HRN Original Blog:
Zipse At The Track

On Triple Crown winner Justify and his place in history

We've all seen the Bob Baffert quote by now: "Justify had some filling in his left front ankle a week ago, which subsided in a couple days. I trained him last week and the filling came back. We want to get him checked out."

Depending on your point of view, the Justify news either hit you like a ton of bricks, or as more of a 'I knew it was coming' moment. 
None of us want to see Justify come back to the races less than healthy, and that will never happen. But if healthy, will he ever get the chance to run again?

Whether you lean toward the optimistic or the pessimistic, it's time that we all face the very real possibility that Justify's crowning moment in the Belmont Stakes will be the last time we see the son of Scat Daddy enter the starting gate. It's a reality that puts his place in history in uncharted territory; a sort of weird historical limbo, if you will.

While the optimistic side of me holds out hope that we will see a healthy Justify come back in a few months
-- eight races, with perhaps a Breeders' Cup Classic victory in there, sounds a whole lot better than retiring after six lifetime starts -- the pessimistic side in me is winning out. To tell you the truth, I just don't believe it will happen for a horse with a plethora of owners.

It sounds crazy to ask "what could have been?" for a
Triple Crown winner, but that's exactly where I feel we are with Justify. As amazing as his four-month racing career was, how can we rightfully talk about him as an all-time great when his racing career lasted all of four months?

I don't think we can.

That's a shame, because this horse is only racing's 13th Triple Crown winner. He broke the longstanding Apollo's Curse, and it's looking more and more like he will be the only Triple Crown winner in history to retire undefeated. Six starts, though. It pales in comparison within his rarefied fraternity.

Besides American Pharoah, the other Baffert-trained Triple Crown winner, and the only other horse to sweep the series since 1978, the first 11 horses to become Triple Crown champions averaged 30 lifetime starts in their racing careers.

Another time, another era, I know, but even in more modern racing, Affirmed ran 29 times,
Secretariat 21 times and Seattle Slew, the only previous horse to sweep the Triple Crown while still unbeaten, raced 17 times.

Perhaps Justify is more like Arrogate, another trained by Baffert, who dazzled the racing world for eight months with a series of huge performances before fizzling out at the end of his career. Of course, that comparison would not be fair to Justify, as he never fizzled out. In all likelihood, he will never have the opportunity.

If he never races again, Justify will never have the opportunity in the Breeders' Cup, or to face older horses. He will never have the opportunity to be beaten, nor will he ever have the chance to shine again.

American Pharoah may have only run 11 times, but at least he had that chance. He was marvelous in the Haskell, was beaten in a dogfight of a Travers, and then topped off his career with a romp in the Breeders' Cup Classic. How satisfying would it be to see Justify have an opportunity in the year-end championship?

The almighty dollar speaks loudly, and the riches of breeding are too great to ignore. But what does this mean for Justify and his place in history?

Even Secretariat, with a huge breeding deal long in place, and a retirement at three a certainty, managed to run six more times that year after his incredible run through the Triple Crown. Six more times. That matches the entire career of Justify.

Maintained excellence is one of the key components of being remembered as one of the best ever to run on an American racetrack, and I believe it has to be, than I don't see Justify being included with the likes of Secretariat, Citation, and Man O' War. He's not even close, and that's OK. Plenty of Triple Crown champions are not remembered in nearly the same way as those greats.

Justify should be remembered as a fantastic horse, who accomplished great things in a short amount of time. Should he never race again, his career was like a shooting star: brilliant, but short-lived.


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Meet Brian Zipse

Brian has been a passionate fan of horse racing his entire life. Taken to the races at a very young age, he has been lucky enough to see all the greats in person from Secretariat, Forego, and Ruffian through Rachel Alexandra, Zenyatta, American Pharoah and Justify. Before coming to the Nation, Brian displayed his love for the sport through the development of his horse racing website, which quickly became one of the most popular blogs in the game. His new racing partnership venture, Derby Day Racing, invites more fans to experience the thrill of racehorse ownership.

The Editor of Horse Racing Nation from 2010-2017, Brian authored a daily column as Zipse at the Track, created the popular racing show, HorseCenter and added his editorial flare to the overall content of the website. Now a Senior Writer for HRN, Brian continues to contribute his thoughts on racing, as well as hosting HorseCenter. A big supporter of thoroughbred aftercare, he serves as the President of The Exceller Fund.

Brian's work has also been published on several leading industry sites. He has consulted for leading contest site Derby Wars, is both a Hall of Fame and NTRA poll voter, and is a Vox Populi committee member. 

A horse owner and graduate of DePaul University, Brian lives just outside of Louisville with his wife Candice and daughter Kendra.

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