Sizing Up Justify - By Evan Hammonds

June 9, 2018, is a date we won’t soon forget, watching Justify become the 13th winner of the Triple Crown in front of 90,000-plus at Belmont Park.

June 7, 2014, is a date we won’t forget either, but not because of what happened on the track. It’s what was said after California Chrome finished fourth in his bid for the Triple Crown.

Co-owner Steve Coburn famously went rogue while being interviewed by a stunned Kenny Rice on NBC. California Chrome came up empty in the Belmont and was beaten by Tonalist, a horse that had skipped the first two legs of the series. Runner-up Commissioner also bypassed the Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands (G1) and Preakness Stakes (G1) while third-place finisher Medal Count had run eighth in the Derby but passed on the Preakness.

“I’ll never see—and I’m 61 years old—another Triple Crown winner in my lifetime because of the way they do this,” Coburn said. “It’s not fair to these horses that have been in the game since day one. If you don’t make enough points to get into the Kentucky Derby, you can’t run in the other two races.

“It’s all or nothing. This is a coward’s way out, in my opinion.”

Everyone has a right to an opinion.

However, just one year later American Pharoah came along and became the first Triple Crown winner in 37 years. In the Belmont he defeated Frosted, Keen Ice, Mubtaahij, Frammento, and Materiality, all of whom had run in the Derby and skipped the trip to Baltimore. Three years later Justify comes along and sweeps the series over a Belmont field that included one other horse—Calumet Farm’s Bravazo—that ran in all three classics.

Let’s give Coburn the benefit of the doubt. Perhaps that wasn’t the angle. There might be another level of competition at play rather than the horses in the gate.

In the “golden age of racing” in the 1970s, three colts won the Triple Crown: Secretariat (1973), Seattle Slew (1977), and Affirmed (1978). Those stars emerged from respective foal crops of 24,361; 27,586; and 28,271.

From 1979 to 2015, 13 horses won the first two legs of the Triple Crown but—for various reasons—were unable to author the sweep.

In every one of those failed attempts the North American (including Canada and Puerto Rico) foal crop size was larger than the one that included Secretariat, meaning there was much more competition—being raised, being sold at auction, and bidding for stall space at the track—across the board for those during that span.

With the Great Recession of 2008, the foal crop has shrunk by at least a third from the early part of the century and is half the size of the crop that included Alysheba in 1984 (49,241) and Sunday Silence in 1986 (51,296).
American Pharoah is one of 23,538 foals registered in 2012, and Justify’s class of 2015 numbers 22,936.

Thoroughbred racing is a numbers game. The size of the foal crop is just one way to look at it.

More importantly, Thoroughbred racing is about the horse. As you’ll read in the following pages, Justify is certainly special, and has to rank among the best of any generation.

Foal Crop
Horse N.A. Crop Size
Justify 22,936
American Pharoah 23,538
California Chrome 24,939
I’ll Have Another 32,364
Big Brown 38,365
Smarty Jones 37,901
Funny Cide 37,755
War Emblem 36,929


Foal Crop
Horse N.A. Crop Size
Charismatic 35,366
Real Quiet 34,983
Silver Charm 35,341
Sunday Silence 51,296
Alysheba 49,241
Pleasant Colony 32,904
Spectacular Bid 28,809
Affirmed 28,271
Seattle Slew 27,586


Foal Crop
Horse N.A. Crop Size
Secretariat 24,361
Citation 5,819
Assault 5,923
Count Fleet 6,003
Whirlaway 5,696
War Admiral 4,924
Omaha 5,256
Gallant Fox 4,182
Sir Barton 2,128

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