WHY JUSTIFY IS THE HORSE OF THE YEAR FOR 2018
The Breeders’ Cup is now in the rear view and it is time to start thinking about the year that was. As we contemplate the hardware that gets handed out, it is important to clarify one thing in particular. Justify is the Horse of the Year.
After Accelerate’s authoritative win in the Breeders’Cup Classic some folks threw out the notion that this John Sadler trainee could supplant the thirteenth Triple Crown winner as the year’s big Chalupa. Granted, the five-year old son of Lookin at Lucky was spectacular in his own right. His wins in the California big three handicap events (Santa Anita Handicap, Gold Cup, Pacific Classic) were very nice. The Pacific Classic romp at Del Mar was jaw dropping. The Breeders’ Cup Classic was proof he can win outside the Golden State which was also important. But let’s put the pig on the scales and really see how much pork we have when we think about the spectacular son of Scat Daddy.
American Pharoah may be a factor when we look at the detractors for Justify. Reason being that Bob Baffert trained phenom broke the 37-year Crown drought in 2015. The Baffert-trained Justify equaled the feat just three years later. That may have damaged the real perspective of just how tough it is to win this trio of races for three year olds early in their sophomore season. The fact he did it so quickly after Pharoah and was conditioned by the same coach certainly should not make it any less spectacular. The Kentucky Derby is the toughest race to win in the world and the Belmont Stakes may be the second hardest.
We know Justify’s career was a short but fantastic five months. He first visited the starting gates in February and wrapped it up in June. Didn’t have to take my shoes off to add that up and that tells us two things. I wear flip flops to count past ten and he is an immense talent. Did we forget he broke the curse of Apollo (1882) by winning the Kentucky Derby as an unraced two-year old? Has it slipped our mind that he also wore the blanket of roses on the wettest day in Derby history? Two more notches in the saddle for sure.
The middle jewel in the Crown might just be the clincher. Justify’s Preakness performance was the stuff that Grantland Rice relished. Old time sports scribes searched for opportunities to create legends like the four horsemen. The 2018 mile and three sixteenths at Pimlico was made to order for the power of the pen.
Cast against soggy and foggy conditions, the beautifully built chestnut took his hopes of immortality into the starting gates. Breaking like a bolt of lightning under Big Money Mike Smith, Justify took his rider to the front. Hounded early by the 2017 Juvenile champion Good Magic, it was evident the seven challengers would not let the Derby champion have things his own way on the lead. Rolling through one foggy furlong after another, his veins pulsed with the power that had provided pestilence for his previous challengers. As the race entered the home stretch, the thundering Thoroughbreds could not be clearly seen as Mother Nature’s smokescreen provided limited visibility. Focusing on the frontrunners, it was the mighty Justify that emerged from the clouds with the wire in sight. Hungry for history, his hooves digested the dirt in dynamic fashion as he found the finish line first once again.
So here is how we summarize…Six wins in six starts, four grade 1 victories and a Triple Crown in five months. Yes, he was a comet across the sky of the racing season, but comets can be rare and oh so breathtaking… Enough said…