By Jarrod Horak
This is my fourth article in my five-part Breeders’ Cup sires series. So far, I have covered 2007 Breeders’ Cup Classic hero Curlin, 2017 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile winner Good Magic, and 2017 Breeders’ Cup Classic winner Gun Runner, and next up is Triple Crown 2018 hero Justify.
Early Race Record
Justify (Scat Daddy – Stage Magic, by Ghostzapper) burst onto the scene with a sensational extended sprint maiden romp at Santa Anita Park as the 1-2 favorite on February 18, 2018. He returned three weeks later and ran off the screen as the overwhelming betting choice in a flat mile allowance race. Bob Baffert’s very promising colt would make his stakes debut about a month later in the Grade 1 Santa Anita Derby, and he set the pace as the chalk and kicked away from multiple graded winner Bolt d’Oro.
Triple Crown Series 2018
The 2018 Kentucky Derby was run on a sloppy, sealed surface, but that did not matter to Justify. He battled with Promises Fulfilled through a quarter in 22.24, a half in 45.77, and six panels in 1:11.01. Promises Fulfilled threw in the towel, and Justify was clear after a mile in 1:37.35. Mike Smith was loving life aboard the Derby favorite, and he remained clear and crossed the line 2 1/2 lengths in front of Good Magic.
The Preakness at Pimlico was two weeks later, and Justify would meet Good Magic again. In the Derby, Good Magic stalked the pace under Jose Ortiz. In the Preakness, Good Magic went after Justify from the opening bell. Once again the track was sloppy, and the Derby duo dueled throughout. The pace battle took the starch out of Good Magic and he ended up a close fourth, but Justify refused to lose and dug in resolutely. Bravazo made one final bid but came up a half-length short. This was Justify’s toughest career test and he passed with flying colors.
The Belmont Stakes would present a new set of challenges for Justify. He had to go a mile and a half on a fast track against multiple fresh rivals. Once again, Mike Smith put his mount on the lead and it was a game of catch me if you can. The fractions were controlled and Justify was always clear by a length or so. The stalkers gave up the ghost and closers Gronkowski, Hofburg, and Vino Rosso tried to make a race of it, but Justify kept on finding and completed his improbable Triple Crown journey.
Justify never raced again after the 2018 Belmont Stakes. He went a perfect 6-for-6 on the racetrack and earned more than $3.7 million. He currently stands at Ashford Stud in Versailles, Kentucky for a 2024 fee of $200,000.
Justify made an immediate impact as a stallion. He was one of the leading freshman stallions of 2022 along with Bolt d’Oro and Good Magic. Two horses from his first crop won Grade 1 races in 2023. Arabian Lion captured the Grade 1 Woody Stephens on June 10, and sophomore filly Aspen Grove (IRE) won the Belmont Oaks (G1) on July 8. A trio of his 2-year-olds of 2023 took down Grade 1 prizes this year (City of Troy, Just F Y I, Opera Singer). City of Troy and Opera Singer are regarded as the top 2-year-olds in Europe.
Breeders’ Cup Sires: Justify
Justify will be represented by multiple juveniles in the 2023 Breeders’ Cup.
Buchu (Justify – Flowering Peach, by Galileo) has really come into her own in her last two starts for Phil Bauer. She stalked the pace and smartly kicked away in her turf route maiden win at Churchill Downs on Sept. 23. She stepped up to face stakes rivals in the Grade 2 Jessamine at Keeneland on Oct. 6, and she closed strongly from an outer post to win by 3 3/4 lengths. She is one of the top North American hopes in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies Turf.
Hard to Justify (Justify – Instant Reflex, by Quality Road) has done nothing wrong for Chad Brown. She rallied to win her turf route debut by a head at Saratoga on July 23, and she clicked right back with a stalk and ponce victory in the Grade 2 Miss Grillo on Oct. 4. Chad Brown has had plenty of success in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies Turf with horses exiting the Miss Grillo, and this Justify filly should continue to develop.
Just F Y I (Justify – Star Act, by Street Cry) is 2-for-2 for Bill Mott. She stalked wide from an outer post and got up to win by a head in her six furlong debut at Saratoga on Aug. 26. She was just getting warmed up at that sprint distance. She made her second start in the Grade 1 Frizette at one mile around one turn on Oct. 7. The field was short and the track was sloppy, and she stalked outside, took over, and was much the best by 3 3/4 lengths under Junior Alvarado. The Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies is her next assignment and she should continue to improve as distances increase.