Justify wasn’t even trainer Bob Baffert’s favorite horse, but he still managed to have a pretty good year. Having never run a race as a 2-year-old, the horse came seemingly out of nowhere to become the 13th Triple Crown winner in horse racing history. .
Baffert chose not to run Justify until he reached 3 years of age. Then he put him in two small races, which the horse won easily. It was then he knew he had a special horse.
“We call him Big Red at the barn,” Baffert said. “We’re always looking for the big red sonofagun, but he’s got to pass this test before we start calling him anything special.”
The first test was a breeze, though he wasn’t even supposed to be there. Justify replaced Baffert’s first choice, McKinzie in the Santa Anita Derby and was up against Bolt d’ Oro, who was the Kentucky Derby favorite at 4/1. Justify, though, went off as the 4/5 favorite at the Santa Anita Derby, and won his third consecutive race.
Dominating at Kentucky Derby
Justify went off as the 3/1 favorite at the Kentucky Derby, but on the day of the race, the first Sunday in May, he faced a track condition he had never experienced. The heaviest rain ever seen in 143 runnings of the Run for the Roses pounded the Louisville area.
It didn’t matter. He reigned over the field and finished more than two lengths ahead of Good Magic. In the process he broke the 136-year Apollo curse, named after the last horse not to race as a 2 year old and win the Derby.
One hour after the 3-year-old colt’s romp in the sloppy, muddy track, betting site Bovada posted Justify as a +150 top choice to win the Preakness, the second leg of the Triple Crown. He was also a 7/1 choice to win the Triple Crown.
Baffert had trained the last horse to win all three races, American Pharoah in 2015, and started to compare Justify to him.
“Him and American Pharoah, they’re just cut from a different cloth,” Baffert said. “I rank him up there with my top ones.”
Preakness by a Slim Margin
As expected Justify was installed as the top pick at the Preakness, which is held two weeks after the Run for the Roses. He was getting odds of 1/2, for the race at Pimlico.
The conditions at the Baltimore racetrack were similar to Churchill Downs, and Justify performed just as well in the slop. This time, though, he won by less than a length, and some experts pointed to that as a sign that the horse had been raced too much in a short span of time. Baffert was unfazed.
“This guy, when I first started working him, I knew he was brilliant, but we didn’t know how far he was gonna go,” Baffert said. “When I first saw him I thought, ‘Well, it looks like he’ll go six furlongs, seven furlongs,’ because of the way he is built, like a big bull. Every time we run him, he shows us something different.”
Justify was the 24th horse to make it that far, winning both the Kentucky Derby and the Preakness, the first two events that make up the storied trifecta won for the first time 99 years ago.
Only the Belmont Stakes remained, and Justify was an early 4/5 favorite for the June 9 race. He was also listed as a -120 to win the Triple Crown.
Securing Legendary Stud Status at Belmont
The draw for Justify at the Belmont Stakes was not good, and Baffert worried that being on the rail was going to negatively affect his horse.
“I never do like to draw the rail, but my horses seem to live in it,” Baffert told reporters after the race. “We have it, we can’t change it. We’ll deal with it.”
Still Justify went off at 4/5 and it proved to not be an issue. He won by nearly two-lengths and became the 13th horse to capture the Triple Crown.