After many weeks of vacillating, the owners of Justify finally came out and said what most people were thinking: Justify, who seemed to have a chronic swollen front ankle, would be retired and would not race again. The owners and trainer Bob Baffert did the right thing; he was injured, and the injury was not getting better.
So Justify joins Colin and Personal Ensign as the only modern American Thoroughbreds to go undefeated in at least five races during their whole careers, and becomes the only Triple Crown winner to go undefeated. He also broke Apollo’s Curse, becoming the only horse unraced as a 2-year-old to win the Kentucky Derby.
And he did all this in a span of 112 days. Everything this colt was asked to do, he did.
That’s pretty impressive, but you have to wonder what toll six races in a little under four months did to a green horse such as Justify. Bob Baffert is the best in the business, but I wonder if he was rushed into the Triple Crown because of his enormous potential. The stress of three major races in five weeks may have contributed to his injury.
While Justify’s career and achievements will not have an asterisk by them, horse racing enthusiasts will always wonder how good he really was. People are already doubting his Triple Crown achievement by pointing toward the slow times, the closeness of the victories and the conspiracy theory that he received help from another Baffert horse during the Belmont. American Pharoah lost the Travers but came back to win the Grand Slam – the Triple Crown and the Breeders’ Cup Classic. We’ll never know if Justify could have swept all five races.
What’s more troubling, though, is that this may become the norm: Keep colts unraced as 2-year-olds, run a few prep races, shoot for the Triple Crown, and then retire. If that happens, the sport will suffer, as fans will not be able to see great horses continue to run. 1941 Triple Crown winner Whirlaway raced 60 times until age 5; Citation raced 45 times.
With insurance premiums reaching astronomical heights and the pressure of a healthy, profitable stud career looming, the era of great 3-year-olds running past the Breeders’ Cup Classic is over. And with Justify, that career became even shorter.