Horses

Triple Crown winner Justify retired from racing. See where he could be headed next.

Justify, with Mike Smith up, was all alone at the finish in the 144th running of the Kentucky Derby at Churchill Downs. The 3-year-old Thoroughbred also won the Preakness and Belmont, becoming the 13th Triple Crown winner in the sports’ history.
Justify, with Mike Smith up, was all alone at the finish in the 144th running of the Kentucky Derby at Churchill Downs. The 3-year-old Thoroughbred also won the Preakness and Belmont, becoming the 13th Triple Crown winner in the sports’ history. rgarrison@herald-leader.com

Justify, only the 13th horse to ever win Thoroughbred racing’s Triple Crown, has been retired from racing, according to an announcement from WinStar Farm on Wednesday.

“Justify had some filling in his ankle, and he is just not responding quick enough for a fall campaign,” trainer Bob Baffert said in a press release. “We all wanted to see Justify run again, but ultimately it is my responsibility to make sure he is perfect. Without 60-90 days, I can’t be definite.”

Owned in tandem with China Horse Club, Head of Plains Partners and Starlight Racing, the original plan for the 3-year-old chestnut colt was to run him at least once more to set up a possible career-ending celebration at the Breeders’ Cup Classic at Churchill Downs in November, following the same path to stud as American Pharoah, Baffert’s 2015 Triple Crown winner.

“The timing is bad for another start in 2018, and therefore, we have to retire him,” said WinStar Farm president and CEO Elliott Walden in the release. “Like American Pharoah, we can’t take the risk of running Justify as a 4-year-old. We all wanted him to finish his career in the Breeders’ Cup Classic, but it was not meant to be. As has been reported, there is a possible sale to Coolmore in place, but that won’t be finalized until a later date. We are excited to share him with our fans starting the middle of August after he gets acclimated.”

One day after winning the Belmont Stakes to complete the Triple Crown, Justify looked bright and alert. Trainer Bob Baffert said the colt would return to Louisville, but there are no set plans for his next possible race.

The New York Times reported in May that Justify’s breeding rights had been sold to Coolmore Stud, the legendary breeding establishment based in Ireland. Coolmore already stands one Triple Crown winner in American Pharoah, whose home is Coolmore’s Ashford Stud, the 2,000-acre farm off U.S. 60 between Versailles and Frankfort. American Pharoah commanded a $200,000 stud fee when he began breeding. The fee is now listed as “private” on Coolmore’s site.

While Justify is done racing, fans will be able to get one last glimpse of him at a racetrack. The Triple Crown winner was scheduled to be paraded at Del Mar in California this Saturday. WinStar has announced he is expected to be available to see on tours beginning Aug. 13.

Justify came to Churchill Downs for the Kentucky Derby in May as the odds-on favorite. Facing what was then regarded as one of the best Derby fields ever assembled on a sloppy track, he won by 2 1/2 lengths over Good Magic in 2:04.20. It was his fourth win in only four starts. Justify broke the so-called “Curse of Apollo,” by becoming the first horse that was unraced at 2 years old to win the Derby since Apollo in 1882.

Justify won the Preakness Stakes under a fog at Pimlico Park two weeks later, besting an eight-horse field and a stiff challenge at the wire from Bravazo by half a length.

At the Belmont Stakes in June, Justify entered Thoroughbred racing history with a convincing wire-to-wire run in front of a 10-horse field and beating Gronkowski by 1¾ lengths.

A son of Scat Daddy out of Stage Magic, Justify sold for $500,000 to his connections at the 2016 Keeneland September Yearling Sale. He earned $3,798,000 in an undefeated six-race campaign on the track.

The first sign of concern came on July 10, when Baffert announced Justify’s racing career would be put on hold while he evaluated the “filling” in his left ankle. Occasional swelling in joints is not uncommon and usually not a cause for concern. But Justify was only expected to race one or two more races, regardless.

“He is an incredible horse and we are very disappointed he can’t run again,” WinStar Farm owner Kenny Troutt said. “All things happen for a reason, and we are blessed to have raced him to be the 13th Triple Crown winner in history.”

See the race and the win unfold for Justify, No. 7, his jockey Mike Smith and trainer Bob Baffert. The 144th Run for the Roses photos are from the Herald-Leader crew.

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