On June 9 at 6:50 p.m. Eastern Time at Belmont Park, the 2018 Belmont Stakes began. Ten 3-year-olds, including Justify, broke from the starting gate.
That would be the final time Justify will ever leave a starting gate.
Exactly 2:28.18 later, Justify crossed the finish line, a winner by 1 3/4 lengths to become the 13th horse to sweep this country’s coveted Triple Crown.
That would be the final time Justify will ever race.
In news that really did not come as a surprise, it was announced today that Justify has been retired from racing.
Earlier this month on July 11, after it was disclosed that Justify would be taken out of training due to swelling in his left front ankle, I wrote here in my Xpressbet.com column: “Maybe Justify will race again. But at this point I’d say it’s doubtful.”
WinStar Farm issued a press release today that stated Justify will race no more.
“Justify had some filling in his ankle, and he is just not responding quick enough for a fall campaign,” said Justify’s Hall of Fame trainer, Bob Baffert. “We all wanted to see Justify race again, but ultimately it is my responsibility to make sure he is perfect. Without 60-90 days, I just can’t be definite.”
In a sense, Justify was able to “beat the calendar” by becoming the first Kentucky Derby winner who did not race as a 2-year-old since Apollo in 1882. He would go on to become the only Triple Crown winner who did not start at 2.
But after Justify’s ankle problem surfaced, the calendar got its revenge. The calendar would prove to be too much of an obstacle for him to overcome in terms of any further racing this year. And this meant his racing career was over inasmuch as he will begin stud duty next year.
“The timing is bad for another start in 2018, and therefore, we have to retire him,” said Elliott Walden, president/CEO and racing manager of WinStar. “Like American Pharoah, we can’t take the risk of running Justify as a 4-year-old. We all wanted him to finish his career in the Breeders’ Cup Classic, but it was not meant to be.”
Justify won all six of his starts and earned $3,798,000 while racing for WinStar, China Horse Club, Head of Plains Partners and Starlight Racing. The colt’s six wins came at six different distances:
--seven furlongs (maiden special weight race on Feb. 18 at Santa Anita).
--one mile (allowance/optional claiming race on March 11 at Santa Anita).
--1 1/8 miles (Grade I Santa Anita Derby on April 7 at Santa Anita).
--1 1/4 miles (Grade I Kentucky Derby on May 5 at Churchill Downs).
--1 3/16 miles (Grade I Preakness Stakes on May 19 at Pimlico).
--1 1/2 miles (Grade I Belmont Stakes on June 9 at Belmont Park).
“He is an incredible horse and we are very disappointed he can’t run again,” said WinStar Farm owner Kenny Trout. “All things happen for a reason, and we are blessed to have raced him to be the 13th Triple Crown winner in history.”
Drayden Van Dyke was aboard Justify in his career debut when he raised eyebrows with a 9 1/2-length victory. Hall of Famer Mike Smith rode the colt in his remaining five races.
“Like everyone else, I am disappointed he won’t run again,” Smith said. “But I am thankful he came into my life. There was never a time when I rode him that I felt like I was going to get beat.”
A Kentucky-bred son of Scat Daddy and the Ghostzapper mare Stage Magic, Justify will return to WinStar Farm in Kentucky early next month, according to the farm’s press release.
“As has been reported, there is a possible sale to Coolmore in place, but that won’t be finalized until a later date,” Walden said.
Justify will be paraded between races this Saturday at Del Mar. He is expected to tour the paddock several times after the fourth race before appearing on the track.
HOW WILL HISTORY JUDGE JUSTIFY?
Baffert also won the Triple Crown in 2015 with American Pharoah. I have him ranked No. 15 on my list of the Top 100 Racehorses of the 20th and 21st Centuries to have raced in North America. I have Justify ranked No. 25. The list appears at the end of this column.
I wrote the following for the Los Angeles Times’ horse racing newsletter regarding Justify’s standing among the all-time greats:
“That Justify had only six lifetime starts no doubt is going to be viewed as a negative vis-a-vis his standing among the all-time greats in the eyes of many. That he never raced against older horses, unlike fellow recent Triple Crown winner American Pharoah, also will be held against Justify by many. American Pharoah did face older horses in his final career start when he put an exclamation point on his racing career with a 6 1/2-length victory in the Breeders’ Cup Classic.
