Matthews: Is Justify A Super Horse?



I generally don’t like to recommend a favorite in a 20-horse field but I can’t fault Justify entering Saturday’s 144th Kentucky Derby.

Justify has done nothing wrong in his relatively brief three-race career. He’s won easily and with fast times. One of his wins was on a wet track. Mike Smith and Bob Baffert are a top-shelf jockey/trainer combination.

But Justify has two huge questions marks – lack of experience and history. The last horse to win the Kentucky Derby after not racing as a two-year-old was Apollo in 1882 – just six years after Custer’s Last Stand.

Here’s my annual worst-to-first Kentucky Derby rundown:

20th – Firenze Fire (post position 1; jockey Paco Lopez, trainer Jason Servis; 9 career starts: 4 wins, 1 place, 0 show; earnings $669,100). Finished 2nd, 4th and 4th in two Grade 3 and one Grade 2 stakes at Aqueduct this winter and spring. Appears to have flamed out. Outclassed and drew the dreaded rail at Churchill Downs.

19th – Instilled Regard (post position 15; Drayden Van Dyke/Jerry Hollendorfer; 7: 2-2-1; $294,000). Won the Grade 3 Lacomte in New Orleans in January but disappointed in the subsequent Grade 2 Risen Star and Grade 1 Santa Anita Derby. Tough to recommend.

18th – Combatant (post position 20; Ricardo Santana/Steven Asmussen; 7: 1-3-1; $388,550). Hasn’t won since October but usually cashes a check against lesser horses than he’ll be facing in the Derby. Drawing the extreme outside No. 20 post position is the last thing he needed.

17th – Bravazo (post position 13; Luis Contreras/D. Wayne Lukas; 8:3-1-1; $436,528). Nothing in his past performances suggests that he belongs in this field. Won the Risen Star at 21-t o-1 but then finished eighth, 21 lengths behind Noble Indy, as the 2.90-to-1 favorite in the Louisiana Derby.

16th – Lone Sailor (post position 8; James Graham/Thomas Amoss; 8—1-3-1; $334,237). His only win was in a maiden race at Saratoga last September. Almost stole the Louisiana Derby but was caught late by Noble Indy.

15th – Promises Fulfilled (post position 3; Corey Lanerie/Dale Romans; 5: 3-0-1; Might set the pace but figures to be backing up when the real running starts.

14th – Solomini (post position 17; Flavien Prat/Bob Baffert; 6—1-3-2; $752,000). Always tries. In the money in every start. Like his effort but would have to step way up to beat these.

13th – My Boy Jack (post position 10; Kent Desormeaux/Keith Desormeaux; 10: 3-3-2; $645,145). He hasn’t been facing the best of company but at least he has a very consistent running style. He sits back early and closes late. Figures to pass some tiring rivals in the stretch.

12th – Enticed (post position 12; Junior Alvarado/Kiernan McLaughlin; 6: 3-1-1; $595,680). Closed to win the Gotham but was the beaten favorite in the Grade 2 Holy Bull and the Grade 2 Wood Memorial.

11th – Flameaway (post position 4; Jose Lezcano/Mark Casse; 9: 5-2-0; $704,834). Hard-trying Canadian-bred colt. Has some early lick but probably can’t stay the distance.

10th -- Noble Indy (post position 19; Florent Geroux/Todd Pletcher; 4: 3-0-1; $691,600). Regarded as the weakest of Pletcher’s four starters but may better rating and is worth a look at the odds. Could pad the exotic wagers.

9th – Free Drop Billy (post position 2; Robby Albarado/Dale Romans); 8: 2-3-2; $$625,220). Steady sort and had an excuse (impeded late) for his respectable fourth-place finish in the Grade 2 Blue Grass. Might surprise at a price here but might be better suited fgor the longer Belmont Stakes.

8th – Hofburg (post position 9; Irad Ortiz Jr./William Mott); 3-1-1-; $227,950. This lightly-raced Tapit colt has potential but faces a tall order here. He was a game second to Audible in the Grade 2 Florida Derby.

7th -- Vino Rosso (post position 18; John Velazquez/Todd Pletcher; 5: 3-0-1; $620,500). Rallied to beat a weak field in the Grade 2 Wood Memorial. Might be more dangerous in the longer Belmont Stakes.

6th – Mendelssohn (post position 14; Ryan Moore/Aidan O’Brien; 7: 4-1-0; $1,961,137). No Europe-based horse shipping in from overseas has won the Kentucky Derby. He took advantage of a lightning rail to beat a suspect field by almost 19 lengths in the rich Grade 2 UAE Derby. Will probably be overbet off that race.

5th -- Magnum Moon (post position 16; Luiz Saez/Todd Pletcher; 4: 4-0-0; $1,117,800). Didn’t race as a two-year-old but hasn’t lost yet this year and won the Grade 1 Arkansas Derby by 4 lengths as the 0.80-to-1 favorite. Can’t dismiss but might need more seasoning to show his best.

