Does Justify Belong in Horse Racing's Pantheon?

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D.S. Williamson

July 26th, 2018

If you hadn't heard yet, hard to believe anybody hasn't, this year's Triple Crown winner has been retired. Most of us can't say that we didn't see this coming. No doubt, a Triple Crown will lead to an Eclipse Award for Horse of the Year. Also, Justify's sire fee should be close to American Pharoah's, that's a cool $125,000.

So, we know what Justify will likely charge as a stallion. We already know that he'll win the Eclipse for Horse of the Year. The only thing we don't really know is where Justify ranks in thoroughbred racing history.

Does Justify deserve a spot among the greatest racehorses to ever run?

Does Justify Belong in Horse Racing's Pantheon?

There are reasons for and against Justify's induction into the Pantheon. FYI - when I write Pantheon, I mean the best of the best. I mean horses like Secretariat, Seabiscuit, Zenyatta, and Frankel.

Check out pros and cons for Justify to join that Pantheon.

Why Justify Belongs in the Pantheon

There are some reasons Justify most definitely belongs in the Pantheon. First, he won the Triple Crown without having not raced as a 2-year-old. No horse had won the Kentucky Derby without
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Jockey Mike Smith aboard Kentucky Derby winner Justify - Coady Photography

having not raced as a 2-year-old since Apollo in 1882.

Justify didn't just break that curse. He demolished it by parlaying his Derby victory into a Triple Crown win.

Second, Justify retires undefeated. Of his 6 wins, 4 are Grade 1 victories:  Santa Anita Derby, Kentucky Derby, Preakness Stakes, and Belmont Stakes. 6 wins might not seem like a lot. When 4 of the 6 wins are Grade 1 races, the number takes on a whole new meaning.

Third, Justify only had a single tough race. During his entire career, the only race that had any of his backers sweating was the Preakness Stakes. Justify beat Bravazo by half a length. He dominated his competition in every other one of his victories. At no point in the Santa Anita Derby was Bolt d'Oro actually going to catch Justify.

Nobody had a shot against him in the Derby while horses appeared to be running in quicksand trying to catch up to him in the Belmont Stakes. Justify broke his maiden by 9 1/2 lengths while jogging. He won his second lifetime race, a $75,000 optional claimer, by 6 1/2 lengths. He jogged in that one too.

Why Justify Doesn't Belong in the Pantheon

Just like there are reasons for Justify to belong in Horse Racing's Pantheon, there are also reasons to
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Justify winning the Kentucky Derby - Coady Photography

believe Justify doesn't belong in the Pantheon. The first is the obvious:  Justify never beat a single older horse.

Let's not look past this fact. Winning a Triple Crown is fantastic, but winning a Triple Crown often isn't enough. Citation won 32 of 45 races. Secretariat won 16 of 21. Seattle Slew won 14 of 17 while Affirmed continue to beat up on Alydar as a 4-year-old. He also won 22 of 29 races. American Pharoah dominated the Breeders' Cup Classic.

Justify beat what's turning out to be a so-so crop of 3-year-olds. At least, he ran against the so-so part of the group. Core Beliefs, who might go off one of the favorites in this Sunday's Haskell Invitational, didn't race in any of the Triple Crown events. Neither did On Whiskey, a Bob Baffert trainee who won the Los Alamitos Derby.

Bad is bad. And if not a single 3-year-old that Justify beat in any of the Triple Crown races turns out to be something this fall, it could be difficult to add Justify to Horse Racing's Pantheon.

Whether you believe Justify is one of the greats or not, we can't take away what he did on the racetrack. Good luck to Justify in his new career as a sire!