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Pedigree Insights: Justify


Justify | Horsephotos

By Andrew Caulfield

Owner-breeders have recently had little to complain about on the first Saturday in May, with many of the last 14 Kentucky Derby winners carrying the colors of their respective breeders. But are we beginning to witness a change? The last three winners, American Pharoah, Nyquist and Always Dreaming, all passed through the sales ring (though American Pharoah was bought back after his price was compromised by his having bumped a shin a few weeks before the sale).

With only two trials still to be contested, the upper echelons of this year’s Kentucky Derby points standings are dominated by colts which appeared at public auctions. The three trial winners last Saturday–the points leader Good Magic (Curlin), the fourth-ranked Vino Rosso (Curlin) and the eighth-ranked Justify (Scat Daddy)–were respectively sold as yearlings for $1,000,000, $410,000 and $500,000. The top ten also feature Audible (Into Mischief), the GI Florida Derby winner who was a $500,000 2-year-old; the GI Santa Anita Derby runner-up Bolt d’Oro (Medaglia d’Oro), who cost $630,000 as a yearling; the highly impressive UAE Derby winner Mendelssohn (Scat Daddy), who was North America’s highest-priced yearling of 2016 at $3,000,000; and Flameaway (Scat Daddy), a $400,000 yearling who again gave his all when second to Good Magic in the GII Blue Grass S.

The only homebred interlopers among the top dozen are WinStar and Repole’s third-ranked Louisiana Derby winner Noble Indy (Take Charge Indy), who RNA’d at $45,000 when offered by WinStar as a yearling. Next come Godolphin’s sixth-ranked Enticed (Medaglia d’Oro), who was beaten three lengths by Vino Rosso in the GII Wood Memorial S., and Calumet’s tenth-ranked Bravazo (Awesome Again), winner of the GII Risen Star S. The only other homebreds in the top25 are Runaway Ghost (Ghostzapper), Quip (Distorted Humor) (though breeder WinStar Farm has taken in partners), Hofburg (Tapit), Firenze Fire (Poseidon’s Warrior) and Reride (Candy Ride {Arg}).

The race is also shaping up as a possible battle between two stallions–Curlin and Scat Daddy–who were themselves beaten in the Kentucky Derby. Eleven years after his third behind Street Sense and Hard Spun (and his subsequent victory in the Preakness), Curlin has three sons in the points table’s top 20, thanks to Good Magic, Vino Rosso and Solomini.

So does Scat Daddy, who also contested the 2007 Kentucky Derby, starting third favorite behind Street Sense and Curlin on the strength of his victories in the Fountain of Youth S. and the Florida Derby. Sadly the son of Johannesburg trailed home 18th of 20 and never raced again. Scat Daddy’s penultimate crop could potentially be represented by the high-powered pairing of Mendelssohn and Justify, along with the dependable Flameaway. Scat Daddy also has Combatant, who was placed in both the Rebel S. and Southwest S., in 23rd position.

For the record, two other stallions (neither being Tapit or War Front) have two sons among the top 30 points earners. Medaglia d’Oro has fifth-ranked Bolt d’Oro and sixth-ranked Enticed, while Into Mischief has Florida Derby winner Audible in second place and Dream Baby Dream down in 26th.

In terms of male lines, Curlin is a grandson of two-time champion sire Mr Prospector, who has made an indelible mark on the Derby’s roll of honor. Scat Daddy, for his part, was a great-grandson of two-time champion sire Storm Cat, whose male line has yet to be represented by a Kentucky Derby winner. I should quickly add, though, that Storm Cat has appeared in the pedigrees of the last three Kentucky Derby heroes. American Pharoah and Nyquist each has a dam sired by a son of Storm Cat, while Always Dreaming’s sire Bodemeister has a dam by Storm Cat. I could add that Summer Squall, who represented the same Storm Bird–Secretariat nick as Storm Cat, sired one Kentucky Derby winner, Charismatic, as well as the dam of another, Thunder Gulch.

The way that Justify extended his advantage over Bolt d’Oro in the closing stages of the Santa Anita Derby certainly didn’t hint at any possible problems with the extra furlong at Churchill Downs.

Because Scat Daddy was responsible for such fast performers as Lady Aurelia, Caravaggio, Acapulco, No Nay Never and Sioux Nation, it is always tempting to think of him as a source of speed rather than stamina. The truth is that he stayed a mile and an eighth well enough to win the Florida Derby and he has sired the occasional graded winner over a mile and a quarter or more. They include the fillies Lady of Shamrock (GI American Oaks and GII Santa Barbara H.), Daddys Lil Darling (GI American Oaks), Dacita (GII New York S.) and Harmonize (GIII Glens Falls S.).

Among the broodmare sires involved were Blushing John, Houston and Sky Mesa, none of them notable sources of stamina. Justify therefore has a good chance of staying a mile and a quarter, as both his sire Ghostzapper and grandsire Awesome Again triumphed in the Breeders’ Cup Classic over that distance. His dam Stage Magic gained her three victories around two turns on dirt.

Justify’s second dam, the Pulpit mare Magical Illusion, ran creditably over a mile and a quarter, when a soundly-beaten third behind those multiple Grade I winners Ashado and Stellar Jayne in the CCA Oaks. However, the next dam, Voodoo Lily, gained her three stakes successes over six furlongs, including in the GIII Columbia S., even though she was by Baldski, a stallion with plenty of stamina in his pedigree.

This is a solid enough pedigree, as Justify’s $500,000 price tag indicates. However, he is the only Grade I winner in his catalogue-style four-generation pedigree, which could be interpreted as yet another reminder of Scat Daddy’s outstanding prowess as a stallion.

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