The Story of Justify, America's 13th Triple Crown Winner
Justify, by Scat Daddy out of Stage Magic, would make history in 2018 by becoming one of just thirteen horses to win the coveted Triple Crown. This Bob Baffert trainee broke "Apollo's Curse" among other things. Learn all about his life and career, including his early life at Glennwood Farm, here.
History was made in Versailles, Kentucky on March 28, 2015. The date marks the moment that a 128 pound, chestnut colt was was foaled at Glennwood Farm. Years later, the colt would be named Justify and would become America's 13th Triple Crown winner.
Early Life (2015 - 17)
John D. Gunther had planned to breed his mare Stage Magic to Scat Daddy many years ahead of time. Stage Magic had strong maternal and paternal families and was stakes placed herself. Gunther believed that a mare of her quality would pair well with Scat Daddy.
Scat Daddy had been very promising in 2006 and 2007, winning races like the Champagne Stakes (G1), Fountain of Youth (G2), and Florida Derby (G1). Unfortunately, Scat Daddy was injured in the Kentucky Derby and finished eighteenth. That injury to his tendon would force his retirement in June and he was retired to stud at Ashford Farm.
Scat Daddy would suffer an untimely death from an apparent heart attack while being led out of his paddock in 2016. At age 11, he had already become a leading sire in the United States and Chile. BloodHorse notes that he was responsible for 64 stakes winners at the time of his death.
The pairing of Scat Daddy and Stage Magic produced Justify, whom would go on to elevate the prowess of both his sire and dam's family.
Justify, known then as '15 Stage Magic, grew into a little racehorse at Glennwood Farm. He was a big, strong colt and seemed to know it. He was playful, fast, and showy. There was a lot of talent bubbling at Glennwood Farm that year; Justify was stabled next to eventual Breeders' Cup Classic winner Vino Rosso as a youngster.
Justify was entered into the 2016 Keeneland September Yearling Sale, where his outstanding looks and polished pedigree were quickly recognized. The colt was purchased for $500,000 by WinStar Farm and Maverick Racing.
[Video: Watch Justify sell at the Keeneland September Yearling Sale]
The colt's new owners sent him to Rodolphe Brisset for his early tutoring. As soon as Justify had learned the basics of being a racehorse, he was sent to Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert. Baffert and his team worked diligently with the large colt to ready him for his racing debut.
Three-Year Old Season & Triple Crown Sweep (2018)
Justify's sheer size prevented him from making his debut until his three-year old season. When he finally debuted on February 18, he made it an impressive one. He easily put away the field to romp by seven lengths.
The colt's debut turned a lot of heads. Bob Baffert was known for his ability to get young horses ready for the Triple Crown races and Justify looked like a real contender. More people watched the promising colt's second race, an Allowance at Santa Anita. Justify again romped, this time by six lengths.
Now, the racing world had developed a keen interest in the colt. He was big, fast, and winning races like he had been running them alone. There was no surprise that Baffert would enter Justify in the Santa Anita Derby (G1), a local Kentucky Derby prep that would solidify Justify a chance to "run for the roses" if he were to win.
Justify broke well from post position six with Mike Smith in the irons. Smith took the colt to the lead, putting a few lengths between him and the rest of the field. Bolt d'Oro chased after Justify at the top of the stretch, but the tough chestnut refused to lose. He didn't allow Bolt d'Oro to go by and crossed the wire in first. It was his first Grade 1 win and would be his only prep for the Kentucky Derby.
[Video: Watch Justify (#6) win the Santa Anita Derby (G1), a Kentucky Derby prep race]
Justify entered the Kentucky Derby undefeated. Talks of “The Apollo Curse” reminded racing fans that a horse that didn’t race as a two-year old hasn’t won the first leg of the Triple Crown since Apollo in 1882. However, Justify’s devoted fans and his connections kept their hopes high. Bettors disregarded the curse as well, landing Justify at odds of 5/2.
Justify entered post position seven, already soaked to the bone from the heavy Louisville rains. When the gates finally swung open and the crowd erupted into cheers, Justify and Mike Smith bounded smoothly down the sloppy track towards the front of the pack.
