When the beautiful chestnut colt Justify won the 2018 edition of the American Triple Crown, he became an instant legend, not just in America, but across the globe. To win the Kentucky Derby at Churchill Downs, timed by Longines, the Preakness Stakes at Pimlico and the Belmont Stakes at Belmont Park, also timed by Longines, which are run in rapid succession over three different distances, is such a difficult sporting challenge that only twelve horses have been able to add their names to Sir Barton’s, the inaugural winner of the American Triple Crown in 1919.
The current decade though is proving to be something of a golden era in the history of the American Triple Crown. Following a dry spell of thirty-seven years, when many racing fans had already resigned themselves to the idea that they would never see another horse like Secretariat, Seattle Slew or Affirmed, who had all succeeded in lifting this elusive trophy in the 1970s, along came American Pharoah.
Not very big in stature, he had the heart of a lion and the engine to go with it and in 2015 he won all three of the American Triple Crown races in impressive fashion. After such a long wait, his triumph made headlines around the world and racing enthusiasts were rejoicing that they had finally witnessed the making of an extraordinary champion, never imagining for one moment that only a few weeks before American Pharoah started to write his name into the history books, another future Triple Crown winner was seeing the light of the world for the first time.
Three years later, Justify, the son of formidable stallion Scat Daddy, burst onto the scene, winning race after race with such authority that by the time the Belmont Stakes came around, no one was surprised to learn that the American Triple Crown had indeed been won for the thirteenth time.
Trained at the same yard in California as the 2015 Longines World’s Best Racehorse American Pharoah, Justify’s bid for the American Triple Crown had already been the talk of the town before he even went down to the start of the Kentucky Derby, the first race in the series to eternal greatness. Big, powerful and unbeaten in three starts, he had impressed everyone who had seen him, but he needed to overcome what was known in racing circles as the famous “Apollo’s Curse”.
In 1882 Apollo won the Kentucky Derby without having had a run as a two-year-old, a feat never repeated since. According to racing professionals and backed up by 136 years of history, winning the Kentucky Derby without the experience gathered as a two-year-old was considered pretty much impossible.
And Justify, who was bought at the 2016 Keeneland September Yearling Sales by the WinStar Farm, China Horse Club and SF Racing partnership, had never made it to the racecourse at the age of two. In fact, the gleaming chestnut colt, a son of Scat Daddy and Stage Magic, was a big individual who had spent the start of his two-year-old year with French trainer Rodolphe Brisset in Kentucky, where he was given time to grow into his frame. It was only in November 2017 that he was sent to trainer Bob Baffert in California.