When I first started getting paid to write about horse racing in 2007, I quickly noticed that people who made their living in racing, whether they were part of the media. horsemen, or track employees, had a tendency to be a bit on the cynical side. This didn’t go for everybody. To be sure, there were many people I met along the way who you might describe as being positive in nature. But by and large, there was an overriding sense of negativity about what was headed this way. It was something that surprised me as someone who was just happy to be there, covering the sport I loved. Far too many others seemed less stoked.
So today we get official word that Justify has been retired. I’ll resist my own temptation to take a sarcastic “no one could have seen this coming” tone. I called it ten seconds after he crossed the wire in the Belmont Stakes. And I don’t think I’m alone. Perhaps all these years later, I am now among those who have grown accustomed to disappointment in horse racing. Either way, rather than gloat about predicting something that no one wanted to see, I’ll instead try to put my words to paper and give an objective overview of this whole thing.
For starters, Justify cost me a lot of money. I am on record as having been a huge supporter of Good Magic, and not just in words. I think you can make the case that were it not for Justify, Good Magic would have won the first two legs of the Triple Crown. Perhaps I’m biased as someone who actually made that exact bet back in January at odds of 25-1. Regardless, it’s undeniable that Justify’s accomplishments hurt me financially.
It’s also undeniable that what Justify did by sweeping the Triple Crown in and of itself was remarkable. And we’d all be hard pressed to argue that his achievement doesn’t deserve mention as among the greatest of all time given that he didn’t even make his career debut until February. Justify’s six-race career will go down, appropriately, as among the most brilliant seasons by a three-year-old in the history of horse racing.
Now for the part where my opinions might tilt towards the negative and the unpopular.
There was no way he was ever going to race again. There was no point. The ONLY thing that could have happened to his value was that it would take a hit. So he wins the Haskell and the Travers. Big deal. What WOULD have been a big deal is if he faced and defeated older horses. And while I don’t think the likes of Catalina Cruiser, Pavel and Diversify (I’m leaving West Coast off this list for obvious reasons) would have scared anyone in Justify’s camp, my gut feeling was that unless Justify took a step upward from June to the fall Breeders’ Cup preps, he was not going to fare as well as he did against the foes he faced in the Triple Crown. That’s just my opinion. He was going to have to beat more than Bolt d’Oro, Gronkowski, Bravazzo, and a horse like Good Magic who might might might be better at a mile.
It’s probably not fair to constantly expect any horse who wins the Triple Crown to be the next greatest thoroughbred of all time. People are still arguing about whether American Pharaoh would have beaten Ghostzapper or Gun Runner or whoever. And maybe the thing to do, if we love this sport, is just enjoy the starts while they are with us and hope we see another one soon. So congrats to Justify and his human connections on an exciting four-month career and a Triple Crown. Enjoy retirement. I’d have retired him too. Only I’d probably have done it during the Triple Crown trophy presentation.