Monday, September 17, 2018

Now He's Just Immortal

By the time this post is published I will have been to visit Justify at Winstar Farm in Versailles. Kentucky.  My wife and I will take as many pictures of the horse I've called "the living statue" as possible and add the best ones later.  We'll keep the crappy ones on our computer and no one will be the wiser.

None of the photos taken by his admiring fans have captured his imposing size, 16.3".  Nor does the poor light of Winstar's viewing area do justice to the beauty of the copper coat that stretches across his ribs, or the muscle mass gathered in knots beneath skin that threatens to rupture. 

This is Justify.

No, in most of the photographs he seems to slouch, his muscular frame a bit atrophied, his color washed out and his expression dull and lifeless.  Perhaps he is mortal and not the mountain I have seen bolting from a starting gate, dashing to the lead and carrying his speed until that speed breaks the horses in his wake.  His turn of foot reminds me a good bit of California Chrome and like Chrome, the innate ability to turn back the pressure that came to him.  To Bob Baffert the key to each of Justify's six races was the same: Justify had to get away cleanly from the starting gate.  With Baffert the strategist and the tactician, Mike Smith aboard, Justify romped, with strides thought to be longer than Secretariat's, to 9-1/2 and 6-1/2 length margins in his first two races.

Justify jumping tracks in the mud at the Preakness.

But wait a minute, his six consecutive wins were not enough for many.  One of the chief complaints, one most champions have had to reckon with, the caliber of his competition.  Yet those in the know felt the 2018 Derby field to be the strongest in many years.  He is a proven winner on dirt, whether dry or in the primordial glop of Churchill Downs, or the Preakness.  And in the Santa Anita Derby he ran with a sprung shoe (I understand that is not uncommon). Proving that he could run at the front or stalk from just off the lead as he did in the Derby, haunting Promises Fulfilled before leaving him in his wake.

A loose shoe on Justify's right front during the 2018 Santa Anita Derby.

2018 Kentucky Derby

If the lack of quality competition were not indictment enough, here are some comments about Justify's confirmation that appeared in a thoroughbred chat room that I belong to...and sometime wish I didn't.  No names though.  

Lovely shoulder.

I don't like him.  I honestly cringed when I saw it.  Post-legged behind, very upright pasterns...but his front legs seem off.  (Off what, his body?) Nice hip, but I still don't like the appearance of his hindquarters.

I like the length of his neck.  Pretty face.  He is nothing compared to American Pharoah.

Wouldn't pay a cent to breed to him.

...but a horse with confirmation like that, who had physical problems as a yearling, wasn't sound enough to race at two and retired unsound after four months at the track...  I wouldn't send a mare to him even if he was at $20,000. will take an impressive mare to throw a foal that doesn't have some of his more major faults.

...looks like a typical Ghostzapper.

I will add that some of the comments are made by former race track denizens, exercise riders, grooms and several who specialize in breeding and confirmation.

When asked where they would rank Justify among the thirteen Triple Crown winners, the groups were equally unkind.  Most ranked Justify near the bottom of the list and one ranked him ahead of American Pharoah.  This person is usually unhappy if their ice-cream is cold.  One thoughtful person said, "Not bottom, but not top. Still a really great horse who could have probably gone a lot farther later in his career,"

Then I added my wordy two-cents worth: Its all subjective.  He is not number one, but after all he did win the Triple Crown  and I don't care what people say about him, (and I have heard and seen written a lot of sour grapes regarding him lately) he is a damn fine horse. I saw him in person on Thursday and I can tell you that having seen both CC and AP immediately upon their retirement, Justify looks much the worse for the experience. He is not a particularly pretty horse, especially when compared to AP. He is extraordinarily muscular and it is obvious that it will be months before he is no longer a race horse. He is anxious, restive and bores very easily. It is evident to me that there was and may still be a bit of a problem on his left rear. Could be just the hair, but it looked like he may have had a procedure of some kind. I could be dizzy with oxygen deprivation. I was very, very surprised that he was still wearing shoes! To me he looks tired and he may well be. 200 pounds and several months rest will make him a different horse. I really think we should all be glad that he survived. As far as ranking, well, he is in the top 13.

This is the only good photo (Including mine) that I have seen of Justify taken at Winstar.
I believe the photographer is Delana Harp Bryant.

These are my comments after seeing Justify:

I saw Justify today and I was not as impressed as I thought I might be. He is not as massive as he appears to be in most photographs, or when he is underway. The irony is that several others on the tour felt exactly the same. He also looks a little worse for wear to me, there is the cinch rub that you can see in this picture and you can tell something has been going on in the left hind. He is fit to the point of being almost too trim, perhaps a bit over trained, who knows? His muscularity is incredible however and his hind quarters are massive. His back legs have been criticized as "post legs" and having pasterns that are too upright. I looked and I looked again and I don't believe there is a major problem back there. He does have foot problems and Winstar are allowing him a lot of r & r. He seemed very restless, but you would expect that with his having so recently been in training. Part of what I observed may be answered by a comment made by the tour guide. When asked if he were being ridden, as half of the Winstar stallions are, she said that if he were saddled today he would mentally return to his last race, The Belmont. And then there is that biting thing. But when he puts on a couple of hundred pounds and is rested and begins to relax, he will be spectacular. By the way, his coat shimmers in the light. I saw both AP and CC shortly after they retired and just thought they came out of their careers in better physical shape. Mentally, who knows? They can't tell us what they are thinking or how they feel and that is the shame of it. All in all Justify is the Champ and I am still a fan.

As a horse racing fan, I am sure you have your own opinion regarding Justify and his place in horse racing history.

Listen to Larry Collmus' call of the last race of Justify's gloriously undefeated and all too short career. Pay attention to what he says of Justify as he crosses the finish line.

 "And now ,he's just immortal."

2018 Belmont Stakes with Larry Collmus' call.

Copyright September 17, 2018 by Loren SchumacherAll photo rights belong to the photographer.I will post my own shortly.