Just Howard came into the $200,000 Commonwealth Derby off back-to-back stakes wins, but was taking a big jump in class from Maryland-bred company to Grade 3. In the end, he was not only up to the challenge but set a course record in the process.
Voodoo Song, as usual, went immediately to the front in the 1 1/8-mile turf race. He set a fast opening quarter of 22.97 and then slowed things only slightly, going a half-mile in 46.47 and six furlongs in 1:10.33. Just Howard saved ground inside horses to the stretch before jockey Feargal Lynch wheeled him outside the front-running 3-5 favorite for the drive.
Just Howard steadily closed and wore down Voodoo Song in the final sixteenth to win by three-quarters of a length. His final time of 1:45.81 is a record over the Kelso turf course configuration, one of six layouts used at Laurel.
The win was the fourth of the day and third in a stakes for Lynch, who earlier had won the Grade 3 Commonwealth Derby on Rymska and the Virginia-bred Brookmeade Stakes on Queen Caroline.
"This horse has a big heart," Lynch said of Just Howard. "He doesn't know when to give up."
Just Howard paid $16.80 as the fourth betting choice in the six-horse field. He is owned by Skeedattle Associates, a longstanding partnership based in Maryland, and is named for his late breeder, Howard Bender.
Just Howard, who is trained by Graham Motion, came into the Derby off victories in the Find Stakes, which was restricted to Maryland-bred or -sired runners, and the statebred Caveat Stakes.
Profiteer finished a slowly closing third, a length behind Voodoo Song. Final Copy made a strong bid into the stretch but couldn't sustain it and finished a half-length behind Profiteer.