Justify – Triple Crown Justified
History has a way of repeating itself. After a wait of thirty-seven years, we had the privilege to watch American Pharoah capture the Triple Crown. Three years later and we have just witnessed another Triple Crown winner when the undefeated Justify ran into immortality. When Secretariat won the Triple Crown back in 1973, he broke a twenty-five year drought for a TC winner. He was followed by Seattle Slew four years later, to be followed by Affirmed the next year. Then the long wait until this decade.
It seems that Triple Crown winners come in bunches. Following the first winner Sir Barton in 1919, eleven years passed until Gallant Fox did the deed. Two more winners, Omaha and War Admiral followed within the next seven years. That made it three TC winners in the 1930’s. The 1940’s saw four Triple Crown champions in an eight year span. Whirlaway (1941), Count Fleet (1943), Assault (1946), and Citation (1948) took the number of TC winners to eight and the public were beginning to expect such a winner to emerge on a frequent but still somewhat limited basis.
Well not so fast dear turf fans. The Triple Crown is, as we all know now, the toughest accomplishment to achieve in the sporting world. Not a single winner was to be seen during the 1950’s and the 1960’s. Many talented and worthy steeds gave it a shot during those decades such as Native Dancer, Nashua, Tim Tam, Northern Dancer and Majestic Prince won two legs of the series but not three. In the case of the first two they finished second in the Kentucky Derby and then dominated the final two legs. Tim Tam, Northern Dancer and Majestic Prince did win the Derby and Preakness Stakes as did four other colts, only to fall short in the Belmont and thus be denied the Crown during the twenty-five year drought between Citation and Secretariat.
So when the thirty-seven year drought between Affirmed and American Pharoah came, just how many colts won the first two legs only to be denied at Belmont Park? The answer is thirteen. Included in this group are some all time greats such as Spectacular Bid, Sunday Silence, Silver Charm, and California Chrome. When it comes to Triple Crown winners, history has shown that it is either feast or famine.
Now there are thirteen Triple Crown winners in the ninety-nine year history of the series. Forty-seven horses won two legs. So what does this mean? Well at least two thirds of the series have been won sixty times. That is almost two out of three years on average. These numbers might lead one to think that while there have been long droughts, the series is not as difficult as one can see upon first glance.
This series is extremely tough to win. So many factors come into play, with luck being likely the elusive of all the ingredients to create a Triple Crown winner. Training, race conditions, opponent’s ability, and of course have a horse that can with stand the lead up to the grueling three races in a five week period. Justify’s triumph has all the elements in his favour, especially when we look at his connections and his pedigree.
Justify has a pedigree that is full of breeding from two of the all time premiere breeding establishments in history, Claiborne Farm and Windfields Farm. Furthermore, his late sire Scat Daddy was an Ashford Stud stallion (Coolmore) and his dam sire is Ghostzapper (Adena Springs). Top notch breeding connections throughout the pedigree of the latest Triple Crown winner to “Justify” his potential. But as we all know, potential can only take a colt so far. Justify has arguably the top trainer in the business, a certain white haired living legend named Bob Baffert, and another living legend piloting him in the form of Hall of Fame jockey Mike Smith. Add this to the equine Adonis like physique which Justify possesses and his genetic natural ability, and voila a new turf hero has been unleashed.
So let us look at this genetic background.
The immediate sire and dam combination of Scat Daddy and Stage Magic looks solid enough. Scat Daddy won two grade one races (Champagne Stakes, Florida Derby), while mommy Stage Magic was only stakes placed on four occasions, but did win three of twelve races lifetime. Her sire was 2004 Eclipse Award Horse of the Year Ghostzapper, who has proven to be a consistent source of excellence as a stallion. The dam of Stage Magic is Magical Illusion, a winner of three races from only six starts with a placing in the prestigious CCA Oaks on her resume.
This may seem to the average observer as a nice pedigree, but not an outstanding pedigree. At first glance I would tend to agree. Looking a little deeper, we will see a litany of world class names that lead to these aforementioned names and that will explain much of the genetic ability Justify has inherited. The most prominent and influential of these names come from the two breeding farms already mentioned, Claiborne Farm in Kentucky and Windfields Farm in Canada.
The sire of Justify’s second dam Magical Illusion is none other than Pulpit, one of the most important stallions of the twenty-first century. Pulpit was bred and stood at Claiborne for his entire, but sadly abbreviated life. The dam sire of Justify’s sire Scat Daddy is none other than Mr. Prospector, one of the all time greatest stallions in turf history. He too stood at Claiborne Farm.
While we are looking at the third generation in the pedigree of Justify, we also see the name of Awesome Again, a Breeder’s Cup Classic, Queen’s Plate multiple grade one winner. Awesome Again is not only the sire of Ghostzapper, but also counts three other Breeder’s Cup winners and a plethora of top performers he has sired.
