Justify - Belmont Stakes G1

American Pharoah - Belmont Stakes G1

It seemed so typical of the strange fortunes governing our sport that we should have been made to wait so long for a Triple Crown winner, only for another one to turn up three years later in the very same barn.

On the face of it, that coincidence will now be compounded as Justify (Scat Daddy) joins American Pharoah (Pioneer of the Nile) at Ashford for his own attempt to parlay historic capacities, on the track, into an equivalent impact on the breed.

But of course neither of these convergences are any more a coincidence than Gallant Fox and Omaha carrying the same silks in the 1930’s, or Whirlaway and Citation the following decade. If anyone was eligible to slake the thirst for a Triple Crown winner, after 37 years, it was Bob Baffert; and his elite patronage and elite horsemanship in turn produced Justify this year. Only a trainer so accustomed to top-class Thoroughbreds, after all, would have had the acuity and nerve to defy the consensus that an equivalent seasoning is necessary, if you’re trying to win a Kentucky Derby, in the horse himself.

In the same way, trust in proven expertise makes his arrival at Ashford seem perfectly natural. His partners at Coolmore know that John Magnier has a peerless instinct for identifying both what their roster may lack, and what the market may need.

As has quickly become evident from demand for his first crop of yearlings, American Pharoah offers a possible solution to challenges facing both Coolmore and the wider industry. For one thing, the European hegemony of Galileo (Ire) (Sadler’s Wells) has approached saturation point: a number of his sons are vying for the succession, both at Coolmore and elsewhere, even many of the best broodmares around, being his daughters, go out of their reach.

More significantly, the Coolmore team hopes that American Pharoah could even transcend the culpably parochial schism, over recent years, between perceived lines of blood and dirt either side of the Atlantic. Magnier’s son M.V. has been specifically invoking the firm’s founding father, Northern Dancer, when promoting the “crossover” credentials of American Pharoah at the sales this summer.

The point about Justify is not simply that all this applies to him, too, but that it applies much more strongly. Here is a horse with every right to become the ultimate heir to Scat Daddy (Johannesburg), who of course stood at Ashford himself until his premature loss. For while there are sound reasons for accepting that American Pharoah could become an effective turf stallion, too, Justify’s sire has already bridged the divide in spectacular fashion.

For one thing, Scat Daddy’s stock has obviously excelled on turf in Europe. And Coolmore is enjoying instant dividends from its first son of Scat Daddy to stand in Co Tipperary, No Nay Never having promptly produced perhaps the most exciting juvenile colt of the European summer in Ten Sovereigns (Ire). Some people have already compared this lad with Johannesburg (Hennessy), the sire of Scat Daddy and author of one of the ultimate “crossover” performances when switched to dirt for the GI Breeders’ Cup Juvenile. If No Nay Never at this stage appears primarily a conduit of Scat Daddy speed, it would surely be worth rolling the dice with Ten Sovereigns over a mile in the race won by his great-grand sire at Churchill Downs this fall.

Happily, that kind of option is in the hands of men who have demonstrated far more adventure and imagination than most, regarding racing surface. For two Triple Crown winners to be sharing their roster, then, heightens the sense of a defining moment - not just for Coolmore’s ownership, where the next generation is increasingly involved, but potentially for the modern breed.

For the whole scene now seems full of opportunity, and not just at the kind of giddy fees Justify will also command. There are many other stallions - standing at lower tags, and also at other farms - who can nourish the same zeitgeist.

Now it must be said, with regret, that some European breeders excuse their reluctance to invigorate their own, increasingly homogeneous bloodlines by tarring all American sires with the single brush of medication. That is not so much cheap as downright offensive. But even if these people acknowledge that many American sires offer precisely the speed-carrying tenacity and competitive longevity often sadly lacking in Europe’s idea of “commercial” speed, they will doubtless point out that Justify himself was as a candle as brief as he was bright. That was also true of Scat Daddy, who shuddered to a halt when injured in the Kentucky Derby. And while the brevity of Justify’s career is regrettable, there is no arguing with the freakish physical resources implied not only by his sheer physical brawn, but also by an ability to overturn an epoch in a matter of weeks.

Justify shared a :22.24 opening split with a subsequent Grade I winner over seven furlongs in Promises Fulfilled (Shackleford) in the Derby - the fastest opening quarter ever run by a Kentucky Derby winner. For a horse this fast to see out the Belmont trip opens up exciting new horizons in the perennial quest for the breeder’s. Holy grail: the kind of speed that just keeps going. That can scarcely be a surprise in a son of a Ghostzapper (Awesome Again) mare. Always likely to make a broodmare sire, as a grandson of Deputy Minister, Ghostzapper famously stepped up from dazzling wins in races like the GI Vosburgh S. to maintain an impervious tempo in the lead in the GI Breeders’ Cup Classic. Much as Justify did, of course, over the even greater distance of the Belmont.

This elusive balance between two vivid forms of physical commitment - speed and sticking power - would seem the key to Justify’s outlandish talent. And it is not hard to imagine that strands of his pedigree will make that an asset capable of being recycled. If his immediate family is not absolutely stellar, the racing pep of Scat Daddy and Ghostzapper is balanced further back by the profound Classic influence of Nijinsky II top and bottom. And then there is the aristocratic duplication of those Mr. P sisters Yarn and Preach, respectively, grand dam of Johannesburg (Scat Daddy’s sire) and dam of Pulpit (sire of Justify’s second dam).

Justify’s arrival at Ashford coincides with the first Keeneland September Sale bereft of yearlings by his sire, and the first to offer yearlings by American Pharoah. It feels like a genuine crossroads. Yes, the kind of stallions these two star cadets must now match, not just in the ring but on the track, had to earn their stripes from fees as low as $35,000 (Medaglia d’Oro), $25,000 (Curlin), $12,500 (Tapit), $10,000 (War Front) and $7,500 (Into Mischief). And yes, perhaps they won’t both make it, for all the guaranteed advantages in their dance cards. It happens.

But even if only one of them lives up to his billing, Coolmore don’t have to worry about having the wrong one. And if both horses do thrive - well, whisper it, but one of them could always be sent to Co Tipperary.

Courtesy of the Thoroughbred Daily News

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