4th -- Good Magic (post position 6; Jose Ortiz/Chad Brown; 5: 2-2-1; $1,855,000). Very tempting at morning-line odds of 12-to-1 and likely will be bet down. Won the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile in November and the Grade 2 Blue Grass Stakes April 7. Has been training well and has an excellent jockey.

SHOW – Audible (post position 5; Javier Castellano; Todd Pletcher; 5—4-0-1; $882,920). Impressive winner of the Florida Derby. The past two Florida Derby winners (Nyquist/Always Dreaming) went on to win the Kentucky Derby. Castellano took off Bolt D’Oro to ride this colt.

PLACE -- Bolt D’Oro (post position 11; Victor Espinoza/Mick Ruis; 6: 4-4-1; $1,016,000). Was the unlucky 0.70-to-1 favorite in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile coming off three straight victories to begin his career but bobbled at the start, raced very wide and finished third. Can win on best effort if Justify fails to fire.

WIN – Justify (post position 7; Mike Smith/Bob Baffert; 3: 3-0-0; $666,000). He was a huge favorite in all three of his races and won them all handily in fast times. Beat highly-regarded Bolt D’Oro by three lengths in the Grade 1 Santa Anita Derby April 7. Baffert is a master trainer and wouldn’t run a colt with this much talent in a race this big unless he was ready. Smith is 52 years old but the top big-money jockey in the world. He picks his spots, usually rides the best horse and almost always keeps it out of trouble. Justify has the speed to be prominent early and avoid the inevitable traffic jams in a 20-horse field. Romped in the mud in an allowance race at Santa Anita March 11. Lack of seasoning and Apollo’s Curse are concerns but he might be a super horse. We’ll find out Saturday.


Los Angeles Angels designated hitter Albert Pujols figures to get his 3,000 Major League Baseball hit this weekend. He’s a certain future first-ballot Hall of Famer.

But I wonder if young fans – and even older fans – will appreciate how great Pujols was in his 11 prime years with the St. Louis Cardinals. He’s 38 now. In his seventh season with the Angels is a shadow of the great player he used to be:

With the Cardinals (2001 through 2011) – 1,705 games; .328 batting average (2,973-for-6,312); 1,291 runs; 455 doubles; 15 triples; 445 HRs; 1,329 RBI; .420 on-base percentage + .617 slugging percentage = 1.037 OPS.

His awesome National League MVP run with the Cardinals: 4th, 2nd, 2nd, 3rd, 1st, 2nd, 9th, 1st, 1st, 2nd, 5th.

He was a decent fielder at third base and first base and had decent speed.

Baseball fans were shocked when Pujols filed for free agency after the 2011 season and when the Cardinals decided to let him walk.

I can’t blame Pujols for signing a 10-year, $240-million deal to jump to the American League Angels and in hindsight it looks like the Cardinals knew what they were doing.

With the Angels (2012 through 2018) – 900 games; .261 batting average (926-for-3,544); 446 runs; 171 doubles; 1 triple; 175 HRs; 606 RBI; .317 on-base percentage + .458 slugging percentage + .775 OPS.

He can barely run and is a liability when he is asked to play first base. He has finished 17th twice in AL MVP balloting.

Since leaving St. Louis, Pujols’ career batting average has plunged from .328 to .304. His contract runs through 2021 and he isn’t likely to retire before then. In all probability, his career batting average will drop below .300.

It would be a shame if he chooses not to wear a St. Louis cap on his plaque in Cooperstown.


The Rochester Knighthawks will host the New England Wolves Friday (7:30 p.m.) at Blue Cross Arena at the War Memorial in the National Lacrosse League East Division semifinals. The winner will travel to the defending champion Georgia Swarm for the East championship game next week.

K-Hawks vs. Black Wolves is an interesting matchup. Rochester had a better record during this regular season (10-8 to 9-9), has the advantage in most statistical categories and probably has slightly more overall talent. But New England was 3-0 versus the K-hawks: 9-8 in Rochester January 13, 11-9 at New England January 21 and 11-6 in Rochester April 21.

Black Wolves goalie Aaron Bold has an impressive 90-49 career record in the NLL with six teams, including Rochester as an understudy in 2010 and 2011. He has developed a habit of playing extremely well since against the K-hawks for Edmonton/Saskatchewan and New England.

Tale-of-the-Tape for Friday night’s game (rank in the nine-team NLL in parentheses):

Records – ROCH 10-8...NENG 9-9

Goals for – ROCH 236. (3rd)...NENG 194 (8th)

Goals against – ROCH 210 (3rd)...NENG 242 (8th)

Goal differential – ROCH +26 (2nd)...NENG -48 (8th)

Penalty minutes per game – ROCH 14.33 (6th)...NENG 14.83 (5th)

Power play % – ROCH 59.7 (2nd); 40-for-67...NENG 46.5 (5th); 40-for-86

Penalty killing % -- ROCH 48.8 (8th); 39-for-80...NENG 53.8 (2nd); 43-for-80

Shots per game – ROCH 55.06 (3rd)...NENG 51.17 (7th)

Fewest shots allowed per game – ROCH 52.89 (5th)...NENG 55.72 (7th)

Faceoff percentage – ROCH .653 (1st); 286-for-438...NENG .508 (4th); 257-for-506

Loose balls – ROCH 1,318 (4th)...NENG 1,165 (8th)

Average home ATT – ROCH 6,760 (6th)...NENG 5,557 (7th).


