How Justify Ended the 136-Year-Old Kentucky Derby Curse of Apollo

Justify's win at the 144th Kentucky Derby was historic, since the 2-year-old horse broke the so-called "Curse of Apollo," which stood for 136 years.

As ESPN pointed out, Justify is the first 2-year-old horse to win the Run for the Roses since 1882. That year, a 2-year-old named Apollo won.

Since 1937, 61 2-year-old horses have been entered in the derby, but they all failed to win until this year. In the past decade, the closest came with Bodemeister, who finished in second in 2012, reports Sports Illustrated. Last year, there were two 2-year-olds, with Battle of Midway finishing third and Patch finishing 14th.

Justify was not the only 2-year-old in the derby this year. Magnum Moon also raced as a 2-year-old, and came in 19th.

Justify's trainer, Bob Baffert, was confident the curse would finally die before the race started.

“It’ll be broken whether it’s this year or whatever. I think it’s changed. In the modern day we don’t get in a rush with these horses,” Baffert told USA Today earlier this week. “The Apollo curse is something I don’t even think about.”

“I don’t think there’s any question the Apollo curse will be broken here at some point,” Todd Pletcher, Magnum Moon’s trainer, told the Courier Journal. “The trend is a lot different now than it was however many years you want to go back. Horses just don’t run as many times leading into the Derby as they used to. Ultimately, at some point, talent will prevail.”

Trainer D. Wayne Lukas, who won four Kentucky Derbys, told the Courier Journal he never even thought about the curse before judging the 20-horse field.

“For me, it would depend on who’s got them,” Lukas said. “If it’s Todd Pletcher and Bob Baffert, I wouldn’t worry about that one iota because they’ve been here and know what to do. They’re going to have those horses ready.

Baffert, whose horses previously won the derby in 1997, 1998, 2002 and 2018, told NBC Sports he was confident Justify could win, although the terribly muddy conditions gave him cause for concern.

"When he got away clean, I thought we had a chance," Baffert said after the race. "He was doing it easy. Him and (2015 winner) American Pharoah, they're just cut from a different (cloth). I rank him up there with my top ones. This track really had me worried."

Justify's jockey, 52-year-old Mike Smith, is also a veteran derby winner. He previously won in 2005 and also has Preakness Stakes and Belmont Stakes wins on his resume.


It was the wettest race on record, with over 2.5 inches of rain in Louisville. It beat the previous record of 2.31 inches, set on May 11, 1918.

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