Justify (foaled March 28, 2015) is an American Thoroughbred racehorse who became the thirteenth American Triple Crown winner in 2018. He first attracted attention with an impressive win in his first start on February 18, 2018, followed up by two more victories, including the Grade I Santa Anita Derby, to qualify for the 2018 Kentucky Derby. Justify then won that race, the 2018 Preakness Stakes, and the 2018 Belmont Stakes to win the Triple Crown.
Justify and his connections after the 2018 Preakness Stakes
|Foaled||March 28, 2015|
|Breeder||John D. Gunther|
|Owner||China Horse Club, Head of Plains Partners, Starlight Racing & WinStar Farm|
Santa Anita Derby (2018)
Kentucky Derby (2018)
Preakness Stakes (2018)
Belmont Stakes (2018)
|13th American Triple Crown winner (2018)|
Justify is only the second horse to win the American Triple Crown with an undefeated record, following Seattle Slew. Justify is descended from Seattle Slew, Secretariat, Count Fleet, War Admiral, Omaha and Gallant Fox, all of whom also won the American Triple Crown. He is also a descendant of English Triple Crown winner Nijinsky. Of the 13 American Triple Crown winners, Justify is the first who did not race as a two-year-old.
Justify is a chestnut colt with a large white blaze on his forehead. He was bred in Kentucky by Canadian John D. Gunther, who runs Glennwood Farm with his daughter Tanya. Although the Gunthers have a small breeding operation, they also bred Vino Rosso, who raced against Justify in both the Kentucky Derby and Belmont Stakes. Gunther also bred Justify's dam, Stage Magic, a stakes-placed daughter of Ghostzapper.
Justify was part of the second-last crop of Scat Daddy, who won the Champagne Stakes and Florida Derby. Although Scat Daddy ran in America on the dirt, as a stallion he first made his reputation in Europe as a turf sire, with Group 1 winners including Lady Aurelia and Caravaggio His stud fee when he was bred to Stage Magic in 2014 was only $35,000, though it was scheduled to increase to $100,000 in 2016. Scat Daddy died prematurely at the age of eleven in December 2015.
Justify was sold at the 2016 Keeneland September Yearling Sales for $500,000 to a recently formed partnership between WinStar Farm (60% ownership), China Horse Club (25%) and SF Racing (15%), the latter run by employees of George Soros's investment firm. David Hanley, general manager of WinStar, said that Justify stood out at the sales. "He was a beautiful yearling – had great balance and leg, great shoulder, and lovely length and neck, and power," he said. "For a big horse, he was very light on his feet, with good action and good energy." In early March 2018, SF Racing sold a share to Starlight Racing, then Sol Kumin's Head of Plains partners also bought a share in late March.
Justify grew into a large horse, standing 16.3 hands (67 inches, 170 cm) at the withers and weighing 1,380 pounds (630 kg). He was initially sent to trainer Rodolphe Brisset at Keeneland but pulled a muscle and was given time to recover and grow into his frame. In January 2018, he was sent to Santa Anita to be trained by Bob Baffert.
Justify did not make his first start until February 18, 2018, in a maiden special weight race for three-year-olds at Santa Anita Park over seven furlongs. Going off as the 1-2 favorite, he broke poorly then rushed up to challenge for the early lead. After completing the first quarter mile in a quick 21.80 seconds, he began to open up an advantage on the rest of the field, ultimately winning by 9 1⁄2 lengths. The impressive win earned a Beyer Speed Figure of 104 and caused the Thoroughbred Daily News to designate the colt as a "Rising Star". "It's not too late," said Baffert regarding the colt's chances of qualifying for the Kentucky Derby. "I've got a plan... We're looking (for a graded stakes race). He’s shown his brilliance in the morning."
Justify made his next start on March 11 in an allowance race at Santa Anita, run at a distance of one mile. As the overwhelming 1-20 favorite, he broke slowly and settled behind the early leaders, On the far turn, he quickened and swept to an easy 6 1⁄2 length win. "I didn't ask him to move," said jockey Mike Smith, riding the colt for the first time. "He came off that turn like it was a stroll. Just very, very impressed. I hate to compare him to other horses right now, but doesn’t he remind you of an Easy Goer way back in the day. Just a big ol’ red horse with a big, powerful stride."
Despite never having raced in stakes company, Justify was subsequently ranked as one of the leading contenders for the Kentucky Derby, moving into seventh place in the March 12 NTRA poll. However, the colt first needed to qualify by earning points in the 2018 Road to the Kentucky Derby. Baffert originally planned to run stablemate McKinzie in the Santa Anita Derby and ship Justify to Oaklawn Park for the Arkansas Derby. But when McKinzie suffered a setback due to injury, Baffert decided to keep Justify at his home base for the Santa Anita Derby.
On April 7, Justify entered the Santa Anita Derby as part of a field of seven horses. His main rival was Bolt d'Oro, a multiple stakes winner and another top contender on the Derby trail. The two horses were almost evenly matched in the betting, with Justify going off as the slight favorite. He went to the early lead then set a comfortable pace down the backstretch, moving with a "freak stride" that helped him conserve energy. Around the final turn, the field started to close the gap, with Bolt d'Oro getting to within 1 1⁄2 lengths in mid-stretch. Justify responded to the challenge and drew away for a three-length lead despite drifting somewhat down the stretch.
