Putting Justify's incredible Triple Crown ride in perspective

In becoming America’s 13th Triple Crown winner last Saturday, Justify demonstrated his brilliance once again in winning the Belmont Stakes by 1 3/4 lengths. No decision has been made regarding his next start, but there will be plenty of time for that. For now, we we can reflect on the incredible nature of this colt’s accomplishments.

Justify’s Derby prep speed figures

Justify broke his maiden on debut Feb. 18 with an unusually high TimeformUS figure of 131 going seven furlongs against four rivals at Santa Anita Park. This is a pretty remarkable introduction to racing given that it was just a point off the top TimeformUS figure for all Kentucky Derby prep races in 2018. It was also Justify who recorded the 132 two starts later in the Santa Anita Derby. The next-highest Timeform number was the 129 posted by Bolt d’Oro in the 2017 FrontRunner Stakes at Santa Anita Park.

Justify also recorded 104 Beyer Speed Figure in that debut race and followed that up with a 107 in the aforementioned Santa Anita Derby. These represent the two highest TimeformUS and Beyer figures for 3-year old route horses this year. Justify’s allowance race Beyer figure — his second start, going a two-turn mile in the mud — was a 101.

While these speed figures are not necessarily the highest recorded for Kentucky Derby prep winners all-time, it’s also worth noting the 114 Brisnet Speed Rating that Justify received in the Santa Anita Derby is fastest since the Derby points system was established ahead of the race’s 2013 running. Also, 11 horses ran in the 2018 Derby that entered with at least one triple-digit Brisnet figure, most since the points era began.

Overall, Justify’s figures were higher than the top numbers recorded by American Pharoah entering the Kentucky Derby, and the fact that Justify was un-raced at 2 makes them all the more impressive. American Pharoah’s highest TimeformUS rating pre-Derby was a 111, which he received in his Arkansas Derby win. His highest Beyer Speed Figure entering the Kentucky Derby was a 105 from the same race.

Justify faced strong modern Derby field

Coming back to the Derby points system, Churchill Downs introduced it to replace graded stakes earnings as the mechanism by which horses received priority for entering the race.

This year, the race included nine horses which earned 100 points or more in Derby preps. That’s up from seven in 2017, 2016 and 2013, while there were six such contenders in 2015 and 2014.

Justify also tallied the fewest amount of Derby points among those nine horses with 100, all earned with his Santa Anita Derby win. His total tied the lowest number for an eventual Kentucky Derby winner, as Always Dreaming entered off the 2017 Florida Derby victory.

American Pharoah sported the highest points total of a Derby winner with 160. Orb and California Chrome share the second-highest points totals for a winner at 150.

While the top end of the points standings can evidence strength of the best contenders, the bottom side of this year’s class indicates depth. It took 29 points for Instilled Regard to qualify as the last horse in, though until the days before the Derby it looked as if it would take at least 40 — equivalent to finishing second in a major prep — until defections.

A 2016 runner, Mo Tom, needed 32 points to qualify in 2016, and Sonneteer took 30 to get in the 2017 field. Going back to 2013, Giant Finish made it into the Derby with as few as 10 points.

Justify broke the Apollo Curse

Before this year,
Apollo was the last (and only other) colt who was un-raced at 2 years old to capture the Kentucky Derby. And it hadn’t happened since 1882. At that time, the Kentucky Derby was run at 12 furlongs, but even since the distance had been reduced in 1896 to the present distance of 10 furlongs no other horse without a start as a juvenile had managed to win. 

As with Justify, Apollo ran three races in a short period of time. Apollo debuted in April of that year with his first start at a mile and a quarter. He finished second. It was in Apollo’s third start that he broke his maiden going 12 furlongs April 26 in the Cottrill Stakes.

Heading into this year’s Kentucky Derby, the record of known un-raced 2-year olds was 61: 0-3-5. Along with Justify, Magnum Moon, the Arkansas Derby, didn’t debut until the New Year. Of course, Justify fared much better as Magnum Moon finished 19th from an outside post.

Justify faced top Triple Crown competition

In 2015, American Pharoah defeated 31 runners in his Triple Crown races, previously the most of any horse to sweep all three races. Justify did him a few better, topping 35 total horses across the Derby, Preakness Stakes and Belmont.

Also, in 2015 American Pharoah had faced 21 unique opponents in his Triple Crown races: 17 in the Kentucky Derby; three new shooters in the Preakness Stakes; and one more in the Belmont. Justify faced 26 challengers in his Triple Crown quest: 19 in the Kentucky Derby; four in the Preakness; and three more in the Belmont.

In addition, Justify matched 1937’s War Admiral as the only Triple Crown winner to face 19 opponents in the Kentucky Derby. In the Preakness Stakes, Sir Barton in 1919 faced 11, Assault in 1946 faced nine, and Seattle Slew in 1977 faced eight challengers. In the Belmont Stakes, Justify took on nine rivals, which is more than any other Triple Crown winner.

In closing,
Justify took racing fans on an incredible ride in just 112 days, from debut win to Triple Crown sweep, tallying six races in the amount of time it sometimes takes some modern horses a year to run. With six more months to go in this campaign, the excitement builds for his second — and possibly closing — act.

Todd Sidor, an attorney by trade, has helped produce equine law seminars, and has belonged to a racing partnership for a number of years. His more than two decades passion and respect for the sport of horse racing will always make him, first and foremost, a racing enthusiast.


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