With JUSTIFY settled back in at trainer Bob Baffert’s Santa Anita Park base in Southern California, now would be a good time to reflect on the undefeated colt’s quest to become the 13th Triple Crown winner.
And what better way to do so than through photos depicting his journey from maiden winner to Triple Crown star?
The build up to the Kentucky Derby (G1) was actually pretty low key for the chestnut son of Scat Daddy. After a 9 1/2-length romp in his maiden debut at Santa Anita on February 18, Justify posted a 6 1/2-length victory against allowance/optional claiming rivals going a muddy mile at the same track on March 11.
Off such impressive wins, Baffert threw the inexperienced colt to the wolves when entering him to make his stakes debut in the Santa Anita Derby (G1). Justify proved a wolf in sheep’s clothing, though, pulling off a three-length wire job under Hall of Fame rider Mike Smith.
The Santa Anita Derby win awarded Justify enough points to make the Kentucky Derby field, and the chestnut arrived at Churchill Downs on April 30. He didn’t record any official workouts, but exercised under the famed Twin Spires nearly every day.
Finally, Derby Day 2018 arrived, and it proved a messy one, with showers and rainstorms enveloping Louisville, Kentucky. It proved no deterrent to Justify, who effortlessly handled the mud at Santa Anita in his second start and splashed home in the Run for the Roses just as easily.
Following his Kentucky Derby triumph, Justify remained at Churchill Downs until the week of the Preakness Stakes (G1), then shipped May 16 to Pimlico in Baltimore, Maryland, for the second jewel of the Triple Crown.
The Preakness proved as messy at the Kentucky Derby in terms of track conditions, but threw in the added barrier of a heavy fog that settled over Pimlico minutes before the Preakness was run. When the field emerged from the gloom, Justify was on top and held for the victory
Justify left Pimlico only one day after his Preakness triumph and returned to Churchill Downs, where he bedded down to ready for the third and final leg of the Triple Crown – the Belmont Stakes (G1) at Belmont Park on June 9. During his time back at Churchill, he recorded a pair of workouts under the Twin Spires.
Departing Churchill Downs on June 6, Justify journeyed to Belmont Park in Elmont, New York, arriving ready to complete the sweep of the 2018 Triple Crown.
Unlike the Derby and Preakness, Belmont Stakes Day dawned clear and bright. A fast track awaited the nine-strong field but, in the end, the race turned into a Justify lovefest. The chestnut colt grabbed command from the very start and never looked back, cruising home to become only the 13th horse to take all three legs of the famed Triple Crown.
Trainer Bob Baffert followed the same protocol as he did for the Preakness, shipping Justify to Churchill Downs only a couple days after the Belmont Stakes. The colt arrived under the Twin Spires on June 11, and just five days later was given a hero’s welcome as he paraded before a multitude of fans on the “Downs After Dark” evening program at Churchill.
Justify’s journey came full circle on June 17, when the colt returned to his conditioner’s Santa Anita base in Southern California. And on June 23, appreciative fans welcomed the colt back as he paraded between races at Santa Anita.
Now settled back in Southern California, the talented youngster will begin readying for the next step on his racing voyage. His sophomore campaign is expected to end up right back at Churchill Downs in November for a shot at completing the Grand Slam in the Breeders’ Cup Classic (G1).
A big shout-out to the amazing photographers who provided such stunning images during the Triple Crown season, and all year round — Adam Coglianese Photography, Benoit Photo, Coady Photography, EquiSport Photos, Holly Smith Photography, Horsephotos.com, and Maryland Jockey Club’s Jim McCue & Jon Kral.