Justify sat just a neck off of Promises Fulfilled, who was setting a blazing pace. Onlookers worried that the horses were moving too fast, but Justify seemed unfazed by the speed. Like in his three races before the Kentucky Derby, Justify snatched the lead at the top of the stretch and never looked back. He barreled through the mud, breaking Apollo's Curse as he crossed the wire in first.
While most of the racing world raved about Justify's romp, others felt concern over videos they saw of Justify after the Kentucky Derby. He seemed to be favoring his left hind when Baffert showed the colt to a crowd of fans. According to BloodHorse, Baffert claimed that the colt had been treated for a minor skin ailment known as scratches.
"When I brought him out (Sunday), he looked fine," Baffert explained in an article by BloodHorse. "I just wanted to show him off. I was so proud of him. And when he turned on that gravel … I almost didn't take him out there … and when he turned, that's when it bit him and he flinched. I had to go catch a plane, so I told my staff to get on it."
Even more, the colt had developed a heel bruise from Churchill's sloppy track. Veterinarians revised Justify's shoe and gave him anti-inflammatory. When Justify returned to the racetrack for training, he was as good as new. He was shipped to Baltimore and readied for the Preakness Stakes.
Justify stood in gate seven, once again soaked to the bone from the rains at Pimlico. He broke well and Smith took him to the lead, but he was challenged by Kentucky Derby runner-up Good Magic. The two dueled down the backstretch and went around the far turn side by side, noses apart. Smith gave Justify steady, left-handed encouragement and the colt responded beautifully. He moved away from Good Magic, leaping through the muddy stretch. He held off late charges by Bravazo and Tenfold to win the Preakness Stakes.
Talks of the Triple Crown dominated the racing world once more. Could there be another winner just three years after American Pharoah became the first to win it in thirty seven years? Was a horse who had made his debut just 112 days prior even capable of accomplishing something so rare? Justify answered both of those questions at Belmont Park in June.
Justify broke from gate one and immediately took the lead in his usual style. The crowd looked on anxiously as Justify set a fast pace, slowing it down slightly as he moved onto the backstretch. His pace was even quicker than American Pharoah had run it just a few years before.
He led by a length all throughout the backstretch and increased that lead to two lengths as he rounded the far turn. The crowd roared as they watched Justify hit the top of the stretch in front. He matched their enthusiasm, charging down Belmont's stretch to immortalize himself as America's thirteenth Triple Crown winner.
[Video: Watch all three of Justify's Triple Crown races]
Only two of all thirteen Triple Crown winners were undefeated: Seattle Slew in 1977 and now Justify in 2018. Furthermore, Justify became the only horse to win the Triple Crown without racing as a two-year old. With both of these things in mind, excitement for the rest of Justify’s career could not be contained. Hopes of him running in the Breeders’ Cup Classic for the "Grand Slam" title were high.
Unfortunately, these hopes quickly turned to disappointment. Justify developed a filling in his ankle and his connections felt that he wouldn't be ready for a fall campaign. They opted to retire him while he was on top.
Retirement (2018 - present)
Justify joined Count Fleet as the only two Triple Crown winners to not race again after the Belmont Stakes. The big colt was paraded for fans at Del Mar just one last time before he was shipped back home to WinStar Farm. He remained there until his sale to Coolmore America (Ashford Stud) was finalized.
According to Equibase, Justify retired with a perfect six for six record and over $3.79 million in earnings. He was voted the Eclipse Award Winner for Champion Three Year Old Colt and Horse of the Year, titles he undoubtedly earned.
Just three years after taking his first breath, “15 Stage Magic” relaxes peacefully in a stall in the same place in which it all began - Versailles, Kentucky. As the years go by and horses with the sire “Justify” listed in their pedigree begin to make their way to the track, we will look back on his career and remember the way we felt when we watched him win the Triple Crown.
There will always be differing opinions on horses and their accomplishments, but one thing rules over all opinions: In just 112 days, Justify was able to permanently etch his name into horse racing history. Though his time on the racetrack was cut short, our memories of Justify will live on forever.
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