The perfect racehorse will never run again.
Undefeated Triple Crown champion Justify was retired Wednesday, which disappointed many but surprised few. When he was taken out of training July 11 because of a swollen left front ankle, most saw it as the beginning of the end. It became a question of when, not if, the announcement would come.
“Justify had some filling in his ankle, and he is just not responding quickly enough for a fall campaign,” trainer Bob Baffert said in a statement released by the horse’s connections. “We all wanted to see Justify run again, but ultimately it is my responsibility to make sure he is perfect. Without 60 to 90 days, I can’t be definite.”
The colt had not had a timed workout since the June 9 Belmont Stakes. After the ankle problem cropped up, Baffert said he “wasn’t unsound, but we’re just being super-duper cautious.”
The risk of catastrophic injury far outweighed the benefits of winning more seven-figure stakes. Mortality insurance premiums also are exorbitant, with a yearly cost of roughly 3 to 4 percent of a horse’s estimated value, if a company willing to insure can be found.
The absurdity of a racehorse becoming too valuable to race has haunted the sport since 1973 Triple Crown winner Secretariat was retired after his 3-year-old season. But this game is big business, and Justify’s stallion rights have been sold for a reported $75 million to Coolmore, the world’s leading breeder.
Elliott Walden is the CEO and racing manager of WinStar Farm, which campaigned Justify with China Horse Club, Head of Plains Partners LLC and Starlight Racing.
“The timing is bad for another start in 2018, and therefore we have to retire him,” Walden said. “We all wanted him to finish his career in the Breeders’ Cup Classic, but it was not meant to be. Like American Pharoah, we can’t take the risk of running Justify as a 4-year-old.”
The son of Scat Daddy cost $500,000 as a yearling and earned $3,798,000. He can make exponentially more as a stallion.
So ends the most improbable 112-day, six-race career in history. Justify didn’t debut until Feb. 18, and not since Apollo in 1882 had an unraced 2-year-old won the Kentucky Derby. Baffert called the four-month whirlwind “the longest, quickest journey.” Only Seattle Slew, in 1977, had swept the classics while unbeaten.
Besides world-class talent, the imposing chestnut colt with the white blaze had courage. Justify overcame speed duels on sloppy tracks at Churchill Downs and Pimlico to earn his chance for immortality at Belmont Park. Mike Smith rode him in all but his first race, and he’ll be there Saturday when he’s paraded at Del Mar.
“Like everyone else, I’m disappointed he won’t run again, but I am thankful he came into my life,” Smith said. “There was never a time I rode him that I thought I was going to get beat. There was no horse who could run with him without sacrificing himself, and there was no horse who could come get him.”