Justify capped a Triple Crown sweep with a 1 ¾-length victory in the Belmont Stakes, winning the 1 ½-mile event over a fast track after taking the Kentucky Derby and Preakness in the slop, and connections have an investment to protect after such an historical achievement (reportedly syndicated for $75 million to stud duty).
That makes retirement a viable option but the Triple Crown appears to have taken little out of the unbeaten superstar and owners have expressed a desire in pursuing a late summer/fall campaign, a benevolent gesture that means so much to Thoroughbred racing fans. Justify joined Seattle Slew as the only undefeated Triple Crown winner and the massive chestnut can raise the bar to unprecedented heights by capping a flawless career in the $6 million Breeders’ Cup Classic at Churchill Downs on November 3.
Justify shows up every time and further improvement remains possible for the late-starting 3-year-old. He appears more than capable of winning out if able to maintain his Triple Crown form over the next 4 ½ months.
Either one or two prep races could be utilized for the Breeders’ Cup Classic but it’s all speculation at this point regarding his next possible start. Justify must still prove his readiness and Bob Baffert won’t take any chances; he wants to keep his pupil happy and healthy before finalizing plans. The Hall of Fame conditioner has raved about how the Scat Daddy colt emerged from the Triple Crown grind and Justify clearly has more constitution than other classy Thoroughbreds of this lightly-raced era, launching his career in mid-February and recording six starts over a 111-day period.
Justify made a grand appearance when parading for fans at Churchill Downs last Saturday and it would be sensational to see the Triple Crown winner back under the Twin Spires for the Breeders’ Cup Classic this fall.
Let’s take a look at some possible upcoming engagements, all Grade 1 stakes:
Haskell Invitational, Monmouth Park, July 29: Baffert likes shipping to the Jersey Shore and practically owns the 1 1/8-mile test for 3-year-olds, winning a record eight times including the 2015 edition with Triple Crown winner American Pharoah. That makes the Haskell an odds-on favorite and if Justify does reappear in this spot, he’ll likely receive two starts prior to the Classic.
Whitney, Saratoga, August 4: He would be making his first start against older horses and the 1 1/8-mile event rates as an extreme longshot for Justify. Gun Runner used the Whitney-Woodward route at Saratoga en route to winning last year’s Classic, but he was an older horse with an abundance of graded experience under his belt. It would be a huge surprise to see connections opt for this spot over the Haskell.
Pacific Classic, Del Mar, August 18: Justify won’t have to ship at Del Mar and the 1 ¼-mile Pacific Classic has appeal if connections decide to use only a single prep. The centerpiece event is open to older horses but I don’t think Baffert will be worried about the competition. But prepping at Del Mar didn’t work out well for the Baffert-trained Arrogate last year and Baffert may want to avoid any possibility of history repeating itself.
Travers, Saratoga, August 25: The 1 ¼-mile Mid-Summer Derby will receive serious consideration. Baffert has won the last two editions and used it as the final prep for Classic winners American Pharoah and Arrogate. He could train straight up to the Travers or prep in the Haskell first.
Woodward, Saratoga, September 1: Unlikely but does give the option for another 1 1/8-mile race if Justify runs in the Haskell or Whitney. The Woodward is open to older horses on the final weekend of the Saratoga meet.
Pennsylvania Derby, Parx, September 22: Baffert appeared to enjoy the experience last year, taking a more active role in preparing Pennsylvania Derby winner West Coast after top assistant Jimmy Barnes broke his leg, but I don’t know how keen owners will be on shipping to Parx. In terms of a final prep, the 1 1/8-mile trip may have some appeal instead of the 10-furlong Travers, but distance is no concern for Justify.