With the Derby trail in full swing, the highlight of the week did not take place on the racetrack, but on the internet, and had nothing to do with this year's perplexing Kentucky Derby
picture. But it did have something to do with the Derby and the Triple Crown.
A visit to Amazon.com revealed the
long-awaited news that Lenny Shulman's book on Justify was available for
pre-sale. We have seen a number of Thoroughbred biographies recently, including
the sensational book "Out of the Clouds," the story of Stymie and his
owner/breeder/trainer Hirsch Jacobs. We also have upcoming biographies on Sir
Barton and Spectacular Bid. But there has never been a story to tell quite like
the whirlwind saga of Justify, as indicated by the book's subtitle "111 Days to
Triple Crown Glory."
One Hundred and eleven days. That
is less than four months. How do you chronicle the exploits of a Thoroughbred
whose career encompassed only 111 days? And Triple Crown or no Triple Crown why
even bother when there is so little to write about, so little action, so little
time spent at the racetrack?
The answer is simple. It is the
111 days that makes this story so unique and compelling. A story such as this,
that began and ended in the proverbial blink of an eye, has never been told
before in a full-length biography. Like a fiery comet tearing across the sky,
it all happened so quickly, but, oh, what a spectacular show while it lasted.
For a book like this to be
written, it would require extensive and exhaustive research and speaking to
just about everyone who had a part in Justify's life. So many people clutched
this moonbeam in their hands for a few precious seconds before passing it along
to the next person and keep it moving along until it reached its place in the
history books. That is where the story of Justify is told. Yes, it is the 111
days of glory on the racetrack that form its nucleus, but it is in the trenches
-- the breeding shed, the foaling barn, the paddocks, the training track, the sales
ring -- that the story unfolds and is the impetus of what is to come.
What happens there is just as
captivating as those powerful and emotional moments on the racetrack. And
Shulman takes the readers to all these places and into the memory banks of all
those who helped move this story along to its historic and stirring conclusion,
beginning with breeder John Gunther and his daughter Tanya, who set the story
in motion by creating this remarkable racehorse.
One of the most popular movies in
the 1950s was the adaption of Leon Uris' epic war novel "Battle Cry." It is a
war movie, but there are actually very few battle scenes, despite its title. It
is more about the lives and characters of the soldiers. So by getting to know
them and becoming involved in their individual stories you appreciate the few
battle scenes even more. That is what Shulman's book is all about. By getting
to know all the people involved and "watching" Justify grow from a
flashy-looking foal to a spectacular-looking 3-year-old you can appreciate the
111 days in the arena of battle even more.
I had the honor and privilege of
writing the Foreword for the book, setting the stage for the story that is
about to unfold, So, yes, I have an emotional investment in the book. Shulman
had very little time to get this book finished before the 2019 Kentucky Derby
and it took many hours of tireless work and countless interviews to put it all
together in such a short period of time. So, in many ways the writing of the
book paralleled the story itself. Those 111 days could easily represent the
time it took to tell it.
I have written the Foreword for
several books recently, including the ones on Canonero II, by Milt Toby, and
Sir Barton, by Jennifer Kelly, which is a fascinating look back in history and
the birth of the Triple Crown and is also available for pre-sale. I also
proofread Jane Schwartz' sensational book "Ruffian: Burning From the Start,"
and have written biographies on Dr. Fager, John Henry, and Kelso and
co-authored two books published in Europe chronicling the history of racing in
While all these books were slices
of history, bringing the reader back to different places and times and events,
there has never been a story like that of Justify, where history was just
yesterday and crammed into a space so small it likely will never be duplicated.
What was criticism by some for the briefness of his career should actually be
the opposite. It should make one embrace Justify for breaking traditions and
historic trends and "curses" and taking racing fans on a journey they had never
experienced and the Sport of Kings on a joy ride it had never witnessed in its
Justify did not choose to retire.
Who knows what feats he could have accomplished? He burst on the scene like a
bolt of lightning and shined in all kinds of weather under all kinds of
conditions and circumstances from slop to fog to a foot bruise after the Derby
to running and winning six races at six different distances, all in a span of
16 weeks, and never once regressed despite all that was asked of him. It took
him 16 weeks to accomplish what it took the 12 other Triple Crown winners an
average of 10 1/2 months to accomplish.
It's been only 14 days since the
first anniversary of Justify's career debut and there is already a book of his
life available for pre-sale. That is Justify for you. His career was like
watching a movie while pressing the fast-forward button. But Shulman was able
to slow it down in order to capture every captivating moment of it from birth
If you feel you were deprived of
something special by Justify's early retirement, just remember the words of
Ralph Kramden after he learned that the money he had found on his bus and had
been spending all over town was counterfeit. It is a philosophy we should all
embrace when it comes to Justify: "I was a millionaire for a couple of days.
For two days I had it and I went with it. It came easy and it went just as
Yes, Justify came easy and went
just as fast. But for 111 days we were all millionaires.