On Track With Johnny D: It’s Official

The other shoe finally fell. It’s official. Unbeaten 2018 Triple Crown winner Justify is through racing. Done. Kaput. Retired. The unlucky 13th Triple Crown winner and earner of nearly $3.8 million will parade for fans Saturday at Del Mar, Where the Turf Meets the Surf, and then ship to Kentucky to begin a second and even more lucrative career at stud. Eligible bluegrass mares start your engines. Our loss is your gain.

Wonder why the jury too so long to reach a ‘retirement’ verdict? Evidence suggested a certain unanimous vote and quick conclusion. Weeks ago, when the big, chestnut missed work because of ankle swelling, the fat lady didn’t sing, but her pipes were poised for action. Even then the most optimistic of fans knew the inevitable outcome: Retirement!

Makes sense. In any man’s world, keeping the $75-million bonus baby in action would have been a foolish gamble. Risk serious injury with that kind of bread on the table? For what? A Breeders’ Cup Classic trophy and a flower blanket of Beauty Asters, Golden Asters, Cremons and Catteleya Orchids, plus a few million in purse pocket change?

Not to mention that a Justify-in-training monthly insurance premium includes a bunch of zeroes. Using 5% as a premium, at a $75 million valuation (both conservative numbers) the insurance tab comes to a tidy $3.75 million. And I thought home & auto with a multi-car family discount was pricey! If Justify had won both the Travers and Breeders’ Cup Classic he would have earned ‘only’ $3.97 million.

So, where does Justify’s departure leave racing fans? Let me count the words.

Sad? Sort of. Truthfully, though, Justify’s incredible rise to the top was so meteoric that there wasn’t sufficient time to effectively energize a loyal fan base. You’ve heard of ‘one and done’ for college basketball players? Justify’s tenure was more like ‘three and done’—that’s months, not seasons. Justify earned my respect, but in order to fall head-over-heels, madly in love with him I needed to see more. After not racing at 2, what he accomplished—the only horse to win the Kentucky Derby since Apollo in 1882 and the first to win the Triple Crown—happened so fast that there wasn’t enough opportunity to truly embrace him. Six magnificent races crammed into 112 days–three of them the Kentucky Derby, Preakness and Belmont. That’s a short-but-oh-so-sweet career.

Disappointed? Definitely. A massive, beautiful, gifted colt, it would have been exhilarating to watch him complete his original post-Triple Crown schedule: Haskell, Travers and Breeders’ Cup Classic. Even though his premature departure virtually guarantees that those races now become much more interesting gambling events, this horseplayer would have rather seen Justify again in full flight. Wagering opportunities appear daily. ‘Justifys’ are one of a kind.

Robbed? Not exactly. More like ‘Unfulfilled.’ Justify exits, stage-left, like a savvy vaudevillian; leaving his audience wanting more, much more. However, in this case, there won’t be any more—at least not on the racetrack. We understand the ‘whys’ of Justify’s retirement, but we don’t have to like them. Obviously, there was regret when American Pharoah, the previous Triple Crown winner, retired. He seemed to be getting better with age and it would have been a treat to see him compete at four. But fans knew that was asking too much. In Justify’s case, because his career was so condensed, it would have been satisfying to at least see him face older foes in the BC Classic.

Grateful? Yes. We’ve been spoiled by recent 3-year-old stars—all, coincidentally, trained by Bob Baffert: Justify, American Pharoah and Arrogate. Each delivered more than one performance worthy of adulation. Two captured Triple Crowns and the other set a new Travers standard before winning the Dubai World Cup at four in one of the greatest performances of all time. These are special athletes that make it easy to forget that before ‘Pharoah the sport had gone 37 frustrating years without a Triple Crown winner!

Credit goes to Justify’s connections for attempting to complete the 2018 season. Even after everyone else knew retirement was imminent, they continued to hope the colt would recover in time to race again. Ultimately, though, Baffert knew he couldn’t/shouldn’t/wouldn’t be able to train the colt toward a BC Classic prep race. It was time to pull the plug.

“Justify had some filling in his ankle, and he is just not responding quick enough for a fall campaign,” said the trainer in the retirement press release. “We all wanted to see Justify run again, but ultimately it is my responsibility to make sure he is perfect. Without 60-90 days, I can’t be definite.”
Justify was campaigned by WinStar Farm, China Horse Club, Head of Plains Partners LLC, and Starlight Racing, and ridden by Hall of Fame jockey Mike Smith. In the retirement release, several principals were quoted expressing gratitude, amazement and joy for having been involved with the certain Eclipse Award winning 3-year-old and possible Horse of the Year. Smith said it best, “Like everyone else, I am disappointed he won’t run again, but I am thankful he came into my life,” he said. “There was never a time when I rode him that I felt like I was going to get beat. There was no horse who could run with him without sacrificing themselves, and there was no horse who could come get him. He truly is a gift from God.”
We’re always appreciative for gifts from God. Just wish that in the future the man upstairs would arrange for them to last a bit longer.
Race On!

On Track With Johnny D: It’s Official

On Track with Johnny D |