The Long and Short of Justify’s Retirement - By Evan Hammonds

There are few secrets in the Thoroughbred game anymore. Regarding Triple Crown winner Justify, rumors swirled several weeks ago about his standing at stud somewhere other than WinStar Farm…and that we’ve seen the last of him on the track.

With the press release on the son of Scat Daddy’s retirement, WinStar president Elliott Walden confirmed: “As has been reported, there is a possible sale to Coolmore in place, but that won’t be finalized until a later date.”

It seems we hardly got to know Justify. His already-immortalized 112 days of racing came and went like the arc of a shooting star.

While six starts leave the racing public wanting, it doesn’t take longevity to show brilliance. Nor is longevity indicative of future success in the breeding shed.

Danzig, three times the leading sire in North America (1991-93), and sire of a remarkable 202 stakes winners from 1,099 foals (18.4%) made only three starts for Henryk de Kwiatkowski and trainer Woody Stephens in 1979-80, breaking his maiden at 5 1/2 furlongs at 2 and winning six- and seven-furlong allowance races early in his 3-year-old season.

Given a chance by Claiborne Farm, Danzig was lightning in a bottle. His first crop, headed by champion male and Breeders’ Cup Juvenile (G1) winner Chief’s Crown, earned a record $2,155,867 in 1984, which not only topped the first-crop sires list and juvenile sires list, but placed him 15th on the general sires list. His influence grew from there.

By the spring of 1985 The BloodHorse reported Ted Sabarese sold three shares in Danzig, which included the 1985 seasons, for an amount “in excess of $5 million.” Later that year Matchmaker Breeders’ Exchange reported a share in Danzig sold for $2,565,000.

Tapit, the leading sire in North America three years running (2014-16) made the same number of starts Justify made. Winner of the Wood Memorial Stakes (G1), the son of Pulpit was ninth in the 2004 Kentucky Derby (G1) behind Smarty Jones and made one more start thereafter, a ninth-place finish as the favorite in the grade 2 Pennsylvania Derby.

Tapit’s lack of a deep résumé has not affected his stud career. Much like Danzig, Tapit led the first-crop sires and juvenile sires list in 2008 and has been on a roll since.

Tapit’s sire, Pulpit, who sired 83 stakes winners, only made six appearances on the track. His finale was a fourth-place finish in the Derby.

“Recent” Triple Crown history from the golden age of the 1970s has spoiled us. Secretariat made six starts deep into October after his record-setting Belmont Stakes (G1) and Seattle Slew and Affirmed raced through their 4-year-old years. However, there is precedent for a Triple Crown winner not starting past June of his 3-year-old year.

While he made 21 starts (15 at 2), 1943 Triple Crown winner Count Fleet didn’t start again after his 25-length score in the Belmont. An injured left fore ankle in the third jewel of the Triple Crown prevented him from racing on. It was announced that August the colt’s 3-year-old campaign was over, and later injuries at 4 kept Count Fleet from the starting gate. Despite that he was still considered No. 5 among The Blood-Horse’s “Top 100 Racehorses of the 20th Century.”

Upon his retirement to Stoner Creek Stud near Paris, Ky., as “generally accepted as one of the best horses ever raced in America,” it was announced his book (of 30 mares) was already booked for 1945. His retirement press release was worded much as those of today:

“It was decided, after the horse had been galloping for many weeks, and breezing for the last two weeks, that he was too great a race horse and too great a prospective sire to take any further chances with him by keeping him in training.”

While perhaps not as prolific a stallion as Danzig and Tapit, Count Fleet did sire 38 stakes winners from 434 foals (9%), got 1951 Kentucky Derby winner Count Turf (same year he had Horse of the Year Counterpoint and champion 3-year-old filly Kiss Me Kate), and is the broodmare sire of Kelso and Derby winner Lucky Debonair.

Here’s hoping Justify’s second act goes the distance.

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