For a few glorious seconds, as Good Magic reached the top of the stretch at the Kentucky Derby on May 5, trainer Chad Brown figured he’d captured the first Derby win of his career. Co-owner Bob Edwards of e Five Racing Thoroughbreds, a Derby rookie already possessing a remarkable record of racing success, did too. At the other end of the stretch, kneeling in front of four monitors on NBC Sports’ trackside set, I was having precisely the same reaction, though I certainly wasn’t screaming like Brown or Edwards. “Keep coming, keep coming,” I whispered as Good Magic moved a bit closer to front-running Justify, the unbeaten 5-2 favorite trained by Bob Baffert. “Keep coming.”
An instant or two later, Brown, Edwards and the millions of people watching at Churchill Downs and on TV realized that Good Magic wouldn’t be winning this race with destiny. Justify had responded to the challenge and spurted away on the track made a sloppy mess by nearly three inches of rain. Some 20 seconds later, Justify reached the finish line of the 144th Kentucky Derby, with a 2½-length victory over Good Magic.
Brown, the 39-year-old Mechanicville native building a Hall of Fame résumé, could’ve been bitter, but was remarkably upbeat afterward. “We’re working our way towards that Winner’s Circle,” he said. “It wasn’t meant to be this year. It was a tough field. But I’m real proud of this horse. He kept fighting all the way to the end and showed that he’s a top-class horse.” Jockey Jose Ortiz had followed Brown’s instructions and tracked Justify through fast early fractions. When the time came for the stalker to pounce, when many fast horses might’ve faltered, Justify had enough left.
The next morning, after checking on Good Magic, Brown smiled as I approached. “You almost got that right; I thought you did, picking us to win,” he said. I nodded and laughed, “Yeah, I was feeling it, too.” Back in January, saratoga living’s new Editor in Chief, Richard Pérez-Feria, asked me to pick the Derby winner in the year’s first issue. Though I realized, at that point, it’d be a fool’s errand, I agreed and went with Good Magic, co-owned by Edwards and his wife, Kris, a Saratoga Springs native. It wasn’t a longshot pick, because Good Magic was the 2017 two-year-old male champion, but precocious colts don’t always develop. Fortunately, Good Magic did.
Much like Brown, Edwards was disappointed, but satisfied. “Good Magic made the move, and Justify just made the move at the same time. He simply kept going. We didn’t have enough to catch him,” he said. “To run in your first Kentucky Derby, and to come in second, it’s still unbelievable.” I couldn’t agree more.