Mike Smith rides Justify to victory during the 144th running of the Kentucky Derby horse race at Churchill Downs, May 5, 2018, in Louisville, Ky.
Mike Smith rides Justify to victory during the 144th running of the Kentucky Derby horse race at Churchill Downs, May 5, 2018, in Louisville, Ky.

Justify, the favored horse going into Saturday's Kentucky Derby, won the 2-kilometer race on a rain-soaked track.

Justify, ridden by Hall of Fame jockey Mike Smith, held off Audible and Good Magic in the final stretch of the race.

The 144th annual Kentucky Derby was held at Churchill Downs, the legendary Thoroughbred racetrack in the southeastern U.S. city of Louisville, Kentucky.

Kentucky Derby hopeful Justify gets a bath after a
Justify gets a bath after a morning workout at Churchill Downs, May 1, 2018, in Louisville, Ky.

The race is the first leg of the Triple Crown, three races for 3-year-old horses. Following the Kentucky Derby will be the Preakness Stakes on May 19 and the Belmont Stakes on June 9. A horse must win all three to capture the Triple Crown.

The Kentucky Derby, often described as "the most exciting two minutes in sports," is 2 kilometers, or 1¼ miles (10 furlongs), in length.

Saturday's weather was less than ideal, as steady rain fell much of the day. The National Weather Service predicted up to one-quarter inch (6 millimeters) of rain would fall, with a high temperature near 68 F (20 C).

The Kentucky Derby has been held every year since 1875.

Justify's owners

Justify and and another horse named Audible are owned by the China Horse Club, a group founded by Malaysian architect Teo Ah Khing six years ago. There are now about 200 members, club vice president Eden Harrington told The New York Times.

Teo discovered a passion for horse racing after designing a racetrack In Dubai.

"It forced me personally to understand not just the building, the regulations. It forced me to understand about the horse and to experience why so many horse owners are so crazy about this type of horses," he said.

With little background in the sport, Teo partnered with Winstar Farm, one of the leading Thoroughbred racing and breeding operations in Kentucky, to gain expertise.

"China Horse Club has been a wonderful partner. They are very understanding of the horse business. They have realistic expectations; they understand what to expect," said David Hanley, general manager of Winstar Farms.

Abby Sun contributed to this report.