DEL MAR, Calif.— Every year at this time a 2-year-old bursts on the scene with an eye-popping effort that sends the racing world into a frenzy. Last weekend, we saw it at Del Mar with the dazzling performance by a daughter of Triple Crown winner Justify.
Justique, a first-time starter from the John Shirreffs barn, trailed the field of maidens into the far turn. That’s when jockey Victor Espinoza started weaving through traffic, eventually kicking four wide at the top of the lane where he placed her on cruise control and guided her past the leaders under a hand ride.
“It was fun to ride,” Espinoza said. “I was really looking forward to riding some of the 2-year olds John has and she was one of them.”
Shirreffs says he wasn’t expecting a performance like that.
“I was surprised at the way she ran and did it so handily. Really a pleasure to watch,” he offered.
He wasn’t the only one who didn’t see it coming. Justique went off at 8-1 and paid $19 to win.
Peter Eurton trains Kiss By Fire, runner-up to Justique.
“I think she’s freaky talented,” Eurton says of Justique. “She came by me like we were tied to a tree.”
Shirreffs is non-commital about where he’s going next with his new star, a $750,000 purchase by C R K Stable at the Keeneland September yearling sale, but he hasn’t ruled out the Del Mar Debutante on closing weekend. He’ll be patient with her. He always is with his young horses. His biggest star, Zenyatta, didn’t even run as a 2-year old and even then she didn’t start her ‘unbelievable’ career until November of her 3-year-old season.
As for Espinoza, he knows it’s early yet.
“We always think: ‘This is the one’ before they run,” Espinoza says chuckling. “Sometimes it happens, sometimes it don’t.“
DMTC Press Release
Photo: Justique (Benoit Photo)