They all knew it was there, but they still needed to see it.
On his best day, Good Magic was a colt who toppled some of the more well-regarded members of his generation. But that was the only example his connections had to point to when explaining why the reigning juvenile male champion deserved his lofty reputation.
In his latest chance to prove himself, the son of Curlin showed April 7 he wasn't just the product of one good day in November.
Some of the weighty expectations that come with being an Eclipse Award winner were lifted Saturday when the chestnut colt trained by Chad Brown took control in the stretch and turned back stubborn graded stakes winner Flameaway to capture the $1 million Toyota Blue Grass Stakes (G2) at Keeneland by 1 1/2 lengths.
On paper, Good Magic was doing exactly what an 8-5 favorite who happens to be the defending Sentient Jet Breeders' Cup Juvenile (G1) winner should do in his final prep race for the Kentucky Derby Presented by Woodford Reserve (G1). But after a less-than-imposing, third-place finish in his season debut in the March 3 Xpressbet Fountain of Youth Stakes (G2), there were as many questions as endorsements surrounding the colt when he entered the starting gate for his fifth career outing Saturday.
"I think 'relieved' is the better word," said Brown, who captured the Blue Grass Stakes for the first time in his two-time Eclipse Award-winning career. "He deservedly was awarded the champion 2-year-old, but you have to come back and train on at 3 and show everyone he did deserve the award. I'm so proud of this horse.
"He ran maybe a little short fitness-wise in his last race and came back and redeemed himself today. He put himself right at the top of the class again."
Saturday was hardly the first time Brown and owners e Five Racing and Stonestreet Stables put faith into the fact Good Magic could make a jump forward in form over a relatively short period.
After running second in his debut at Saratoga Race Course in August, Good Magic was put into top-level company. He held his own, finishing second to Firenze Fire in the Oct. 7 Champagne Stakes (G1). Though Good Magic hadn't won, Brown felt two turns would bring out another level in the colt, and he was validated in the form of his 4 1/4-length victory in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile at Del Mar.
A new round of pressure hit when Good Magic was beaten 4 1/2 lengths in the Fountain of Youth, only to have the winner that day—Promises Fulfilled—run last next time out in the Xpressbet Florida Derby (G1).
"He's had extra pressure and really been under a microscope and ... it can be very critical with the results with anything less than a win," Brown said. "I feel that even on behalf of the horse. But this horse is really all class, a very talented horse. I'm happy to see him train on and develop as we always thought he would.
"As days went by (after the Fountain of Youth), I was confident he got the race he needed and was ready to take the next step."
Good Magic couldn't have asked for a better scenario to help him in his quest to move forward in the Blue Grass.
After breaking from post 10 under Jose Ortiz, Good Magic settled along the five path in fifth while Flameaway was hounded by 69-1 longshot Arawak on the front end with those two going side by side through an opening quarter-mile in :23.55 and a half-mile in :47.40.
"My biggest concern was that (Arawak) was going to beat us," said Mark Casse, trainer of Flameaway. "But he kept fighting. He never gave up. I got what I asked for. I said I wanted a fight at the top of the lane, and we got one."
Sure enough, Flameaway showed why he has won five races over five different tracks on three surfaces. As the son of Scat Daddy put his early challenger away approaching the far turn, he was engaged by Good Magic moving to his outside into the top of the stretch.
The divisional champion had the momentum, but he had to work to shrug off Flameaway as the latter kept running on along the rail. Grade 1 winner Sporting Chance put in his own rally before ducking out sharply in late stretch into the path of fellow top-level winner Free Drop Billy.
Sporting Chance crossed the wire third but was disqualified to fourth for interference, elevating Free Drop Billy into the show spot.
"He has shied twice with Luis (Saez) with the left-handed stick, and I guess he doesn't like it," said D. Wayne Lukas, trainer of Sporting Chance, referencing the colt's similar antics while winning the Hopeful Stakes (G1) in September. "He has never given any indication in the morning. He is probably the easiest horse in the barn to train."
Good Magic covered the 1 1/8-mile distance in 1:50.18 over a track rated fast and picked up a hefty 100 qualifying points toward the Kentucky Derby.
"We always thought he was legitimate," said Bob Edwards of e Five Racing. "Once again, this is a prep race, and we want to move forward. Chad did a great job conditioning him, and everything set up perfectly today."
Bred in Kentucky by Stonestreet out of the Hard Spun mare Glinda the Good, Good Magic was purchased for $1 million by e Five Racing at the 2016 Keeneland September yearling sale.
"I don't typically go in on colts, but having (Stonestreet) be so high on a homebred to stay in at that number made it a lot easier," Edwards said.
It won't get easier for Good Magic from here, not with Justify, Bolt d'Oro, Audible, and other top performers in his class set to face him on the first Saturday in May. One question he no longer has to answer is whether he belongs on merit rather than reputation.
"I'm pretty confident he'll get the extra eighth of a mile in the Derby," Brown said. "It's shaping up as a nice crop of horses this year, and it should be quite a race."