Historical significance prevailed in the favor of 2018 Horse of the Year Justify. Despite racing less than four months, the spectacular chestnut established quite a legacy winning all six starts and becoming only the 13th horse to sweep the Triple Crown. He received the highest honor from voters at Thursday’s 48th annual Eclipse Awards ceremonies at Gulfstream Park.
Making a belated career debut on February 18, Justify turned heads posting a 9 1/2-length victory and stretched out to two turns with an impressive romp over entry-level allowance foes three weeks later. That resulted in the well-built chestnut being favored among individual interests in Pool 3 of the Kentucky Derby Future Wager.
Justify did not disappoint making his first stakes appearance, rolling to a convincing win in the Santa Anita Derby (G1) in early April. The front-running colt netted a whopping 114 BRIS Speed rating and established himself as the prohibitive favorite for the first leg of the Triple Crown.
Talent triumphed inexperience as Justify became the first unraced two-year-old to capture the Kentucky Derby since Apollo in 1882, posting a comfortable 2 1/2-length decision in the slop at Churchill Downs. The dynamic sophomore came back two weeks later to win in a bog at Pimlico, jumping tire tracks early in the race and dueling head-and-head with Kentucky Derby runner-up Good Magic before withstanding the late bid of runner-up Bravazo.
Justify headed to New York no worse for the wear and was never threatened leading wire to wire in the Belmont Stakes. He joined Seattle Slew as only the second undefeated Triple Crown winner in American Thoroughbred racing history but unfortunately never raced again.
His accomplishment may have been dimmed by American Pharoah, who snapped a 37-year drought when winning the Triple Crown in 2015, but remains important nonetheless. Especially in this era of lightly-raced horses where trainers profess a desire for spacing between starts. Justify raced six times in 111 days, with only an average of 18.5 days between starts over a four-month span, and top-class performers no longer employ such a demanding schedule. There was something special about Justify.
Hall of Famer Bob Baffert, who also conditioned American Pharaoh, became only the second trainer to win the Triple Crown twice and Hall of Famer Mike Smith served as the regular rider. Justify earned $3,798,000 for owners WinStar Farm, China Horse Club, Horse of Plains Partners and Starlight Racing.
Bred by John Gunther’s Glennwood Farm, Justify commanded $500,000 as a yearling at the 2016 Keeneland September sale. He’s by the late stallion Scat Daddy and hails from the Grade 3-placed Ghostzapper mare Stage Magic.
Justify has been retired to Coolmore’s Ashford Stud near Versailles, Kentucky.
|HORSE OF THE YEAR||FIRST-PLACE VOTES|