First-Crop Sires 2022: Justify Heads the List

Profile Picture: Alastair Bull

November 14th, 2022

Without doubt, Justify has had more expectation on his progeny than any other first-crop sire in 2022.

The excitement around the first crop of a Triple Crown winner means that anything other than a Gun Runner-type season from 2021 will disappoint some — a totally unfair judgment.

But on all reasonable criteria, Justify has made a fantastic start as a sire.

As of Nov. 10, Justify was the leading U.S. first-crop sire by Northern Hemisphere earnings, the criteria most commonly used when handing out sire honors, and third on the overall list for sires of two-year-olds, behind Into Mischief and Violence, the sires of the winners of the two Breeders’ Cup juvenile races on dirt.

Justify is also the leading first-crop sire of black type winners with five, and in terms of graded stakes winners, with four.

About the only thing he hasn’t had is a Grade 1 winner — and with only 14 such races being run this season to date, there’s strong competition for that. Those 14 races have been won by 10 horses, and only one (Blazing Sevens, a son of Good Magic) went to the progeny of a North American-based first-season sire.

When we last looked at the progress of Justify’s progeny in early August, he’d had two stakes winners, both fillies: Statuette, on turf in Ireland, and Just Cindy, on dirt at Saratoga. Statuette hasn’t raced since June, but she’s still very high up in the bookmaker markets for England’s 1,000 Guineas (G1) next season, highlighting how highly she’s regarded. Just Cindy wasn’t competitive in two Grade 1 races following her Schuylerville (G3) success, but maturity could help her improve at three.

One of Justify’s early winners that was highlighted in a previous article has since gone on to win at stakes level. That was Justa Warrior, who is out of the Bernardini mare A Z Warrior. She followed a winning debut at Ellis Park with victory in the Ellis Park Debutante S. Aug. 14. She has since run twice more, not filling a place in stakes races at Churchill Downs and Presque Isle Downs.

Stakes winner No. 4 for Justify came, like his first, on turf in Ireland. The successful horse here was the Irish-bred Aspen Grove, who is out of the More Than Ready mare Data Dependent. Relishing the firm ground, she caused a 66-1 shock when breaking her maiden status in the one-mile Irish EBF S. (G3) at The Curragh, coming from last to score by 1 1/4 lengths.

Aspen Grove then disappointed on soft going when seventh in the Prix Marcel Boussac (G1). She was 7 1/4 lengths behind the winner Blue Rose Cen, though just 2 1/4 lengths from runner-up Gan Teorainn.

All of Justify’s stakes winners had been fillies until this past weekend. His first colt to collect a stakes race was Champions Dream, a son of the Tapit mare Dancinginherdreams. A $425,000 purchase at the Ocala March Sale, Champions Dream won his maiden at Saratoga Sept. 9 before finishing fifth in the slop in the Champagne (G1) at Aqueduct. He returned to Aqueduct Nov. 6 for the one-mile Nashua (G3), and produced a strong staying performance on better footing to run down Full Moon Madness. The stamina he showed bodes well for his three-year-old racing season.

Arguably the best colt to date by Justify isn’t a stakes winner, but he has definitely proven himself as up to that level. Verifying began his career with a maiden victory at Saratoga Aug. 27, and on the strength of that run was given his chance at Grade 1 level, finishing second to Blazing Sevens in the Champagne (G1). The $775,000 yearling purchase then took on the best in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile (G1), finishing sixth after being bumped at the start. His earnings of $197,750 are the highest for any of Justify’s progeny.

When we last looked at Justify’s first crop, he’d had seven winners. Aside from the aforementioned Statuette, Just Cindy, and Justa Warrior, they included Prove Right, Tahoma, Aunt Shirley, and Justique.

All four have since contested graded stakes races, with varying degrees of success. Prove Right and Justique became stakes-placed, Justique when third in the Chandelier (G2) at Santa Anita Oct. 8, and Prove Right with a third to Champions Dream in the Nashua. Aunt Shirley finished eighth in the Spinaway (G1) Sept. 4, while Tahoma was 11th in the Del Mar Juvenile Turf (G3) Sept. 11.

One other runner by Justify has recorded a stakes placing. That is the filly Rosie’s Alibi, who like Justique is out of a Bernardini mare; she was third in the Tempted S. at Aqueduct Nov. 11. She came into the race after breaking her maiden at Parx Racing at her second start.

Justify’s tally of first-crop winners now stands at 23 — higher than any first-cropper other than Sharp Azteca, who’s notched 29 — and they have won in three different countries.

The highest-rated of Justify’s progeny by Brisnet Speed rating hasn’t run in a stakes race, but he looks capable of making his mark in that company. Arabian Lion, a $600,000 purchase at the OBS April two-year-old sale, won on debut at Santa Anita and then put up a great effort in an allowance at Keeneland Nov. 4, finishing second by three-quarters of a length to Giant Mischief while being more than 17 lengths clear of the rest. It earned him a Speed Rating of 98, one point above Verifying.

Also earning a rating in the 90s was Gandolfini. A maiden winner in September, he then ran to a 93 rating when finishing fourth in the American Pharoah (G1) behind Cave Rock.

Another to rate highly was Rarify, whose 89 Speed rating is higher than all Justify fillies bar Just Cindy (91). She earned that when breaking her maiden at Keeneland Oct. 27.

Other winners in the United States for Justify have been Tres Soles (SR 86), Prove My Love (SR 86), Im Just Kiddin (SR 83), Jordan (SR 79), How Lovely (SR 75), and Prouver (SR 67).

Overseas, the most exciting bar Statuette and Aspen Grove is arguably Dame Kiri. Like Statuette (and Bertinelli, another Justify winner in Ireland), Dame Kiri is prepared by Aidan O’Brien.

Out of a Galileo mare, Dame Kiri was well-fancied in her first three starts but was unable to win, her efforts including a fourth-place finish in the Irish EBF Stakes behind Aspen Grove. However, at start four she put it all together, scoring over six furlongs at Naas by 10 lengths. It was impressive enough to earn her an early 50-1 quote for the Epsom Oaks (G1) next season.

Justify has also had a winner in Saudi Arabia, with Just For Sul scoring at Riyadh over seven furlongs on Oct. 28.

The good start has been enough for buyers to continue seeking out Justify’s progeny at auction. This year, he’s had 74 yearlings sell for an average of $308,946. They include three yearlings that fetched more than $1 million.

Justify has certainly left a physical impression on his racehorses to date; several have been a chestnut like him, and many also have his big white face. Most importantly, they have made a more than solid start on the track. Expect Justify to remain in the race for leading First-Crop sire for the rest of 2022.