“On the other hand, it is a plus for Justify that he retires from racing with an aura of invincibility. It’s also to Justify’s credit that he managed to accomplish as much as he did in a relatively short period of time. The ride he took racing on from his debut victory at Santa Anita on Feb. 18 to his Belmont Stakes triumph on June 9 was extraordinary. He became the first Triple Crown winner who did not race at 2. He was the first Kentucky Derby winner who did not start at 2 since Apollo in 1882. He also broke the record for defeating the most total starters in the three Triple Crown races. Justify beat a total of 35 other starters in the three races, breaking the record of 32 set by War Admiral in 1937.
“Of this country’s 13 Triple Crown winners, the only one besides Justify to not race after the Belmont Stakes was Count Fleet. Count Fleet was retired after he rapped an ankle during his 25-length tour de force in the 1943 Belmont. Despite not racing after the Belmont, Count Fleet ranked No. 5 on the BloodHorse magazine’s list of the Top 100 Racehorses of the 20th Century, behind only No. 1 Man o’ War, No. 2 Secretariat, No. 3 Citation and No. 4 Kelso.
“But while both Justify and Count Fleet were retired after the Belmont, Count Fleet’s body of work certainly was much more robust than Justify’s. Count Fleet won a total of 16 races compared to just six for Justify. Count Fleet was the 2-year-old male champion. Justify did not even race at 2.
“It is clear that Justify was a ‘phenomenal talent,’ as Baffert said after the colt won the Santa Anita Derby in only his third lifetime start. But many understandably will downgrade Justify to some extent for not racing more than he did when trying to determine where he belongs among the all-time greats.”
HASKELL APPEARS A GOOD SPOT FOR GOOD MAGIC
As for Sunday’s $1 million Haskell, without Justify in the field, it’s a good opportunity for Good Magic to shine. Voted a 2017 Eclipse Award as champion 2-year-old male, Good Magic won this year’s Grade II Blue Grass Stakes at Keeneland on April 7 after he had finished third in Gulfstream Park’s Grade II Fountain of Youth Stakes on March 3 in his 2018 debut.
Good Magic was unable to win the Grade I Kentucky Derby on a sloppy track at Churchill Downs on May 5, but he did give it a terrific effort in defeat. While Justify maintained a clear lead throughout the final furlong, Good Magic ran his heart out. But Good Magic just could never close the gap. Last year’s juvenile male champ ultimately had to settle for second while finishing 2 1/2 lengths behind the winner.
Two weeks later on a day in which a thick fog enveloped much of Pimlico, the Grade I Preakness Stakes also was contested on a sloppy track. Jose Ortiz rode Good Magic. Oritiz attacked Justify and jockey Mike Smith right away.
The day after the race on Mike Willman’s radio program Thoroughbred Los Angeles, Smith talked about how the 1 3/16-mile Preakness early on essentially had become a match race between Justify and Good Magic.
“After we went underneath the wire the first time, the race was on,” Smith said, “until I finally put him away [in the final sixteenth].”
Justify prevailed by a half-length, the smallest margin in the colt’s six victories to date.
Going on the attack so early in the Preakness understandably took a bit of a toll on Good Magic late. He finished fourth behind Justify, Bravazo and Tenfold. But Good Magic certainly did not disgrace himself, losing by only one length.
Good Magic’s connections then decided it would be best for him to skip the Grade I Belmont Stakes at 1 1/2 miles on June 9. The idea was to have a fresher Good Magic for the 1 1/8-mile Haskell.
As I have stated before, if there been no Justify in the Kentucky Derby and Preakness, I think Good Magic might well have won both races. That would have put Good Magic in a position to try and complete a Triple Crown sweep in the Belmont. Justify won the Belmont by 1 3/4 lengths to become the only Triple Crown winner who did not race as a 2-year-old.
