By Jonathan Stettin
The announcement that was pretty much inevitable almost immediately following the Belmont Stakes has finally been made. Justify has been officially retired, unofficially probably since dinner after the Belmont. There was really no financial sense to racing him whereas all you could accomplish was possibly de-valuing him at stud had he lost. There is talk about a few different injuries, and some of his issues such as the filling in his ankle recently are indeed documented. I don’t believe that is what prompted the retirement. It was the money if you ask me along with risk and reward. In one of our Past the Wire video broadcasts the day following the Belmont I had stated we likely saw the last of Justify on the racetrack. While I hoped to be wrong, I didn’t really think there was any chance that I was.
It was one heckuva a run. Five months, a Triple Crown, and a take down of the Apollo curse. The curse was over 100 years old and he is only the 13th Triple Crown winner in the sport. From his debut until his final start the hype was there and say what you will, the colt did all that was asked and quite possibly while being nursed through some issues. Justify never had to fight for a victory, but you can’t hold that against him. Nobody made him have to really show any grit. The closest he came to a fight was the Preakness but astute observation reveals jockey Mike Smith had him shut down the last few yards. It would have been interesting to see him progress but with a stud fee I’d guess between 200 and 250K, and a full book of quality mares each year, for the next several years, one cannot responsibly argue with the math. Had he lost the stud fee could decrease and his lofty reputation and resume would be tarnished. Had he suffered a serious injury or worse which is always a risk inherent to our game it would have not only been heartbreaking it would be a huge financial hit for the connections to take. You can’t insure that kind of loss at any price.
One of the most interesting aspects of the campaign of Justify is where it will rank him historically amongst the all time greats. One would think a Triple Crown without having raced at two-years old would guarantee him a spot in all those conversations. Not so fast. There will be plenty of people quick on the draw to point out the small amount of starts, the questionable quality of his competition, the lack of any blistering fast races, never facing let alone beating older horses, and the short resume when compared to his 12 peers with Triple Crown titles. To win the Kentucky Derby itself is a feat, to win it without a start at two is a rarity as evidenced by that whole Apollo thing. To continue on to the Triple Crown really puts a stamp on Justify as truly special but that question about an all time great just feels unsettled. It is so hard to compare horses from different eras. Additionally the game has changed so much. Citation raced between the Preakness and Belmont during his Triple Crown run, could you even imagine that happening today? Exactly, me either.
I’ve seen five Triple Crown winners. All were special horses and great in their own rights. I prefer not ranking or labeling them as anyone who has ever been in a fight knows, you don’t know what someone has until they get punched in the face. Unless you put them in the gate together it is all speculative. That is for the pari-mutual windows not history. I think the records speak for themselves.
Justify also showcased the ability of Bob Baffert to do things others just can’t with horses. Justify had one of the shortest but also one of the most impressive and accomplished campaigns in the history of the sport. I think if you watch and know Bob, and how he can chart a horses path, it becomes evident he had every intention of winning the Derby without racing at two, and then going after the coveted Triple Crown. Once the objective was met, there was only one place to go. Off to the breeding shed. Mission accomplished.
For those so inclined you can watch our recap of the Belmont and our call on the retirement following the Belmont here: