You could mention color, running style, historical reputation, or any number of points in trying to equate a Triple Crown candidate, like Justify, with any of the previous 12 winners of the series and come up woefully short of the mark. What is possible is finding some commonalities with Justify and some of the current members of the exclusive group he looks to join Saturday in the Belmont Stakes.
In mid-February, Justify was as unlikely a prospect to win a Triple Crown as there could possibly be. The primary reason was that he was unraced, and no horse since 1882 had even won the Kentucky Derby without having raced as a two-year-old.
Sir Barton, likewise, was a highly unpromising candidate to win the Kentucky Derby at that stage of the season, much less three races that would only become recognized as the Triple Crown nearly a decade later.
After finishing fifth, ninth, ninth, seventh, and 16th in his first five starts at two, Sir Barton finally finished a respectable second in the Futurity Stakes in his juvenile finale. He was still a maiden when he won the 1919 Kentucky Derby in his season debut.
“Sunny Jim” Fitzsimmons had not yet saddled a winner of any Triple Crown race before Gallant Fox crossed the wire first in the 1930 Preakness (the first classic held that year), but would go on to win more Triple Crown races than any trainer in the 20th century. Nearly half of his career total of 13 came thanks to the father-son pair of Gallant Fox and Omaha (1935).
Justify, of course, has the winningest Triple Crown trainer of the 21st century, Bob Baffert, in his corner. Ten of Baffert’s wins have come since 2001, and his career total of 14 is co-highest with D. Wayne Lukas.
Justify enters the Belmont with a perfect five-for-five record. It’s not the same number of starts Seattle Slew had entering the 1977 Belmont, but the two colts share the same win percentage – 100%.
The Belmont was Seattle Slew’s ninth start. He won the juvenile title the previous fall off one stakes appearance (the Champagne Stakes), and had preceded the Triple Crown with two more stakes wins in the Flamingo Stakes at Hialeah Park and Wood Memorial.
Seattle Slew remains the only horse ever to win the Triple Crown while unbeaten, a feat Majestic Prince missed accomplishing in 1969 and Smarty Jones and Big Brown failed to replicate in 2004 and 2008, respectively.
(Seattle Slew Image by Coglianese Photos/NYRA)