Friday, July 27, 2018


Let me officially go on record: Justify is a bum. Or at least he's not a champion.

How can you say that? He won the 2018 Triple Crown, won over fast, sloppy or muddy tracks, went undefeated, won four Grade 1 races over four different tracks, was the first horse to win the Derby who didn't race as a two-year-old since Apollo in 1882, how is he a bum? Because he's not a champion. He's just another horse that won some races.

Was Buster Douglas a champion? They declared him one. Sure, he knocked out a thoroughly out-of-shape Mike Tyson in Tokyo in 1990, but was he a champion? No. (I saw Buster's father, Billy, dismantle a much younger up-and-coming heavyweight, Pedro Soto at Madison Square Garden.) It is always who you beat and how often you beat them that makes you a champion.

There are those that will tell you that without a 4-year-old campaign you're depriving the fans of developing a fan base with a horse. Bogus. There is no real fan base in racing, outside of those who show up at Saratoga. It is now just a millennial flash mob that will turn out if there's enough sunshine and publicity surrounding an event. And maybe a band or two. The cell phones that were raised to take American Pharoah's picture at the finish might still be in the phone, with perhaps the ones that took Justify's picture.

Secretariat and American Pharoah never raced past three. But they were champions for their still standing track records, and at least sticking around for the Breeders' Cup and defeating older horses. (Even if by November the 3-year-olds are really almost 4-year-olds.)

Secretariat did have his problems defeating older horses, failing in the Whitney, and failing in the Woodward, both times losing to Allen Jerkens trained horses. But it was his fast times, and style that made him a champion. And he went out winning a turf race in Canada.

American Pharoah had a less complex ownership arrangement than Justify. Ahmed Zayat is a rich guy with the soul of a horse player. He bets with both fists and told the crowd that after the Belmont they owned the horse.

American Pharoah, like Secretariat and Justify were offered for breeding before the end of their racing campaigns. Secretariat's $6.6 million "windfall" seems anachronistic when compared to Justify's $65 million. But there are years, decades between them.

The ownership of Justify is complex. I once saw a photo of all the lawyers that were assembled in a room when the Empire State Building changed hands. The ownership was complex.

That Justify is worth $65 million to a vast group of people to go out and create offspring is just a sign of the times in breeding. There's money in them thar thighs. If I had a vase worth $65 million would I carry it on the subway? Or drive it over potholes?

No, what's happened to Justify is what I thought would happen with Justify as soon as he crossed the finish line in the Belmont—win or lose. Someone asked me when was he going to run again. I replied that I'd eat a piece of paper if that horse runs again. Now I don't have to.

I'm not annoyed at the horse. I'm annoyed that there are those who are fawning over him. He basically won a boat race in the Belmont. As the race unfolded, I got the feeling they were letting him lead, paving the way for a win. Audible, probably his best competition, was kept out of the race because WinStar owned him, and owned a piece of Justify. When two brothers reach the Golden Glove boxing finals in the same weight class they are not allowed to compete against each other. Mom doesn't have to see that.

But when Marlboro initiated the Marlboro Cup for older horses, Secretariat was entered against his stablemate Riva Ridge. Mom Penny Tweedy watched her two boys duke it out, with Secretariat prevailing over Riva Ridge. She said later it tore her heart out to watch them compete against each other.

The other Bob Baffert-trained  horse in Justify's Belmont, Restoring Hope, while not serving as a blocker as was later claimed by the conspiracy theorists, raced second, wide entering the Clubhouse turn, then, as the chart caller wrote, "appeared done by the three-eighths pole and was allowed to steadily back away." Justify, at the get-go, "had a loosely contested lead."

Justify will easily be an Eclipse Award winner. Certainly leading three-year-old, and justly so. Probably even Horse of the Year, which is nearly funny, since his year was from February to June. That's not even two financial quarters, but certainly enough financial quarters for those who have a piece of him. And there are A LOT of pieces.

WinStar farm, China Racing Club, Head of the Plains Partners LLC, Starlight Racing. It looks like the registration list at a racing convention. That put plenty of people in the winner's circle photo.

I've often imagined the horse I'd like to own. Owning a horse is not in my future, but I'd like a horse that put me in the winner's circle lots of times. This would of course mean a horse who races past three, likely a gelding, but maybe a hard knocking mare.

I love the records of Say Florida Sandy. Black Tie Affair, Royal Haven, Stallwalkin' Dude, Career Lady. There are others. You can spot them in the high level allowance races, or minor Black Type stakes races. They've raced over 20 times...they've won over $500,000...they may have even been claimers. They are the so-called war horses.

I don't wish Justify anything bad. I joke that President Trump is going to raise the tariff on his sperm to annoy China. One thing I know is I'll always keep in mind when any of his offspring hit the races and the track turns up sloppy. Bet them.

But when you consider the word "champion," use care who you put on the list.

1 comment:

  1. Agree, can't "justify" the Champion label-Kelso and Forego carried 136+ I believe - but the good ones should run in the Fall and against older horses. Hope you get to Saratoga this season when the prices triple but not at the mutuel window.