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Justify’s Retirement Leaves Big Void in American Racing

Author: Michele MacDonald

07/08/2018
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HOURS after Justify’s brief reign of glory ended with a simple retirement proclamation due to an inflamed ankle, America’s 3yo males reshuffled their ranks as last year’s Champion Juvenile Good Magic staked a claim to divisional leadership for the second half of the season. Comments such as ‘No Justify, no problem’ proliferated on social media as Good Magic strolled to an easy victory in the Grade 1 Haskell Invitational Stakes at Monmouth Park. Preceding that win, Juddmonte’s Hofburg validated his third place performance in the Belmont Stakes with his breakthrough initial Stakes win in the listed Curlin Stakes, and Preakness Stakes third Tenfold survived an erratic stretch run to triumph in the Grade 2 Jim Dandy Stakes, both at Saratoga Racecourse.

These outcomes point to a spirited battle in the months moving toward the Breeders’ Cup Classic at Churchill Downs and a further winnowing of possible top prospects for next year’s Dubai World Cup. No matter what transpires going forward, however, the void that undefeated Triple Crown winner Justify leaves behind as he is prepared to begin a stud career, reportedly under the Coolmore banner, with final details still to be confirmed, cannot be overstated. “I could cry right now,” trainer Bob Baffert said during Justify’s farewell parade at Del Mar on 28 July, during which the stunning chestnut made two rounds of the paddock to enthusiastic applause from fans before departing with his groom and exercise rider, apparently never to be seen on a racecourse again.

“He gave us some great thrills,” Baffert reflected in looking back on Justify’s 112 day career. “Just to be involved with a horse like that, we’ve been really blessed.” Justify handily dispatched Good Magic in the Kentucky Derby. When Good Magic’s jockey, Jose Ortiz, changed tactics and attacked Justify early in the Preakness Stakes, the Derby winner repelled the onslaught with Good Magic wilting from his early efforts to fourth. Thus, there were probably no happier folks than the connections of Good Magic when the owners of Justify decided that there would not be time for him to recover from his swollen ankle to compete in the Breeders’ Cup. With plans already made not to race the son of Scat Daddy at age four, the decision for retirement, long rumoured, was announced.

Justify was due to be shipped from Del Mar to WinStar Farm, among his owners, with several others including China Horse Club and Starlight Racing, in the Lexington area. “The timing is bad for another start in 2018, and therefore, we have to retire him,” said WinStar president Elliott Walden. “Like American Pharoah, we can’t take the risk of running Justify as a 4yo. 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 finalised until a later date.” The next major step for America’s 3yos will be the $1.25 million Travers Stakes at Saratoga on 25 August, the race that was the launching pad in the stellar rise of brilliant 2017 Dubai World Cup winner Arrogate and was subsequently won by this year’s World Cup runner-up West Coast.

At this point, Brown is aiming both Good Magic, who he praised as a ‘great racehorse’ after the Haskell, which drew a decidedly light field of rivals, and Phoenix Thoroughbreds’ Belmont Stakes runner-up Gronkowski to the Travers. Gronkowski is coming off a minor setback following the Belmont that delayed some training time. Among other possible Travers runners at this stage, Hofburg, a son of Tapit and half brother to multiple Grade One winner Emollient, looks to be an improving sort for trainer Bill Mott. “I think the timing of the Travers is right. He’s had a race over the track, a win over the track, and it gives the trainer some confidence,” Mott said wryly after Hofburg’s five length, ‘come from behind’ Curlin win on a sloppy sealed surface on 27 July. “I don’t know if the horse needed it, but the trainer did.”

Meanwhile, Tenfold gave his trainer, Steve Asmussen, a bit of a scare when he drifted out late in the stretch of the Jim Dandy, a move that jockey Ricardo Santana Jr said was caused when the colt saw the large infield video screen. “He lost concentration,” Asmussen said after the 28 July race. “It’s obviously concerning. I’m glad he still won the race. But we all know we have work to do.” Tenfold who, like Good Magic, is a son of 2008 Dubai World Cup winner Curlin, had not previously won a Stakes, so he joins Hofburg on the list of colts who appear to be improving with age. However, defections have taken their toll, making the division seem lighter in talent than it did early in the year. In addition to the retirement of Justify, Florida Derby winner Audible went to the sidelines after his laudable third in the Kentucky Derby and has not yet returned to work.

Multiple Grade One winner Bolt D’Oro also has had his troubles; he finished last against older horses in the Metropolitan Handicap on Belmont Stakes day and then was sent by owner and trainer Mick Ruis to Asmussen for a retooling of his training programme. On the brighter side, Baffert is bringing McKinzie back after injury that prevented him from competing in the Kentucky Derby. The son of Street Sense, who was a Grade One winner at two, already has proven he is a tenacious competitor. Bravazo also earned some kudos by giving a good accounting of himself in the Haskell, running strongly in the stretch to finish second while looking, as he did with a similar performance in the Preakness, like he might enjoy the Travers distance of 2000m.

Regardless, there is no conceivable way any of the 3yos could achieve enough in the coming months to upset Justify for the Eclipse Award as champion. Yet out of the dust from the battles that loom ahead we will be looking to see some major contenders emerge for the big prize at Meydan next March.

Michele MacDonald
Award winning International Journalist

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