BOZICH | Economics always Justify retirement of Triple Crown winner
By Rick Bozich
LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) -- In horse racing, there is romance, there is performance and there is economics.
Romance is motivating. Performance is captivating. Economics are undefeated.
Fuss at the owners of Justify all you want. Elliott Walden, president of WinStar Farm, said Wednesday that he wanted the romance and performance of two or three more races by the Triple Crown winner as much as anybody.
But a tender right front ankle, the racing calendar and economics conspired to collapse that plan. Sometime next month Justify will return to WinStar Farm in Versailles, Kentucky. The colt has been retired. No more races.
An official announcement about his syndication deal, reported to be worth $60 million, will follow several week later.
By February, Justify will begin the rest of his life’s work: trying to produce another Triple Crown winner in loving partnership with the finest mares on Earth.
“It just was not practical to think about racing him as a 4-year-old,” Walden said. “Not with the economics of insurance and the risk involved. You’re talking about an insurance premium of at least $2 to $3 million.”
Walden is the guy who identified Justify as WinStar’s 2016 first-round draft pick when the colt was purchased for $500,000 at the Keeneland September Yearling Sale. More than a dozen horses went for more, but Walden was convinced the colt had the ideal blend of power, athleticism and agility.
That’s called getting it right.
Justify proved it this spring. Trainer Bob Baffert brought him to the track after Justify did not race as a 2-year-old, and the colt won six straight, rolling through the Santa Anita Derby, Kentucky Derby, Preakness and Belmont.
Put these two lines high on Justify’s resume: First horse since 1882 to win the Kentucky Derby without racing as a 2-year-old and first unbeaten Triple Crown winner since Seattle Slew in 1977. Justify will get his plaque in Saratoga, N.Y. at the Racing Hall of Fame.
Walden is a former trainer, a horse racing romantic who grew up on the track walking and rubbing horses. His Hollywood ending to the Justify story would have included another win this summer, another race this fall and then a farewell score in the $6 million Breeders’ Cup Classic at Churchill Downs on Nov. 3.
Exit 9-for-9. Start the discussion about Justify’s ranking among the game’s 13 Triple Crown winners.
We can still have that debate, but Justify will enter it without the post-Belmont credentials of the others.
Seattle Slew raced 22 days after the Belmont, lost and then returned to run seven times as a 4-year-old, including two races against Affirmed, the 1978 Triple Crown winner.
In 1973, Secretariat retired as a 3-year-old but raced six times after the Belmont, winning four. Justify will be the first Triple Crown winner since Count Fleet (1943) not to race after the Belmont. Like Count Fleet, Justify was stopped by an injury.
“Sure I’m sad, because we won’t get to see him race again,” Walden said. “Every time he went to the track, he was so brilliant and showed you something you’ll always remember. We wanted to race him in the Breeders’ Cup.
“So sure, I was disappointed when the decision was finally made (Tuesday night). But I think about how blessed we were just to to have him and what a remarkable horse he’s been to watch.”
Walden said the ankle issue began about two weeks after the Belmont when the colt returned to California with Bob Baffert. Rest, ice and therapy were the primary remedies. The condition improved but not enough for the colt to resume training.
“We hoped it would play out in a couple of weeks so we’d have 60-to-90 days going forward,” Walden said. “But it didn’t come around. Things happen for a reason. As much as we wanted him to run in the Breeders’ Cup, we’re always going to put the health of the horse first.”
Now, Justify will compete in the breeding shed. His Triple Crown credentials will make him desirable. So will his bloodlines, because he is a son of the prolific Scat Daddy, whose stud fee had increased from $10,000 to $100,000 before the stallion died as an 11-year-old in 2015.
“He’s an unbeaten Triple Crown winner, the horse of a lifetime,” Walden said. “I’ve been around this game 40 years and never seen a horse like him, and I probably won’t see another.”
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