What is Next for Triple Crown Winner Justify?
A few days have passed since the impressive Belmont Stakes win by Justify to cap off the second Triple Crown win in four years. We've had some time to let it sink in. And the passing time has made a couple of things clear. First, Justify is a truly impressive horse. Undefeated. Six wins in just 111 days. A very impressive win in the first and third legs of the Triple Crown, and a lot of heart in the second leg. This is a spectacular horse, and we are as lucky to have seen him do this as we were with American Pharoah just four years ago. Couple that with what Arrogate did in his short prime, and Bob Baffert has single-handedly fueled a glory age of racing.
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Second, sour grapes are just pathetic. Some jockeys in the race have whined endlessly about the ride of Florent Geroux on Restoring Hope, and Mike Repole, the owner or Noble Indy and Vino Rosso has made an art form of complaining. Their contention is that Restoring Hope went to the lead aggressively while moving outside, making it tough for other horses to get to the lead, and protecting his stablemate Justify. It's a ridiculous argument. Yes, Restoring Hope did move aggressively, and yes he did block horses in the process. But the blocking was more a result of being green and inexperienced than some conspiracy - he was all but out of control early on after getting a bad start. And he did go for the lead, or at least the spot behind Justify. But if you look at his past performances, the strategy made sense. The colt's lone win came when he pressed the early pace. He was in deep in the race, but his breeding was sound, and his best chance of a good payday was probably sticking to Justify and hoping for the best. And finally, the horse is also trained by Baffert, but it has a different owner, so the idea of teamwork is less than likely. Justify broke very well and went to the lead quickly. Repole was furious because Noble Indy didn't go to the lead like he promised would happen. But the horse was never going to be good enough to beat Justify if the favorite started fast, and trying to do so would have been totally suicidal. I mean, Noble Indy finished last as it was, so what would have happened if he had gone even faster to start?
The fact that all of this has become a story and detracted from what Justify did was just plain stupid. Justify was not getting beat on that day regardless of what happened.
With that rant out of the way, we can focus on what is up next for Justify. And the sad answer is that we won't see too much more of him. Before the Belmont, his breeding rights were sold for $60 million. After winning the Triple Crown, a $15 million bonus kicked in, making his sale price a record. Needless to say, that is a lot of money. His current owners still own him while he is racing, but obviously the more you race the more risk you have of an injury. In a perfect world we would see the horse race three or four more times this year, capping things off with the Breeders' Cup Classic, then head to the Pegasus World Cup and the Dubai World Cup before a four-year-old season that culminates in a second Classic win. But this is far from that perfect world. That might have been what would have happened a decade or two ago, but times have changed.
We can look at what American Pharoah did to get a sense of what could happen. That colt returned to racing on August 2, winning the Haskell at Monmouth Park. At the end of that month he headed to the Travers at Saratoga but seemed tired and was beaten by Keen Ice in a shocker. He then rested until Halloween day when he won the Classic to end his career on a high note.
The difference here, though, is that Justify has run once more than American Pharoah has this year, and he packed a whole career into a span of less than four months. He could bounce back strong, and the Haskell could make sense. If I was guessing, though, I suspect he will wait until the Travers to return to the track. Baffert exorcised the demons of the American Pharoah loss with Arrogate, and it is the biggest race for three-year-olds of the summer. Right now he is at -150 to win that race at Bovada , with Hofburg second at +500, so it would go well for him. The only reason I could imagine him not going there is he was healthy was if they wanted to get him a shot at older horses before facing them in the Classic. In that case the Woodward or the Jockey Club Gold Cup, or even the Pacific Classic, could make sense. He has already beaten up the best of the three-year-old class, and the older horse field has not yet seen a dominant horse emerge, so it could be a good opportunity. But the Travers seems more likely.
Then we will very likely see Justify for the last time in the Classic. It's held this year on Nov. 3 at Churchill Downs, a track we know with decisive certainty that he likes. Bovada has him heavily favored there as well, with him at +150 and stablemate West Coast the second choice at +800. As an aside, there are 21 horses that currently have Classic odds listed, and Baffert trains six of them, so his good year is only getting started.
There is a chance that the colt could stick around to run in the Pegasus World Cup at Gulfstream at the end of January. It's the richest race in the world, and the fitness gained leading up to and in the Classic is a good base of that race. That's the race that Gun Runner successfully ended his career in last year before heading to stud and that California Chrome ran in for his final race. Justify is much more valuable than those two great horses, though, and I suspect the pressure to get out while he is still healthy will keep him out of that race. The $7 million dollar prize is nice, but making money isn't going to be a challenge for Justify, and if he adds a Classic win to his Triple Crown it's not like winning the Pegasus will add to his value or increase his stud fee.
So, the overall lesson here is simple - enjoy every moment we get with Justify because there won't be many of them.
Read more articles by Trevor Whenham
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