In a year that has seen the UMBC retrievers capture the hearts and minds of the public with their historic upset of #1 Virginia as a 16-seed, it’s been proven that everyone loves an underdog. So why is that there still seems to be so much negativity being thrown at Triple Crown hopeful, Justify. Not saying he’s an underdog, but he started out that way, and now that he has proven to be a force to be reckoned with, many handicappers continue to look for reasons why Justify will not win.
When he was a 2-0 Bob Baffert colt in April, everyone said “he hasn’t beaten anybody” because he had only won two allowance races, including his maiden, despite the fact that he ran away from both fields. Then he destroyed the field in the Santa Anita Derby and toyed with then-Kentucky Derby contender Bolt d’Oro in the stretch before pulling away easily. Following that victory, the consensus was he still hadn’t raced as a juvenile so he couldn’t beat the Apollo Curse. Critics also pointed out he was facing more horses (19) in the Derby than he had in his three races total.
He silenced those naysayers by winning, beating the huge field by 2 ½ lengths in the slop of Churchill Downs to capture the Kentucky Derby and improve to 4-0. Still, detractors pointed to his slight limp and injured heel/hoof as to why he wouldn’t win the Preakness. He then ran on a track that had been saturated with 7-inches of rain in the five days leading up the Preakness. Justify held off all competitors in the fog to win by ½ length, by far his closest victory, but still a victory all the same.
Despite silencing every one of his critics along the way and being the favorite in all three American Classics, Justify still seems to be drawing criticism and ire. Major handicappers are saying the sloppy tracks in the Derby and especially in the Preakness, have worn out the undefeated champion. These thoughts are based solely on opinion, because Justify has shown no signs of wearing down in any of his workout since winning in Baltimore. He beat American Pharoah’s times in his first post-Preakness breeze and by Baffert’s account, took to the deep sands of Belmont Park that earn the track’s nickname, “Big Sandy.”
In fact, it seems Justify is receiving more criticism than probably any other Triple Crown contender. When American Pharoah headed to Belmont Park in 2015, the public was so hungry for a Triple Crown winner. They had waited 37 years since Affirmed famously battled Alydar in ’78 to capture the Triple Crown and everyone rallied behind the big bay colt. Flash forward three years to Justify’s quest and many are acting like they want to wait another 37 years. Many are saying that Justify isn’t American Pharoah, like that’s a legitimate knock on the colt. American Pharoah wasn’t Secretariat and no one held that against him, they just let him run his races and win on his way to the Triple Crown. In a way, however, the critics are correct when they say Justify isn’t American Pharoah; he weighs 1,260 lbs, about 100 pounds more than AP, and he still maintains the same speed and agility.
In today’s age of racing, if Justify wins the Belmont and Triple Crown, there is a good chance he may never race again and retire to the breeding shed. Instead of wasting time talking about what Justify isn’t, the world should appreciate what he IS and that is one hell of a horse. If you ask Bob Baffert, he “just wants [Justify’s] name remembered as the great horse that he is, [recognizing] what he’s done in such a short period of time.” Baffert is referring to his five wins in less than four months, along with breaking Apollo’s curse, among other accomplishments. Saturday’s Belmont Stakes may very well be the final time the public has a chance to watch Justify in action, and everyone should appreciate the beauty of his strides and not how they differ from other horses.
Since gracing the starting gate at Santa Anita Park back in February, Justify has continued to do things no other horse has done. Despite his success, people seem to be reluctant to accept it, instead of just enjoying it and appreciating the potential of history in the making they are witnessing. Do not diminish what Justify has done, just because no other horse has.