Where Justify Ranks Amongst Top Three Year Olds This Century
After an amazing stretch that began with a maiden special weight victory at Santa Anita in mid-February and concluded with a wire-to-wire one and three-quarter length win in the last Saturday it is clear that Justify is having one of the greatest three-year-old seasons this century. The question though is how does he stack up now and where will he be if he runs the table during the second half of 2018.
The most popular comparison and deservingly so has been with the other Triple Crown winner this century, American Pharoah, but there are other colts that at least deserve to be mentioned as we reach the midway point of the 2018 racing calendar.
Point Given- The son of Thunder Gulch was caught wide off a blistering early pace set by Songandaprayer in Louisville on the first Saturday in May or else trainer Bob Baffert may very well have three Triple Crown winners this century. He rebounded with a victory in Baltimore two weeks later and topped things off with a career best 114 BRIS speed rating in the Belmont Stakes. After time off he rattled off a win in the Haskell before concluding his career with a three and a half length score in the Travers. Not winning the Kentucky Derby hurt his legacy, but his 6 for 7 record at the age of three cements his place in this discussion.
Bernardini- The Darley Stable colt did not race in the Derby or Belmont, but he posted a monster 114 BRIS speed rating in his win in the Preakness before having an extraordinary second half of 2006 that included victories in the Travers and Jockey Club Gold Cup and a runner-up effort to Invasor in the Breeders’ Cup Classic at Churchill Downs. His talent was unquestionable, but his resume is a bit short of the top couple of the twenty-first century.
Smarty Jones- The 2004 Kentucky Derby and Preakness winner nearly became the first Triple Crown winner since Affirmed in 1978, but the Pennsylvania bred tired late at “Big Sandy” and finished his career 8 for 9. His inability to get it done in Belmont and the fact he did not race during the second half of his three-year-old campaign leaves him short of Pharoah and . However, his run during the first half of 2004 that included a career best 113 BRIS speed rating makes him worth inclusion on this list.
Curlin- Much like Justify, this Stonestreet Stables colt did not commence his racing career until February of his three-year-old campaign. The son of Smart Strike only won 1 of 3 Triple Crown races, but he avenged losses in the Kentucky Derby, Belmont Stakes and Haskell Invitational with two massive efforts versus older runners in the Jockey Club Gold Cup and over the slop at Monmouth Park in the Breeders’ Cup Classic. He was a monster.
American Pharoah- The Zayat Stables colt had a near perfect three-year-old season for Baffert, but he tired late after dueling early in the Travers costing him an undefeated 2015 season. The fact he won the Kentucky Derby without being at his best and his massive six and a half length romp in the Breeders’ Cup Classic at Keeneland top his list of accomplishments. He deserves to be considered the top three-year-old this century unless Justify can outdo him this summer and fall. I just wish we got to see him take on top tier competition more often.
Barbaro and Afleet Alex both had the look of all-time great types, but unfortunately their careers were cut short.
Tiznow and Arrogate had incredible second halves of their three-year-old season, but unfortunately they did not get things started early enough to have run in the Triple Crown races.
At the moment it is impossible to move Justify ahead of American Pharoah since the 2015 Horse of the Year rattled off victories in the Grade 1 Haskell and romped in the Classic at Keeneland after winning the Triple Crown. However, I contend that Justify’s first half of his three-year-old season has been more impressive. What he has accomplished in such a short period of time has blown me away. With a perfect second half of 2018 he will unquestionably be the best three-year-old of the twenty-first century.