The win moved Justify to the top position in the NTRA 3-year-old poll and made him the favorite for the Derby. To win the race though, he would have to overcome the so-called "Curse of Apollo" – no horse had won the Kentucky Derby without racing as a two-year-old since Apollo in 1882. Baffert pointed to the horse's natural ability but acknowledged the colt was still green. Furthermore, the field for the 2018 Kentucky Derby was considered one of the best in recent memory, with most of the major prep race winners given serious consideration by handicappers. In addition to Justify, the field included graded stakes winners Good Magic (Breeders' Cup Juvenile and Blue Grass Stakes), Mendelssohn (Breeders' Cup Juvenile Turf and UAE Derby), Audible (Florida Derby), Magnum Moon (Arkansas Derby), Noble Indy (Louisiana Derby), Vino Rosso (Wood Memorial), My Boy Jack (Lexington Stakes), Free Drop Billy (Breeders' Futurity), Firenze Fire (Champagne Stakes) and Bolt d'Oro.
The 2018 Kentucky Derby was held on May 5 on a rainy day at Churchill Downs. Although the surface had been sealed earlier in the day to minimize the effect of the rain on the footing, the track was still labeled as sloppy. Justify broke well and used his early speed to establish good position near the rail going into the first turn, running a length behind Promises Fulfilled in a fast opening quarter of 22.24 seconds. These two maintained their position for the first three-quarters of a mile, completed in 1:11, followed closely by Bolt d'Oro, Flameaway, and Good Magic. Going into the final turn, Promises Fulfilled dropped back while first Bolt d'Oro and then Good Magic were put to a drive. Justify responded to the challenge and opened up a lead of 1 1⁄2 lengths at the top of the stretch, widening to 2 1⁄2 lengths at the finish line. Good Magic held on for second while Audible closed late to finish third.
Justify came out of the race almost untouched by the mud due to his front-running style. The day after however, he appeared to be somewhat lame in his left hind leg – a condition that Baffert attributed to "scratches or whatever" from the wet track. The sensitivity was later determined to have been caused by a heel bruise. To protect the heel, Justify was shod with a three-quarter horseshoe before he resumed galloping on May 10.
The track conditions for the 2018 Preakness Stakes, run on May 19 at Pimlico Racetrack in Baltimore, were even worse than for the Derby. After heavy rain over several days, the track was sloppy. The rain finally stopped shortly before the race but then a heavy fog descended, limiting visibility to about a sixteenth of a mile.
The start was once again critical, and Justify broke well to go take the early lead. To his inside, Good Magic rushed up to challenge him and the two matched strides around the first turn and down the backstretch while setting moderate fractions. They picked up the pace rounding the final turn and opened a gap on the rest of the field. However in mid-stretch, Tenfold started closing ground rapidly to Justify's outside while Bravazo, who had trailed by five lengths in mid-stretch, was moving fastest of all in the center of the track. Justify dug in to win by half a length over Bravazo, with Tenfold just a neck farther back in third, another neck in front of Good Magic.
The win earned Justify a Beyer Speed Figure of 97, the lowest of his career. Baffert felt that the colt had suffered a bit of a "bounce", or regression, from a peak performance in the Derby. He was still impressed by Justify's performance, pointing out that the colt had been pushed hard by Good Magic and had also reacted greenly by jumping several puddles during the race. "You can't bring it all the time," he said. "This will set him up for the next one."
Baffert was the trainer of the last Triple Crown winner, American Pharoah in 2015, and followed a similar training regimen with Justify at Churchill Downs until shipping to New York a few days before the Belmont. Baffert noted that one of the main differences between the two horses was their attitude: American Pharoah is known as a kind, easy going horse whereas Justify is more dominant. "You have to watch him," said Baffert. "He likes to push you around. He's not a mean horse, but his patience level with people is, like, five seconds."
The 2018 Belmont Stakes was run on June 9 over a fast track before a sold-out crowd of 90,000. Justify drew post position one, which meant that a poor start would have resulted in him getting trapped on the rail. However, Justify broke well and Smith sent him to the lead with a quick opening quarter of 23.37. He then slowed down the pace as they moved around the first turn and down the backstretch, leading by two lengths over Restoring Hope as he completed the mile in 1:38.09. Around the far turn, Vino Rosso mounted a drive to move into second place, while Gronkowski and Hofburg started closing from far back. Despite drifting out slightly in the stretch, Justify held off the challengers to win by 1 3⁄4 lengths over Gronkowski. He completed the mile and a half race in 2:28.18.
Baffert was elated following the race. "It's just amazing, I'm so proud to be an American, very emotional and a lot of help upstairs," he told Forbes. "It never gets old. American Pharoah was my first love, but wow, Mike Smith deserves something like this. This horse is just amazing, he could have won every race on the undercard today."
The win made Justify the thirteenth winner of the American Triple Crown, and just the second horse to accomplish the feat while still undefeated. Justify's owners received a total of $2.94 million for winning all three Triple Crown races.
