love, with a person picking out the horse that you love.”
But on Saturday, when Justify toyed with Apollo and became a man among boys amid the hurly-burly of the poncho-clad crowd, Kumin surely felt differently. Like his philosophy on teaming up to buy horses — why buy one when you can buy two. Why win one when you can win two?
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