The New York Yankees and Boston Red Sox reportedly will play two regular-season games at London’s Olympic Stadium June 29-30, 2019.

Shipping out two games in arguably Major League Baseball best rivalry is – IMO – ridiculous! Why not Tampa Bay versus Miami?

Each player on the Yankees reportedly will get an extra $60,000 for participating in the two games in London. I suggest that they donate the bonus money to charity. It certainly would look good.

Is MLB considering paying Boston fans any money for the inconvenience of having two home games erased from the schedule?


ESPN’s Todd McShay on Thursday offered his “Way Too Early 2019 NFL Draft.” His No. 1 overall pick is university of Houston defensive tackle Ed Oliver – to the Buffalo Bills. His draft order was determined by the projected final standings by the Football Outsiders Web site. I don’t think the Bills will have the NFL’s worst record this season.

More from Football Outsiders: “The 2018 draft will likely be remembered for Buffalo’s trade up for Josh Allen, a move that drew praise and ridicule alike.”

The main reason Toronto FC II will play four “home games” in Rochester this season (starting Saturday against Bob Lilley’s Pittsburgh Riverhounds): the team ranks last in the United Soccer League in average home attendance this season: 84 for two games.

National Lacrosse League staffers Andy McNamara, Tyson Geick, Brian Shanahan and Ashley Docking unanimously pick the Knighthawks to beat visiting New England in Friday night’s playoff game – despite the fact that the Black Wolves swept Rochester 3-0 in their regular-season series.


Friday, May 4

Karlos Williams (25)...Victor Olidipo (26)...Rory McIlroy (29)...George Hill (32)...Kevin Slowey (34)...Derek Roy (35)...James Harrison (40)...Matthew Branaby (45)...Dawn Staley (48)...Rohn Stark (59)...Ken Oberkfell (62)...Bill O’Donnell (70). Erin Andrews (40) is invited to the birthday party (40).

Saturday, May 5

Kyle Criscuolo (26)...P.J. Tuckert (33)...Muhsin Muhammad (45)...Ziggy Palffy (46)...Harold Miner (47)...LaPhonso Ellis (48)...Hideki Irabu (49)...Charles Nagy (51)...Bob Babich (71)...Terry Baker (77). Hannah Jeter (28) and Adele (30) are invited to the birthday party.

Sunday, May 6

Sam Dekker (24)...Mallex Smith (25)...Jonas Valanciunas (26)...Jose Altuve (28)...Cameron Hayward (29)...Ryan Anderson (30)...Geralso Parra (31)...Goran Dragic (32)...Chris Paul (33)...Jason Witten (36)...Martin Brodeur (46)...Paul Frase (53)...Ken Harvey (53)...Masanori Murakami (74)...Willie Mays (87). George Clooney (57) is invited to the birthday party.


May 4

125 years ago (1893), Cowboy Bill Pickett invented bulldogging, the skill of grabbling cattle by the horns and wrestling them to the ground...99 years ago (1919), the Phillies beat the Giants 4-3 in the first legal Sunday baseball game in New York City...69 years ago (1949), an air crash in Turin killed 31, including the Torino soccer team...53 years ago (1965), Willie Mays’ 512th home run beat Mel Ott’s National League record...3 years ago (2015), Golden State’s Stephen Curry was named NBA 2014-15 MVP.

May 5

93 years ago (1925), Ty Cobb was 6-for-6 with 16 total bases...83 years ago (1935), Jesse Owens set the long jump record at 26 feet, 8 ½ inches...66 years ago (1952), Ron Necciai of Class D Bristol struck out 27 batter in a no-hitter over The Welch Miners...49 years ago (1969), the Boston Celtics beat the Los Angeles Lakers 4-3 for the 23rd NBA Championship...45 years ago (1973), Secretariat won the 99th Kentucky Derby...40 years ago (1978), Pete Rose became the 14th player to get 3,000 hits...23 years ago (1995), the Celtics lost to the Magic in their final game at Boston Gardens.

May 6

103 years ago (1915), Babe Ruth in his pitching debit with the Boston Red Sox hit a home run in a 4-3 loss to the New York Yankees in 15 innings...65 years ago (1953), Bobo Holloman of the St. Louis Browns won a no-hitter over the Philadelphia Athletics, 6=0, in his first major-league start...40 years ago (1978), Steve Cauthen rode Affirmed to victory in the 104th Kentucky Derby...21 years ago (1997), Rick Pitino became coach of the NBA Boston Celtics.


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