JUSTIFY: DO WE KNOW WHAT WE JUST SAW???
So the Triple Crown series for 2018 is now in the record books and we have a winner. Being that American Pharoah exorcised the ghost of impossibility from this amazing achievement in 2015, have we really wrapped our brains around what we just saw Justify accomplish? Let’s lend a little perspective.
As Justify displayed his powerful stride in winning the 150th running of the Belmont Stakes, he ran his way into immortality. As the thirteenth three-year old to sweep the Triple Crown series, the Bob Baffert trained colt was just the second to do so with an unblemished record. Now with six wins in six lifetime starts, this son of Scat Daddy joins Seattle Slew as the only undefeated runners to sweep the Kentucky Derby, Preakness, and Belmont Stakes. A closer look however, tells us Justify’s accomplishments may be a bit more impressive with all things considered.
Winning the Kentucky Derby is one of the toughest things to accomplish in all of sports. When hooves hit the ground from their mammy’s womb, people start working towards the first Saturday in May. This is why the two-year old season can be extremely important in the development of a Thoroughbred runner. Like any athlete, these horses work towards peaking at the right time. For Derby hopefuls it is in the spring of their three-year old year. Learning and developing as they go along, it is important to always move forward and grow from the experience. As is the case in all sports, the competition has become much more fierce in Thoroughbred racing and the big events, like the Derby and all the Triple Crown races, have become increasingly tougher. The field sizes are usually bigger and more people want a piece of that pie. So let’s quickly compare the Slew to Justify.
Seattle Slew ran three times during his two-year old season and three times before the Kentucky Derby. So the Billy Turner trained son of Bold Reasoning began his journey to the Kentucky Derby and the Triple Crown a good 8 months before with 6 starts to figure himself out. In the opening leg, the Slew faced 14 rivals. In his Preakness triumph he conquered 8 others. In crowning himself one of the all-time greats, Seattle Slew defeated 7 others at the Belmont Stakes.
Fast forward 41 years to the Justify campaign. Because of some different factors, the sizeable colt did not begin running until February of his three-year old campaign and started for the first time in February 2018. He won again impressively on March 11 and then jumped into the deep water of the Santa Anita Derby on April 7. All were impressive wins, but that provided him three starts in three months to prepare for the race of his life. While vanquishing 19 others and becoming the first since 1882 (Apollo) to win the Derby without racing as a juvenile, Justify also conquered a sloppy track and the most rain in Kentucky Derby day history. The Preakness saw 7 others, torrential rains and foggy conditions come at him, but the horse was able to Justify himself once again. The Belmont saw 9 challengers come at him throughout the mile and a half but none could keep up with his tremendous pace as he won convincingly in gate to wire fashion.
Now here is where we make our statement. It is difficult to compare horses from different times and we would never dis-credit the accomplishments of an all-star like Seattle Slew. It is hard to say if one is better than the other, but here is what we are saying… Justify is something very special. In today’s ultra-competitive sports world, he defeated more horses in the three races and did so with less preparation. He is a four-legged phenom that we may never see the likes of again. We all hope he stays healthy and will toe the track a couple of more times (hope, hope, Breeders’ Cup would be great) before he hangs it up. According to his trainer he came out of the Belmont in “awesome” condition and other starts are more likely than not. So as for what we just saw, “incredible” may be an understatement.