When the horses hit the finish line of the Kentucky Derby Saturday, it brought home a loss suffered on a December day in 2015.
Kentucky Derby winner Justify was sired outside of Versailles in Central Kentucky. His father, Scat Daddy, lived at Ashford Stud. Justify was born just a few miles away at Glennwood Farm.
In 2014, when Justify was conceived, Ashford was home to a very promising 11-year-old stallion named Scat Daddy. Unfortunately, on a warm December day in 2015, Scat Daddy died suddenly, just as his offspring were winning at the races.
"Scat Daddy was in the best of health but totally unexpectedly he dropped dead when walking out of his paddock," Dermot Ryan, Ashford Stud manager posted on Twitter in December 2015.
It was just a few months before the next breeding season and Scat Daddy's stud fee had been scheduled to rise from $30,000 to $100,000. Understandably, the farm was pretty broken up about the loss.
"Everyone here at Ashford is very upset as he was a smashing horse with a great career ahead of him," Ryan tweeted.
Despite siring only six crops, Scat Daddy made a big mark: He fathered four of the 20 horses in Saturday's Kentucky Derby, a feat no horse has accomplished in 95 years, according to The Bloodhorse. Last year, Scat Daddy was the leading sire of two-year-olds, with his offspring earning more than $3.3 million.
Although Justify was from that cohort of foals, none of those earnings were his, making him the first horse to win the Derby without racing as a two-year-old since Apollo in 1882.
Ashford and Glennwood farms are both in Woodford County, which, according to the 2012 USDA Census of Agriculture, had more than 9,000 horses, second only to Fayette County. The census put the value of those horses at just under $45 million, but that seems like an understatement given that some of the world's busiest and most expensive stallions live in barns tucked onto Woodford's manicured pastureland. (Not to mention the broodmares and their well-bred babies.)
Ashford, which is owned by the Irish global Thoroughbred breeding empire Coolmore, alone stands stallions worth millions, including Triple Crown winner American Pharoah and Kentucky Derby winner Fusaichi Pegasus.
Incredibly, the farm where Justify was born was lucky enough to breed two Scat Daddy offspring that landed in this year's Kentucky Derby. Glennwood Farm, also in Versailles, bred Justify as well as Vino Rosso.
Glennwood is owned by John Gunther and his daughter Tanya, who bred Stage Magic, the mother of Justify. Stage Magic ran in 12 races and won three times, placed twice and was third three times before she was retired to become a broodmare. And in 2014 she was mated to Scat Daddy. The farm sold the foal that was later named Justify at the 2016 Keeneland September Yearling Sales for $500,000 but they still have Stage Magic.
Though Glennwood is a relatively small Thoroughbred farm, with 350 acres and five barns, it has made a name for itself raising top-flight racehorses, including First Samurai and Stay Thirsty.
John Gunther told The Bloodhorse that Justify and Vino Rosso played in the same pasture as foals, perhaps giving hints then of what Saturday would bring.
"Vino Rosso has always been very laid-back, and Justify has always been a very intelligent horse," Gunther said. "He would be the more bossy of the two. Justify knew he was a champion."
As for the future, Gunther told the Bloodhorse that the farm also has a yearling half brother out of Stage Magic, Justify's mother, by the stallion Will Take Charge "and he's just as good-looking as Justify. He's just unbelievable. he is something else."
The Gunthers plan to keep the colt to race. And hope, perhaps, that in two years Justify's little brother will follow in his Derby-winning footsteps.