Bob Baffert-trained Justify installed as early favorite at Kentucky Derby

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Kentucky Derby hopeful Justify runs during a morning workout at Churchill Downs Tuesday, May 1, 2018, in Louisville, Ky. The 144th running of the Kentucky Derby is scheduled for Saturday, May 5. (AP Photo/Charlie Riedel) ORG XMIT: KYCR121

LOUISVILLE, Ky. — Trainer Bob Baffert had no chance to fret about the Kentucky Derby draw.

By the time Baffert managed to get into Churchill Downs on Tuesday, the process was halfway done and Justify had landed in the No. 7 post.

‘‘We didn’t want the 1-hole, that’s for sure,’’ said Baffert, a four-time Derby-winning trainer. ‘‘I was relieved when I saw him in [No.] 7.’’

Justify was made the early 3-1 favorite for the Derby on Saturday, with Europe-based Mendelssohn the second choice in a full field of 20 horses. Six horses have won from the No. 7 post, most recently Street Sense in 2007.

‘‘The only reason I’m the favorite is because I beat Bolt d’Oro, and he was the horse to beat,’’ said Baffert, referring to Justify’s three-length victory last month in the Santa Anita Derby.

Justify is one of two horses in the 1¼-mile race who didn’t race at age 2. The other is 6-1 third choice Magnum Moon. No horse since Apollo in 1882 has won the Derby after not racing as a 2-year-old.

‘‘I don’t buy into the Apollo curse — or whatever — at all, mainly because Bob Baffert and Todd Pletcher have got the horses,’’ four-time Derby-winning trainer D. Wayne Lukas said. ‘‘Todd’s going to have his [horses] ready, and Baffert is going to have his.’’

Justify is 3-0 in his brief career, winning by a combined 19 lengths. Magnum Moon is 4-0 and won the Arkansas Derby and Rebel Stakes in his last two starts.

‘‘It’s one of the toughest Derbys I’ve ever seen,’’ Baffert said. ‘‘All the important horses got good draws.’’

More history is working against Mendelssohn. A horse coming from Europe never has won the United States’ biggest race. Trained by Aidan O’Brien, Mendelssohn is the 5-1 second choice. He drew the No. 14 post.

O’Brien wasn’t at the draw, and Mendelssohn won’t hit the Churchill Downs dirt strip until Wednesday after clearing quarantine. The colt arrived Monday from Ireland.

Pletcher has a Derby-high four horses in the field: Magnum Moon, 8-1 Audible, 12-1 Vino Rosso and 30-1 Noble Indy. He surpassed Lukas this year as the trainer with the most starters in Derby history with 52. Pletcher won the race last year with Always Dreaming.

The main starting gate holds 14 horses, and a six-stall auxiliary gate is attached. Horses are loaded into the gate two at a time, beginning with posts No. 1 and No. 11, which spend the most time waiting for the start.

‘‘Having three of the four horses in the auxiliary gate wasn’t what we were hoping for,’’ Pletcher said. ‘‘Sometimes you can work out good trips from out there. We’ve got four terrific riders.’’

The co-fourth choices are Audible and Bolt d’Oro at 8-1. Bolt d’Oro has won four of six career starts for trainer and owner Mick Ruis. The colt drew the No. 11 post, which means he and Firenze Fire in the No. 1 post will be waiting the longest for the gate to open.

‘‘We’re good,’’ Ruis said. ‘‘Bolt is so well-minded that he doesn’t work himself up.’’

Lukas, 82, has his 49th Derby starter in 50-1 shot Bravazo. Bravazo is owned by the renowned Calumet Farm, which has won eight Derbys but none since 1968.

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