As Justify glided across the finish line first in Saturday’s rain-soaked Kentucky Derby, the race’s other superstar, the European colt Mendelssohn, staggered along at the back of the pack a filthy, exhausted, demoralized mess.
His jockey Ryan Moore had long since given up. There was no longer any use in asking his mount to persevere. The whip had been tucked away, the hands had fallen quiet at the base of the neck. When Mendelssohn finally hit the finish line, he was dead last and practically walking. His margin of defeat: 53 lengths.
These two outcomes -- Justify’s commanding victory and Mendelssohn’s embarrassing loss -- were decided in the very first few seconds of the race. Each horse’s fate was sealed right then and there.
For Justify, it was smooth sailing from the moment the gates flew open. He broke in stride, encountered no immediate traffic on either side of him and, with a tap, tap, tap of the whip on the right shoulder from jockey Mike Smith, was sent roaring down the center of the track at breakneck speed. He was out in the clear and never looked back. True, he tired badly late -- he ran the final half-mile in a snail-like 53 seconds -- but none of his 19 rivals was able to mount much of a rally over a surface that more resembled a marsh than a race track.