If Good Magic had won a Justify-less Derby and Preakness, would he have won a Justify-less Belmont? We will never know. But Good Magic now has an excellent chance to win a Justify-less Haskell.
CATALINA CRUISER CRUSHES FOES AT DEL MAR
He is a great big, gorgeous chestnut colt with a blazed face who won a graded stakes race in only his third lifetime start. Yes, that description fits 3-year-old Justify. It also applies to 4-year-old Catalina Cruiser.
Owned by Hronis Racing and trained by John Sadler, Catalina Cruiser won a six-furlong maiden special weight race by 2 1/4 lengths as a 7-2 favorite last Oct. 7 at Santa Anita in his career debut. He recorded an 89 Beyer Speed Figure.
Catalina Cruiser did not race again until May 19 at Santa Anita. He won a six-furlong allowance/optional claiming sprint as the 7-5 favorite, again by 2 1/4 lengths. This time he posted a serious 107 Beyer Speed Figure.
Last Wednesday, Catalina Cruiser was entered in the San Diego, along with two others owned by Hronis Racing and conditioned by Sadler, Accelerate and Curlin Rules. The 1 1/16-mile San Diego had 10 original entrants. Del Mar oddsmaker Russell Hudak installed Accelerate as the 8-5 morning-line favorite. Catalina Cruiser was pegged at 8-1, with Curlin Rules listed at 20-1.
A Kentucky-bred son of 2012 Belmont Stakes winner Union Rags, Catalina Cruiser was entered in the San Diego just in case a Sunday allowance race at Del Mar did not fill. Last Thursday, Catalina Cruiser was entered in the Sunday allowance race, which indeed did not fill. It attracted a total of just three horses, according to Catalina Cruiser’s co-owner, Kosta Hronis.
Hronis and Sadler did not want to run Accelerate and Catalina Cruiser against each other in the San Diego. Thus, they scratched Accelerate. They also decided not to run Curlin Rules, who has not started since finishing sixth in the Grade III Native Diver Stakes at Del Mar last Nov. 25.
The San Diego field scratched down to only five starters. Catalina Cruiser was sent off as the 6-5 favorite. The 5-2 second choice was Dr. Dorr, who earlier this year won Santa Anita’s Santana Mile and Grade II Californian for Baffert.
Catalina Cruiser set the pace without having to be hustled to do so by jockey Drayden Van Dyke. Drawing away in the stretch, Catalina Cruiser registered a 6 3/4-length triumph to keep his perfect record intact. This was truly an especially fine performance in that it was his stakes debut and his first race beyond six furlongs. He completed 1 1/16 miles in 1:42.95. Dr. Dorr finished second. Dabster ended up third, 1 3/4 lengths behind Dr. Dorr.
Sadler said that before the San Diego, Catalina Cruiser was referred to at the barn as “the best horse nobody’s heard of.”
People certainly have heard of him now.
Sadler indicated he is not inclined to run Catalina Cruiser in the biggest race of the Del Mar meet, the $1 million Pacific Classic, on Aug. 18. The trainer said it would be asking a lot of Catalina Cruiser to go from 1 1/16 miles to 1 1/4 miles with only three lifetime starts under his belt. Plus, Hronis Racing and Sadler do have Accelerate for the Grade I Pacific Classic. Accelerate has been nominated to Saratoga’s Grade I Whitney Stakes at 1 1/8 miles on Aug. 4, but it appears more likely they will opt to run him in the Pacific Classic.
The day after the San Diego, Accelerate worked five furlongs in a sharp :59.60 at Del Mar, which tied for the fastest of 69 works at the distance. The 5-year-old Kentucky-bred son of Lookin At Lucky has won this year’s Grade II San Pasqual Stakes in February, Grade I Santa Anita Handicap in March and Grade I Gold Cup at Santa Anita in late May. He finished third behind Collected and Arrogate in the 2017 Pacific Classic.
As for the Breeders’ Cup, the Justify-less Classic is the goal for Accelerate, while the Dirt Mile currently is the plan for Catalina Cruiser.