Following the Belmont Stakes, observers questioned the tactics of jockey Florent Geroux aboard Restoring Hope, who was also trained by Baffert. Restoring Hope broke slowly from the starting gate but quickly headed for the lead in between horses, cutting in front of Noble Indy and drifting wide entering the first turn. He then veered left, pushing Bravazo towards the rail.
Some of those connected to other horses in the race believed that Geroux aimed to use Restoring Hope to put Justify at an advantage. Mike Repole, the co-owner of Vino Rosso and Noble Indy, told the Daily Racing Form that he was confused by what happened. “I would have thought Baffert would have wanted Restoring Hope nowhere close to the pace. When Geroux broke next to last I would have thought that was a great scenario, he doesn’t have to worry about him. We watched him rush up like he was a Quarter Horse, make a quick right-hand turn, then turn left, pinned [Bravazo] on the rail. He looked like a bodyguard making sure nobody got close to Justify,” he said. Vino Rosso's rider John Velasquez said he felt like Geroux was trying to protect Justify. “Why would you send a horse that breaks bad and take everybody out, then come back in? That’s his job, to protect the other horse and it worked for them. You have to give it to them.”
In response, Baffert said that his original plan was to have Restoring Hope sit behind Justify in second. Geroux stated that he wanted to be towards the front early but Restoring Hope became rank. “When he broke a step slow - he’s kind of an aggressive horse to ride, he pulls very hard - I wanted to make sure I put him in the clear. I didn’t want to break, get the horse covered up and then the horse starts getting aggressive behind horses. It would have been even worse if he was behind horses.”
D. Wayne Lukas, the trainer of Bravazo, said that “[it] was strange the way they sent [Restoring Hope] up there. I mean, he compromised a few horses with blocking and so forth," though he did not think that Restoring Hope's actions affected the outcome of the race.
Gary West, the owner of Restoring Hope, told the New York Post that he was unaware of Geroux's plans. “I have no earthly idea what Florent was thinking or what his race strategy was. Had I known better, the first eighth of a mile I would have thought it was a quarter-horse race, not the mile-and-a-half Belmont. Maybe the horse was completely out of control and Florent had no choice. I will never know.”
The Belmont Park stewards spoke to Geroux about his ride in the Belmont Stakes the Thursday following the race. Geroux said he felt like the stewards were only talking to him because of the media attention following the race. “I didn’t bother anybody, I didn’t shut anybody off. If there was something, I think they would have contacted me right away to review the race,” he said.
|Feb 18, 2018||3||furlongs7||Maiden Special Weight||Maiden||Santa Anita||0.50*||5||1||1:21.86||9 1⁄2 lengths||Van Dyke, DraydenDrayden Van Dyke|||
|Mar 11, 2018||3||1 mile||Allowance Optional Claiming||Allowance||Santa Anita||0.05*||5||1||1:35.73||6 1⁄2 lengths||Smith, Mike E.Mike E. Smith|||
|Apr 7, 2018||3||1 1⁄8 miles||Santa Anita Derby||Grade I||Santa Anita||0.90*||7||1||1:49.72||lengths3||Smith, Mike E.Mike E. Smith|||
|May 5, 2018||3||1 1⁄4 miles||Kentucky Derby||Grade I||Churchill Downs||2.90*||20||1||2:04.20||2 1⁄2 lengths||Smith, Mike E.Mike E. Smith|||
|May 19, 2018||3||1 3⁄16 miles||Preakness Stakes||Grade I||Pimlico||0.40*||8||1||1:55.93||1⁄2 length||Smith, Mike E.Mike E. Smith|||
|June 9, 2018||3||1 1⁄2 miles||Belmont Stakes||Grade I||Belmont Park||0.80*||10||1||2:28.18||1 3⁄4 length||Smith, Mike E.Mike E. Smith|||
An asterisk after the odds indicates that Justify was the post-time favorite.
|Mr. Prospector||Raise a Native|
|Awesome Again||Deputy Minister|
|Cap the Moment (family: 1-h)|
Justify is inbred 3 x 5 x 5 to Mr. Prospector, meaning this sire appears once in the third generation of the pedigree and twice in the fifth-generation as the sire of full sisters Yarn and Preach. Justify also has six crosses to Northern Dancer through Storm Cat, Yarn, Nijinsky, Deputy Minister, Preach, and Baldski. Further back, Justify's pedigree contains multiple crosses to some of the greatest sires of the twentieth century, including Native Dancer, Nearco, and Man o' War.
Justify's pedigree includes several Triple Crown winners. He is a fifth generation descendant of Seattle Slew through A.P. Indy; a sixth generation descendant of Secretariat through both Storm Cat and A.P. Indy; descends from Count Fleet through Mr. Prospector and Primal Force, and has multiple crosses to War Admiral through Myth, Personable Lady, and A.P. Indy. Even farther back in his pedigree are Omaha and Gallant Fox. Nijinsky, who appears several times in Justify's pedigree, won the English Triple Crown in 1970.
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Media related to Justify (horse) at Wikimedia Commons