In the span of 112 days, he went from being a debutante to an immortal of Thoroughbred racing.
When he entered the starting gate in a maiden special weight contest one February afternoon at Santa Anita in 2018, no one watching could have predicted what they would see with this Skip Away colt in the coming months. The bettors were confident in his chances to win the race, though, sending him away at odds-on to win. Piloted by Drayden Van Dyke, the first time starter confirmed their opinion. The fans saw him not only win, but do so by double digits.
That was only the start.
With Mike Smith (his jockey from that point forward), Justify made it two for two a month later at Santa Anita in his initial try against winners, again winning by daylight. Confidence was high, and trainer Bob Baffert entered him in the Santa Anita Derby, making a huge jump in class to the Grade I level after winning twice, but against small fields.
The class hike did not faze the offspring of Skip Away. He took control early and held off a challenge in the stretch from Bolt d'Oro, winning handily to stamp his ticket to the Kentucky Derby at Churchill Downs.
When watching the career of Justify, it could be said that he did not back away from a battle. Starting with his debut, when he faced a horse that tried to duel with him, Justify emerged as the winner. That helped him prepare for the First Saturday in May, for he had some battles in front of him when it came to Derby Day.
First, one question to be answered was how he would ship. Second, how would he take to the Churchill Downs main track? Third, how would he fare against nineteen rivals, by far the biggest group he ever faced? Those were all battles to fight, but there was one more that was well publicized going into the race.
Justify was a three year old who had never raced at the age of two, and no horse had done that while winning the Kentucky Derby since Apollo in 1882. Justify winning the Derby would mean defeating history as well.
Rain came to Louisville and gave the field an off track to handle. Justify had already gained experience racing on that type of surface in his second start at Santa Anita, and he had clearly shipped fine, so there were two battles won. When it came to the race, he rated early, then dueled for the lead in the backstretch before holding off another challenge in the stretch to triumph over his rivals as well as history.
With a chance for the Triple Crown, Justify went to Pimlico Race Course for the Preakness. An off track awaited there, too, as did fog. If one word could describe Justify, it mery well might be fearless. As fog surrounded Pimlico, Justify did not back down. Moving alongside Good Magic around the track while navigating through the fog, the son of Skip Away held off his rivals in what was an impressive Preakness victory.
All that was left now was the Belmont Stakes, the track where many Triple Crown hopefuls had come up short. Just three years after American Pharoah's triumph, the colt with the improbable journey had a chance to do what only a select few had done before him.
The third leg of the Crown had no off track, but Belmont Park is a unique course and racing at 1 1/2 miles is no easy task. History proved to be the loser once more as Justify led early and was not challenged, taking the field to the wire as he became the thirteenth horse to sweep the Kentucky Derby, Preakness, and Belmont Stakes.
The biggest win of Justify's career turned out to be his last, for he was later retired due to an injury. Six races, six wins, favored in each one (and odds-on in all but one). Just like a shooting star, Justify's time at the track was finished shortly after it began.
Even though his career was brief, Justify accomplished a lot in a few months. First, he made history with his Kentucky Derby win as well as capturing the Triple Crown, becoming the first horse to win the latter while retiring undefeated.
He also proved to be multi-dimensional when it came to racing. He could win on the lead or rate behind a horse. He had no trouble with fast or off tracks, and he won at six different distances.
For four months, Justify, the son of Skip Away, was the focus of Thoroughbred racing. He was a shooting star, a bright light in the sport, that was retired just as quickly as he debuted.
That does not lessen his accomplishments,though. When fans learn about him in the years to come, they will see that Justify was indeed a special horse.