MONOMOY GIRL WINS ANOTHER GRADE I
Becoming the second four-time U.S. Grade I winner in 2018, Monomoy Girl led from start to finish in Saratoga’s Grade I Coaching Club American Oaks at 1 1/8 miles last Saturday. Backed down to 1-2 favoritism, she prevailed by three lengths in 1:50.46. Midnight Bisou, the 6-5 second choice, finished second in the field of five. Chocolate Martini came in third, 3 1/2 lengths behind Midnight Bisou.
A Kentucky-bred Tapizar filly, Monomoy Girl now has eight wins and a second from nine lifetime starts. Her other Grade I victories this year have come in the Ashland at Keeneland in April, Kentucky Oaks at Churchill Downs in May and Acorn Stakes at Belmont Park in June.
The only other four-time U.S. Grade I winner in 2018 is Justify.
Monomoy Girl recorded a 98 Beyer for her CCA Oaks victory, a figure that tied her career best.
THIS WEEK’S NTRA TOP THOROUGHBRED POLL
Rank Points Horse (First-Place Votes)
1. 419 Justify (41)
2. 334 Accelerate
3. 260 Monomoy Girl
4. 218 Unique Bella
5. 189 West Coast
6. 169 Mind Your Biscuits (1)
7. 156 Bee Jersey
8. 110 Abel Tasman
9. 71 Diversify
10. 60 City of Light
MY LIST OF THE TOP 100 RACEHORSES
Below is my up-to-date list of the Top 100 Racehorses of the 20th and 21st Centuries to have raced in North America (in parenthesis, when applicable, is where the horse ranked on the BloodHorse magazine’s list of the Top 100 Racehorses of the 20th Century):
1. Man o’ War (1)
3. Citation* (3)
4. Kelso (4)
5. Spectacular Bid (10)
6. Native Dancer (7)
7. Dr. Fager (6)
8. Seattle Slew* (9)
9. Count Fleet* (5)
10. Affirmed* (12)
11. Ruffian (35)
12. Swaps (20)
13. Phar Lap (22)
14. Forego (8)
15. American Pharoah*
16. Tom Fool (11)
17. Buckpasser (14)
18. Round Table (17)
19. Seabiscuit (25)
20. War Admiral* (13)
21. Colin (15)
22. John Henry (23)
23. Damascus (16)
26. Regret (71)
27. Exterminator (29)
28. Whirlaway* (26)
29. Sunday Silence (31)
30. Cigar (18)
31. Bold Ruler (19)
32. Nashua (24)
33. Alydar (27)
34. Easy Goer (34)
36. Shared Belief
37. California Chrome
38. Gun Runner
39. Equipoise (21)
40. Gallant Fox* (28)
41. Sysonby (30)
42. Gallant Man (36)
43. Assault* (33)
44. Armed (39)
45. Sir Barton* (49)
46. Omaha* (61)
47. Discovery (37)
48. Northern Dancer (43)
49. Ack Ack (44)
50. Majestic Prince (46)
51. Arts and Letters (67)
52. Alysheba (42)
53. Personal Ensign (48)
55. Pan Zareta
57. Rachel Alexandra
58. Stymie (41)
59. Challedon (38)
60. Busher (40)
61. Gallorette (45)
62. All Along (68)
63. Coaltown (47)
64. Sword Dancer (53)
65. Grey Lag (54)
66. Devil Diver (55)
67. Dahlia (50)
68. Zev (56)
69. Native Diver (60)
70. Noor (69)
71. Twilight Tear (59)
72. Riva Ridge (57)
73. Ta Wee (80)
74. Shuvee (70)
75. Holy Bull (64)
77. Point Given
79. Twenty Grand (52)
81. Skip Away (32)
82. Alsab (65)
83. Johnstown (73)
84. Wise Dan
85. Susan’s Girl (51)
86. Genuine Risk (91)
87. Go for Wand (72)
89. Rags to Riches
90. Cicada (62)
91. Silver Charm (63)
92. Bald Eagle (74)
93. Lady’s Secret (76)
94. Slew o’ Gold (58)
95. Hill Prince (75)
98. Top Flight (66)
100. Exceller (96)
*Triple Crown winner