CRAWFORD | No wardrobe malfunction -- Justify to get new look for Belmont
WinStar Farm president Elliot Walden said he's "excited" for Justify and jockey Mike Smith to switch to the silks of China Horse Club for their bid at the Triple Crown in the Belmont Stakes next week.
VERSAILLES, Ky. (WDRB) – It’s no wardrobe malfunction you’ll be seeing when Kentucky Derby and Preakness winner Justify takes to the track at the Belmont Stakes a week from Saturday.
After winning both the Kentucky Derby and Preakness Stakes in the silks of WinStar Farm, jockey Mike Smith will change to the red and gold silks of co-owner China Horse Club for his Triple Crown opportunity in the Belmont.
The switch comes about because of a rotation agreed upon ahead of time by the colt’s co-owners.
WinStar Farm president Elliot Walden told WDRB News that the change has a few skeptics around WinStar, but that he’s looking forward to it, and thinks the China Horse Club branding will bring more international interest, particularly from China.
“Justify is going to wear China Horse Club silks,” Walden said Thursday. “That is exciting on one hand. There’s parts of many people here at WinStar that would prefer he wears the WinStar silks. I had a conversation with Mrs. (Lisa) Troutt (wife of WinStar owner Kenny Troutt) yesterday, who couldn’t believe that he’s going to run in the China Horse Club silks. But, you know, it gave us an opportunity to step back. Really I had a great conversation with her about what’s really important. It’s not really important what silks he wears. It’s important how things work out. If the horse wins the Triple Crown, we should be grateful.”
Justify last wore the China Horse Club silks after his second victory, an allowance win at Santa Anita Park. His last three wins, all in Grade 1 stakes races, have come in the white silks featuring the WinStar logo.
The China Horse Club silks are red with gold stars, to call to mind the flag of China.
Knowing many of the superstitions that surround horsemen, Walden kidded with China Horse Club president Teo Ah King about whether he wanted to change things up before the final leg of the Triple Crown.
“I did joke with Teo after the Preakness, asking, ‘Are you sure you want to take on this weight of running for the Triple Crown with your silks?’” Walden said. “I was kidding him, because I knew, that’s exactly what he’s looking for. One of the things he’s passionate about is bringing horse racing to China and China to mainstream horse racing. So he knows the silks are a branding opportunity for him. It couldn’t have worked out any better. It’s just a rotation that just happened. Typically for Bob and Bill Mott, the second start of these horses will be in China Horse Club silks. With Todd Pletcher, the first three are in WinStar and the fourth is in China Horse Club.”
In just five years in the sport, China Horse Club has become one of the top 10 owners in the world, and this year is taking another leap in prestige with Justify’s run. According to The New York Times, China Horse Club has about 200 members, each of whom is paying the required $1 million entry fee. The group is secretive about its membership and other details, but its quick success in the sport is no fluke. It won the Kentucky Oaks last year with Abel Tasman and had another top contender this year in Audible, who finished third in the Derby but won’t challenge Justify in the Belmont.
Teo Ah King, the group’s president, is a Harvard-educated architect from Malaysia who is building a thoroughbred facility in St. Lucia. He was introduced to the sport when he designed Meydan Racecourse in Dubai for Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum.
Walden said trainer Bob Baffert, normally extremely superstitious, hasn’t said anything to him about the change in silks, and on the whole, it hasn’t been a major issue within Team Justify.
“It was really kind of a gut-check,” Walden said. “Those kind of things can take on a life of their own when you get a really good horse, and one thing I’ve been grateful for is that, this whole ride with the ownership group, there hasn’t been a lot of drama. The whole silks rotation was set out as a plan before Justify ever ran, or any of these horses ever ran. So there’s no question about whose silks he’s going to run in. It’s just on a rotating basis. Quite honestly, I’m excited to see him run in the China Horse Club silks. I think China is going to be watching, and if China is watching, who knows what could happen for horse racing?”
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