The contrarians were numerous, but for those closest to undefeated Justify there was a hope the horse would race again after becoming thoroughbred racing’s 13th Triple Crown winner last month.
In the end, though, Justify’s health wouldn’t allow it.
Trainer Bob Baffert made it official Wednesday, announcing in a press release that Justify will not race again and will return to WinStar Farm in Versailles, Kentucky, next month to begin his stud career.
“Justify had some filling in his ankle, and he is just not responding quick enough for a fall campaign,” Baffert said. “We all wanted to see Justify run again, but ultimately it is my responsibility to make sure he is perfect. Without 60-90 days, I can’t be definite.”
Baffert revealed two weeks ago that Justify had developed the filling — otherwise known as swelling or inflammation — and had been taken out of training. Justify currently is stabled at California’s Del Mar Racetrack.
Baffert announced last week that Justify would not be ready to race in Sunday’s Haskell Invitational at Monmouth Park or the Travers on Aug. 25 at Saratoga. That left Justify little time to get in a prep race before the Breeders’ Cup Classic on Nov. 3 at Churchill Downs.
“The timing is bad for another start in 2018, and therefore we have to retire him,” said WinStar Farm President Elliott Walden said. “Like (2015 Triple Crown winner) American Pharoah, we can’t take the risk of running Justify as a 4-year-old. We all wanted him to finish his career in the Breeders’ Cup Classic, but it was not meant to be.”
Justify’s breeding rights reportedly have been sold to Coolmore for $75 million.
“There is a possible sale to Coolmore in place, but that won’t be finalized until a later date,” Walden said. “We are excited to share him with our fans starting the middle of August after he gets acclimated.”
At 52, Mike Smith became the oldest jockey ever to win the Triple Crown when Justify captured the Belmont.
Justify walks outside barn with Bob Baffert and greets the media.
Matt Stone, Louisville Courier Journal
“I am disappointed he won’t run again, but I am thankful he came into my life,” Smith said. “There was never a time when I rode him that I felt like I was going to get beat. There was no horse who could run with him without sacrificing themselves, and there was no horse who could come get him. He truly is a gift from God.”
Justify completed an unprecedented Triple Crown run on June 9 by winning the Belmont by 1 ¾ lengths over Gronkowski, capping a 6-for-6 career. Justify became just the second undefeated Triple Crown winner ever, joining Seattle Slew (1977) who finished his career 14-2-0.
Co-owned by WinStar Farm, China Horse Club, Starlight Racing and Head of Plains Partners, Justify’s training as a 2-year-old was briefly interrupted by a pulled muscle. He didn’t race until February of this year, breaking his maiden with a 9 ½-length score at Santa Anita.
Justify won his next race on March 11 at Santa Anita by 6 ½ lengths and then earned his spot in the Kentucky Derby with a three-length victory over Bolt d’Oro in the Santa Anita Derby.
At Churchill Downs, Justify faced a sloppy track and a 136-year “curse” as he tried to become just the second horse in history (Apollo did it in 1882) to win the Kentucky Derby without racing as a 2-year-old. Justify ran just off the outside of early pace-setter Promises Fulfilled, breezed past him entering the final turn and put away Good Magic down the stretch for a 2 ½-length victory.
Two weeks later he endured a grueling battle with Good Magic on the backstretch and held on for a half-length victory over Bravazo in a fog-filled Preakness, setting up his Triple Crown run at Belmont on June 9.
A son of Scat Daddy out of the Ghostzapper mare Stage Magic, Justify finished with career earnings of $3,798,000. He was purchased for $500,000 at Keeneland’s 2016 September Yearling Sale.
Justify is scheduled to parade at Del Mar on Saturday before returning to Kentucky.
“He is an incredible horse, and we are very disappointed he can’t run again,” WinStar Farm CEO Kenny Troutt said. “All things happen for a reason, and we are blessed to have raced him to be the 13th Triple Crown winner in history. …
“When he won the Preakness, I allowed myself to start dreaming about the Triple Crown. When we look back on this, we have been a part of an undefeated Triple Crown champion and hopefully a Horse of the Year.”
Jason Frakes: 502-582-4046; email@example.com; Twitter: @kyhighs. Support strong local journalism by subscribing today: www.courier-journal.com/jasonf.