At first glance, Sunday’s second race at Santa Anita Park looked to be a nondescript maiden special weight — even down to the 4/5 favorite, Tahoma.

Justify's Tahoma wins first race
Sunday at Santa Anita Park, Tahoma became the first offspring of 2018 Triple Crown-winning sire Justify to enter — and win — a race. (Image: Benoit Photo)

But even putting aside his two-length victory in the 4 1/2-furlong race, Tahoma is far from nondescript. The 2-year-old is the first foal from 2018 Triple Crown winner Justify to enter a starting gate.

The chestnut colt, who bears more than a strong resemblance to his celebrated sire, defeated seven other first-time starters. He broke sharply, got caught going into the turn, pressed leader Fordy G, then seized the lead in the stretch.

With Juan Hernandez in the irons, Tahoma came home in 53.89 seconds, paying $3.80 to win. More importantly for horseplayers down the line, he gave all appearances of a colt who can’t wait to stretch out into more distance.

Tahoma shows plenty of potential

“We had high expectations and we feel this colt has a lot of upside,” said Leandro Mora, the chief assistant to trainer Doug O’Neill. “We train these babies pretty much like Brian Mayberry used to when I worked for him 30 years ago. We do not over-train a horse for these types of races. This colt has a lot of ability and I feel really confident about his future. We’re proud to win with the very first starter for Justify. Very proud.”

Justify currently stands at Ashford Stud in Kentucky, but that a Justify colt would break his maiden at Santa Anita is appropriate. Justify only ran six times in his career between February 2018 and June 2018, when he finished off the Triple Crown, winning the Belmont Stakes.

The first three of those races came at Santa Anita in a February 2018 maiden special weight, a March allowance optional claiming, and the Santa Anita Derby.

Justify set a high bar for his son

From there, Justify swept the Triple Crown, becoming the 13th horse to execute one of the most elusive feats in sports. He was the second in four seasons, following American Pharoah’s Triple Crown run in 2015. Bob Baffert trained both horses.

Dennis O’Neill, Doug O’Neill’s brother, purchased Tahoma for $160K at the 2021 Keeneland September Yearling Sale. Tahoma is out of the Rahy mare Madera Dancer, who was winless in three California starts.

“Dennis bought this horse and he has the eye of an eagle,” Mora said. He provides us with so many nice horses.”

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