Justify, this year’s Triple Crown winner, was headed for the Breeders Cup. It would have been his final race and yet another jewel in his crown.
But right now his racing future is uncertain. The handsome chestnut gelding has had repeated filling in his left ankle.
“Justify had some filling in his left front ankle a week ago, which subsided in a couple days,” said trainer Bob Baffert. “I trained him last week and the filling came back. We want to get him checked out.”
Justify’s achievement, coming into his three year season unraced and walking away with a Triple Crown victory was unheard of. But how much toll does it take on those young horses, even those who don’t win? And what about a larger horse like Justify? At 16.3 and 1280 pounds, he’s exerting a lot of force on those legs and feet.
The Triple Crown has proved notoriously hard to win, but not much attention is paid to what happens to contenders after the last race. The toll the three races take is significant.
- Count Fleet, Majestic Prince, Risen Start, Smarty Jones, Afleet Alex, Swale and Charisma never raced again.
- Northern Dancer raced only once.
- Point Given and Big Brown raced two more times.
- Affirmed lost five of his next six starts. Spectacular Bid did not race again until August. Silver Charm didn’t race until late December and Real Quiet was way from the track until the following March.
Odds are far greater than 50% that Justify will be retired at the height of his value as a stud. A poor finish in a subsequent race would lower his value. According to ESPN, his breeding rights after the Belmont skyrocketed to $75 million.
And then there’s the cost to insure him. According to Horse Racing Nation Justify is insured by multiple carriers, though it’s not known the amount to which the policies add up. Matthew Delehanty, an analyst for the Louisville, Ky.-based Lavin Insurance, said each company has a limit when it comes to insuring a single animal. But by combining plans, “a number like $75 million is not only achievable,” he said, “but readily available.”
Standard premiums run between 4 and 7 percent per year. To insure a horse worth $75 million, it would cost between $3 million and $5.25 million. Justify was aimed at the Travers Stakes and the Breeders’ Cup Classic and the combined purses for those races are $3.97 million. Hardly worth the risk.
We now live in a time when top race horses have exceptionally short careers, often ten starts or less. It’s changed the sport and made it difficult to assess stamina and durability. While the Triple Crown has always been a bear to win, some of the old contenders were true war horses. Omaha, Ward Admiral, and Secretariat raced 20-26 times. Affirmed had 29 starts. Citation had 45 starts and Whirlaway had 60 starts – 32 Wins, 15 Places, 9 Shows!