By Sid Fernando
Coolmore America's Triple Crown winner Justify, a son of Scat Daddy, never raced at two, and he famously became the first unraced 2-year-old since Apollo in 1882 to win the Gl Kentucky Derby.
Midway through July, however, Justify is already represented by a Group 2 winner in Europe and a Grade III winner in North America from his first crop of 2-year-olds, and through Monday he sat second by less than $30,000 on the first-crop sire list by progeny earnings behind Spendthrift's Bolt d'Oro (Medaglia d'Oro), a rival he defeated by three lengths in the Gl Santa Anita Derby. So far, he leads all freshman sires by black-type winners, black-type horses (three), and graded winners–a quick start at stud for a physically massive and late-starting horse who got 12 furlongs with ease in an undefeated, but compressed six-start career that lasted a brief four months, from February to June at age three.
Despite size, a late track debut and the ability to run as far as 3-year-olds are asked to go on dirt in North American Grade l races, Justify had exceptional balance and speed, his trainer Bob Baffert said by phone Monday morning between a training break. “He was a big, powerful horse–he looked like a giant Quarter Horse is what he looked like. A big, beautiful, massive, balanced horse. As big as he was, he was so light on his feet. He didn't hit the ground hard at all. He just floated over this track.”
Baffert said he didn't get Justify until after the Breeders' Cup, which is why the big chestnut didn't race at two. He'd been purchased for $500,000 at Keeneland September by WinStar, China Horse Club and SF Bloodstock. According to a report in New York Times, the colt had surgery on a stifle before he was sent to Baffert. “When I got him, he was a sound horse,” Baffert said. “My assistant Mike Marlow, who had him at Los Alamitos, kept telling me he had a really good one down there named Justify, by Scat Daddy.”
In comparing Justify to Triple Crown winner American Pharoah (Pioneerof the Nile) and champion Arrogate (Unbridled's Song), three of his best, Baffert said: “Pharoah's mechanics were extraordinary, the way he would move and the way he would work. Let's say Pharoah maybe had more speed, you know, quicker, but the thing about Pharoah and Justify, on Breeders' Cup, they could have won the Sprint, the Mile and the Classic. That's how good they were. Arrogate, he could have won only the Breeders' Cup Classic. That's the kind of horses they were. And Arrogate going a mile and a quarter, he was a beast of a horse. But Pharoah and Justify, they did things effortlessly.”
Bred by John D. Gunther, Justify is out of Stage Magic, a daughter of champion Ghostzapper–another brilliantly fast racehorse who could have won the Gl BC Sprint and Gl BC Dirt Mile in addition to the Gl BC Classic that he did win, keeping to Baffert's analogy. As it was, Ghostzapper won the Gl Vosburgh at 6 1/2 furlongs and the Gl Metropolitan H at a mile.
Ghostzapper, however, wasn't precocious, making only two starts at two, in November and December at that. Neither was Stage Magic, who won her first race at three, in September.
In contrast, Justify's male line–the sequence Scat Daddy/Johannesburg/Hennessy/Storm Cat/Storm Bid–is noted for early maturity and speed, with each horse named a Grade l/Group 1 winner at two. Each horse in this line except for Storm Cat also stood at Ashford (Coolmore America), and Coolmore has collected some of Scat Daddy's best sons because of its belief in the sire line. In addition to Justify, Coolmore stands Mendelssohn, who recently had his first winners, and Caravaggio, whose oldest foals are three, at Ashford, and it has No Nay Never, who stood for €125,000 this spring, and Sioux Nation, with first-crop juveniles, in Ireland. All five were winners at the highest level. Additionally, Coolmore also stands Group l winner Ten Sovereigns (Ire) (No Nay Never) and Group 2 winner Arizona (Ire) (No Nay Never) in Ireland.
From this group, No Nay Never, a champion first-season sire like Scat Daddy, and Caravaggio, who had 26 winners from his first crop of juveniles last year, have already emerged as sires of early maturing speed horses, and just last week each was represented by a Group l winner: Alcohol Free (Ire), first in the Darley July Cup S., for the former; and Tenebrism, winner of the Prix Jean Prat, for the latter. Meanwhile, Sioux Nation has 17 first-crop 2-year-old winners so far. Throw Justify's two group/graded winners into the mix and this is quite a collective showing for Coolmore's young sons of Scat Daddy, who died prematurely at age 11 in 2015, but not before getting some talented sons who appear to have the ability to carry his name forward in tail-male.
Justify's Group/Graded Winners
Both Coolmore and Baffert have played a part in Justify's early success. The filly Statuette, who won the G2 Airlie Stud S. at the Curragh June 26, is a homebred for the Coolmore partners and Merriebelle Stable. Her dam, Immortal Verse (Ire), by Pivotal (GB), was a multiple Group 1-winning miler who once defeated Goldikova (Ire), and she made headlines when selling for the equivalent of $8 million at Tattersalls December in 2013. Before Statuette, she produced the previously mentioned Tenebrism, who's trained like Statuette by Aidan O'Brien for the same ownership and was also a Group 1 winner at two last year.
If not for a matter of a day, Baffert would be the breeder of Just Cindy, winner of the Glll Schuylerville at Saratoga last Thursday for owner/breeder Fred Mitchell's Clarkland Farm and trainer Eddie Kenneally.
Baffert purchased the filly's dam, Jenda's Agenda, a stakes winner of $173,475 by Proud Citizen, for $90,000 at Keeneland November in 2018 to use for one of his breeding rights.
“I'm always looking for mares to breed because I have those stallions,” Baffert said. “I had Donato [Lanni] look at her. He said she was on the small side, but she looks good. I saw a picture of her. She was a good race mare that was all speed going a mile, so I bought her.”
Baffert had her covered by Justify in early 2019 and shipped her to California, where he wanted to foal her in the state-bred program.
“Come December, I thought, 'You know what, what am I doing?' I put her in Keeneland January and sent her to Kentucky and figured she has to bring $300,000. She just didn't get any action,” Baffert said.
The mare was a $325,000 RNA for consignor John Sikura's Hill 'n' Dale.
“Then, Boyd Browning of Fasig-Tipton says, 'I can sell that mare for you.'”
Baffert entered the mare in the Fasig-Tipton February sale Feb. 10-11 that year.
“Then, Johnny Sikura calls me up and says, 'Bob, I can't take the mare over there. She's all bagged up, waxed up and she's gonna drop. You don't want her to foal in the sale ring. You're gonna have to take her out [of the sale].' I said, 'Alright, I'll take her out.' Then, on the second day of the sale, I get a call from Fred Mitchell. He goes to John's barn and says, 'Where's that mare?' I told him I took her out of the sale because she's probably going to foal tomorrow. He asked me what I wanted for her, and I told him, and he said okay,” said Baffert. “I bought the mare sight unseen and Fred brought the mare sight unseen, and we did the deal on a handshake, very rare these days. Fred Mitchell knows good horses and he raises them right.”
The mare foaled Just Cindy Feb. 12, and she became her sire's first graded winner in North America and his first on dirt, with Mitchell's Clarkland the official breeder of record.
That's quite the story.
Sid Fernando is president and CEO of Werk Thoroughbred Consultants, Inc., originator of the Werk Nick Rating and eNicks.