Along the tail male line of the Justify pedigree we find the name of Hennessy (grandsire of Scat Daddy) within the third generation. A grade one winner who only raced as a juvenile, Hennessy died at the young age of fourteen but sired many quality stakes winners. His sons such as Johannesburg (the sire of Scat Daddy), as well as Henny Hughes, Cactus Spirt and Wiseman’s Ferry has proven to be very capable of continuing the line. As an example, the great two times Eclipse Award Horse of the Year winning gelding Wise Dan comes from this line.
So in the third generation of Justify, we have four, all four I might add, stallions that were/are very influential in furthering the excellence of future thoroughbreds. So what about the four female influences? Well three were stakes winners, Likeable Style, Baby Zip and Voodoo Lily, the latter being the third dam of Justify. Likeable Style was a grade one winner (Las Virgenes Stakes), while Baby Zip was a broodmare of the year in 2005.
It is in the fourth generation and further back where a who’s who of equine breeding legends enters the big picture. Starting from the top line of the Justify pedigree we see Storm Cat, the sire of Hennessy. Storm Cat sired a whopping one hundred and eighty-one stakes winners and is another of the legendary stallions that have been very influential in furthering the breed. His sire is Storm Bird, a champion two year old in Europe who was bred by Windfields Farm in Canada and later became an outstanding sire in the tradition of his sire Northern Dancer.
Multiple grade one stakes winner Ogygian is another fourth generation stallion within the pedigree of justify. This son of the great champion Damascus brings in a very influential strain of blood to the mix, as we shall see.
The other six stallions in Justfy’s ancestry in the fourth generation are Raise A Native, Nijinsky II, Deputy Minister, Relaunch, A.P. Indy and Baldski. The latter named is a son of Nijinsky II. Furthermore with the inclusion of Deputy Minister along the fourth generation lines, another branch of the most famous blood in breeding is included. This is more of the blood of the great Northern Dancer, who is not only the grand sire of Deputy Minister, through Vice Regent, but also the sire of the great English Triple Crown winner Nijinsky.
Now we are entering the considerable influence of Windfields Farm.
Some of you may say that this influence is a long way removed from the horse named Justify, but without these building blocks, Justify would have never been created. Deputy Minister stood at Windfields and then under Windfields management after they closed down the Maryland farm in 1988. His sire Vice Regent was bred, raced for, and stood his entire stud career at Windfields in Oshawa, Ontario. Nijinsky II was bred by Windfields in Oshawa and stood at Claiborne Farm for his entire stud career.
There are two other breeding lines that lead back to Nijinsky II. One is to Pulpit, through that one’s dam Preach to her dam Narrate, to that one’s dam State, who is a very notable daughter of Nijinsky II. State is notable because the other line not mentioned yet also emanates from her through Narrate, and on to Yarn and then to her daughter Myth and to the latter’s son Johannesburg. Myth is by Ogygian, the son of Damascus whose blood mixed very successfully with the blood of Northern Dancer throughout the course of breeding. State was bred by Claiborne, as was Narrate, Yarn, Preach and Pulpit.
So now if you are counting and keeping up, we have six crosses of the greatest stallion from the twentieth century within the pedigree of Justify, that stallion being Northern Dancer from which his son Nijinsky II is represented four times. Furthermore there are three crosses of Mr. Prospector, and five of Bold Ruler within the first eight generations of Justify’s lineage.
The influence of Claiborne through Bold Ruler, Mr. Prospector and State is notable. The influence of Windfields through Northern Dancer, Storm Bird, Vice Regent, Deputy Minister and of course Nijinsky II is also very important. The fact that Nijinsky II was bred by Windfields and later stood at Claiborne, looms very large within the pedigree of Justify and speaks volumes about how these two giants of thoroughbred breeding have laid the foundation for the latest Triple Crown winner.
Justify was no fluke. He was born with a genetic background that has been proven time and time again. So while many only look back a generation or two when buying a yearling at the sales, those that do their home work and look further back to understand what blood lines cross successfully with others, reap benefits that have the opportunity to succeed in spectacular fashion. WinStar, The China Horse Club and their partners have done this with Justify. They have lived the dream of all thoroughbred owners.
Justify carries in my opinion a very desirable “Stallion Pedigree”. When he has finished his racing he will stand at Winstar in Kentucky and will be given every opportunity to succeed. It has just been reported that he will be syndicated for the astronomical price of seventy-five million dollars! With that kind of heavy investment, and Winstar’s status as one of the top stallion stations in the world today, Justify will have high expectations when his get come to the races. All champions do. But with this kind of financial commitment and given the reputation of his stud connections, these expectations will be enormous.
I believe he has the genetic goods. Apparently, I am not alone with my assessment.
(First Photo courtesy of Julie Jacobson – Associated Press. Second Photo courtesy of Sarah Andrew)