Saratoga Springs

Triple Crown winner Justify retired

Citing a swollen ankle that hampered Justify's return to hard training, owners, Baffert decide to retire him to stud after six career starts
Finley'sluckycharm and jockey Brian Hernandez win the Grade II Honorable Miss.
Finley'sluckycharm and jockey Brian Hernandez win the Grade II Honorable Miss.

SARATOGA SPRINGS — Ending speculation that Justify would never race again, his connections made it official on Wednesday, announcing the Triple Crown winner’s retirement from racing.

Justify became the 13th Triple Crown winner when he won the Belmont Stakes on June 9, which will go down as the final race of his abbreviated career.

He was the first Kentucky Derby winner who did not race as a 2-year-old since Apollo in 1882, and retires as the only undefeated Triple Crown winner. Seattle Slew was the only other Triple Crown winner who was undefeated when he completed the three-race series.

According to a release on behalf of co-owner WinStar Farm, a swollen ankle that prevented Justify from returning to serious training was enough to throw off his schedule for the rest of the year. He will begin a breeding career, most likely at Coolmore in Lexington, Ky., which reportedly has a $60 million deal to stand him as a stallion.

“Justify had some filling in his ankle, and he is just not responding quick enough for a fall campaign,” trainer Bob Baffert said in the press release. “We all wanted to see Justify run again, but ultimately it is my responsibility to make sure he is perfect. Without 60-90 days, I can’t be definite.”

“The timing is bad for another start in 2018, and therefore we have to retire him,” WinStar Farm chief executive Elliott Walden said. “Like American Pharoah, we can’t take the risk of running Justify as a 4-year-old. We all wanted him to finish his career in the Breeders’ Cup Classic, but it was not meant to be. As has been reported, there is a possible sale to Coolmore in place, but that won’t be finalized until a later date. We are excited to share him with our fans starting the middle of August after he gets acclimated.”

American Pharoah won the Triple Crown in 2015, ending a 37-year drought dating to Affirmed in 1978.

Besides WinStar Farm, Justify’s other primary co-owner is China Horse Club. Starlight Racing, of which Don Lucarelli of Duanesburg is a partner, and Head of Plains LLC own minority shares in the colt.

“He is an incredible horse and we are very disappointed he can’t run again,” WinStar’s Kenny Troutt said. “All things happen for a reason, and we are blessed to have raced him to be the 13th Triple Crown winner in history.”

Justify’s racing career spanned just six races in 112 days, starting with a maiden race at Santa Anita Park on Feb. 18, for purse winnings of $3,789,000.

He stamped himself as a Kentucky Derby contender with a victory in the Grade I Santa Anita Derby, then went to Churchill Downs in Louisville and won the Run for the Roses by 2 1/2 lengths over Good Magic.

Justify won the Preakness in the fog at Pimlico by a half-length over Bravazo and the Belmont by 1 3/4 lengths over Gronkowski.

Drayden Van Dyke rode Justify in his maiden race, then was replaced by Hall of Famer Mike Smith for the next five.

“Like everyone else, I am disappointed he won’t run again, but I am thankful he came into my life,” Smith said. “There was never a time when I rode him that I felt like I was going to get beat. There was no horse who could run with him without sacrificing themselves, and there was no horse who could come get him. He truly is a gift from God.”

“When he won the Preakness, I allowed myself to start dreaming about the Triple Crown,” Troutt said. “When we look back on this, we have been a part of an undefeated Triple Crown Champion, and hopefully a Horse of the Year.”

Justify wore the China Horse Club’s red and yellow silks for the Belmont Stakes and WinStar’s white silks with the green star outline in the Derby and Preakness.

“To win the Triple Crown is an amazing accomplishment,” China Horse Club’s Teo Ah Khing said. “The history of the Triple Crown and the difficulty of winning the three legs is not something I take lightly. It has been a great ride for all of us, and I have complete confidence Bob is doing the right thing by Justify.”

“Justify’s extraordinary racing career – from maiden to Triple Crown winner in less than four months – was as brilliant as any our sport has seen,” National Thoroughbred Racing Association president and CEO Alex Waldrop said. “We can’t wait to have his first runners hit the track in 2022.”

Justify will return to WinStar Farm from Baffert’s base in California early next month.

He will parade for the fans at Del Mar on Saturday.


Trainer Bret Calhoun flashbacks to 2017 all the way down the stretch.

Fortunately for him, his 5-year-old mare Finley’sluckycharm did not.

A year after being caught at the wire to lose the Grade II Honorable Miss by a neck to Paulassilverlining, Finley’sluckycharm came back to Saratoga Race Course Wednesday and got to the wire first under regular rider Brian Hernandez.

They outdueled Vertical Oak to win by 2 1/4 lengths for the Churchill Downs-based Finley’sluckycharm’s 11th victory in 17 career starts.

“Last year, we all went to dinner and kind of had our heads down. This year, we’ll get to go to dinner and have a celebration, and it’ll be fun,” Hernandez said.

“We had the trophy in our hands last year, and they just took it away from us,” Calhoun said. “Paulassilverlining is a very tough and knows where the wire is. It looked like we put her away in deep stretch, and she came back and nailed us, so to come back this year and win it it special.”

Calhoun said he’d like to bring Finley’sluckycharm back for the Grade I Ballerina, a race she missed last year because of a muscle pull.

She did finally add a Grade I victory to her resume this year, in the Madison at Keeneland.

“She’s a special filly,” Hernandez said. “I got lucky and got on her a couple years ago in the fall at Churchill when she was a 3-year-old.

“Me and Bret had talked and thought all along that she would be a Grade I-type filly. It took us a little longer than we thought it would, but we finally got that Grade I with her, and then for her to come back here as a 5-year-old and win this race here at Saratoga, you’ve got to be proud of a filly like this. She’s been doing this for three years, and she’s still at the top of her game.”


Hall of Fame jockey Victor Espinoza, who rode American Pharoah to the 2015 Triple Crown, continues to improve while hospitalized for a broken neck vertebra he suffered in a spill during training Sunday morning at Del Mar.

Espinoza was hurt when Grade II winner Bobby Abu Dhabi collapsed and died of an apparent heart attack while breezing.

The jockey’s agent tweeted an update on Wednesday saying Espinoza “is feeling much better today. The nerves in his left arm and shoulder have calmed down a bit and he’s much more comfortable. He is still experiencing numbness in his shoulder area and left arm. He will continue to remain in the hospital.” …

Heartspoke, a 4-year-old filly trained by Larry Rivelli, was pulled up by Javier Castellano in the stretch during the sixth race at Saratoga on Wednesday, then collapsed to the track at the 3/16th pole of a “possible cardiovascular death,” according to the New York Gaming Commission database on equine injuries and fatalities..

Castellano was not hurt.

It was the second equine death at Saratoga since workouts began at the Oklahoma training track in April and the first since the meet began on July 20. The mare Presumptuous broke bones in her leg while training on the Oklahoma on July 7, was vanned off and euthanized at Rood & Riddle Equine Hospital.

Reach Gazette Sportswriter Mike MacAdam at 518-395-3146 or [email protected]. Follow on Twitter @Mike_MacAdam.

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