First-Crop Sires 2022: Justify Makes a Bright Start

August 11th, 2022

Writing the stallion marketing script for Justify’s first season in 2019 wouldn’t have been the toughest task in Thoroughbred breeding.

There’s not much more you need than “undefeated Triple Crown winner." But you could also add “broke a 136-year Kentucky Derby curse” if the previous tag wasn’t enough. Not to mention “from the second-last crop of a great sire the industry lost far too soon."

Unsurprisingly, large numbers of high-quality mares were sent to Justify, even at a first-season service fee of $150,000 (now $100,000). And with an estimated 179 foals from his first Northern Hemisphere crop, the level of success of his first crop will be eagerly followed.

Justify was a standout right from the beginning. Bred by John Gunther of Glennwood Farm, he attracted plenty of interest when he went to the 2017 Keeneland September yearling sale, being knocked down for $500,000 to China Horse Club and Maverick Racing. A hefty price tag, but it proved a bargain.

As is well documented, Justify didn’t race as a juvenile. But the word was already out that he was extremely talented, and maybe even a Kentucky Derby contender, when he made his debut in a Santa Anita maiden in February 2018. He duly delivered, winning by more than nine lengths despite being last out of the gates.

Another romp followed in a Santa Anita allowance the following month, encouraging trainer Bob Baffert to send him to the Santa Anita Derby (G1) in April. The huge step up in company was handled easily, a three-length victory the result.

That qualified Justify for the Kentucky Derby. No horse unraced as a juvenile had won the Derby since Apollo in 1882, but punters still made him the 2.9-1 favorite. And after being on the speed all the way, he scored decisively over Breeders’ Cup Juvenile (G1) winner Good Magic by 2 1/2 lengths.

With the Curse of Apollo broken, it was on to the Preakness (G1). The race pattern was much the same as the Derby, and though this time he had just half a length to spare at the line over Bravazo, the Triple Crown was on. And on a fast surface, he led the whole way in the 1 1/2-mile Belmont (G1), this time scoring by 1 3/4 lengths over Gronkowski.

The racing world seemed to be at his feet, with an attempt to emulate American Pharoah and complete the Grand Slam by winning the Breeders’ Cup Classic (G1) the plan. Unfortunately, Justified developed filling in his left front leg and never raced again.

Shortly before the Preakness, reports emerged that Justify was sold for $60 million to Coolmore Stud, with an extra $25 million to be paid if he won the Triple Crown. If those reports were accurate, that made him an $85 million horse.

It wasn’t just racecourse performance that made Justify so desired as a stallion prospect. He was from the second-last crop of Scat Daddy, who was becoming an outstanding sire himself prior to his untimely death in 2015. His dam Stage Magic had also produced Grade 3 winner The Lieutenant, while his second dam Magical Illusion was Grade 1-placed.

Understandably, his progeny have been popular in the sales ring. His first crop included two million-dollar yearling sellers, and another made seven figures at the two-year-old sales this year.

As of August 10, his progeny have done everything that might have been expected. Justify lay third on the sire of two-year-olds list, behind only champion Into Mischief and fellow first-crop sire Sharp Azteca. From 20 starters he’d had seven winners, two being stakes winners.

The first to strike black type was in Europe. There, his filly Statuette followed a debut victory in Ireland in late May by winning the Airlie Stud S. (G2) at The Curragh June 26.

Statuette’s triumphs have been on turf, but Justify proved shortly after that his progeny could handle dirt at stakes level. This came via another filly, Just Cindy. The $140,000 yearling purchase won her debut at Churchill Downs in mid-June, and a month later took out the Schuylerville (G3) at Saratoga. In doing so she produced a Brisnet Speed Rating of 91 and a Class Rating of 118.9, the best figures for her sire’s progeny to date.

Justify’s best colt to date has been Tahoma. The $160,000 yearling became his sire's first winner when victorious on debut at Santa Anita May 22 and then earned a stakes placing when second in the Fasig-Tipton Futurity on the same track June 18.

The other four winners to date by Justify have been Aunt Shirley, winner of an Ellis Park maiden August 5; Justique, very impressive on debut at Del Mar July 31; Justa Warrior, victorious at Ellis Park July 22; and Prove Right, successful at Churchill Downs June 26.

Others that have yet to win but which have looked promising include Justafever, runner-up on debut at Churchill Downs May 27, and Hawker, runner-up at Del Mar in his first start Aug. 6.

Given that he didn’t race as a two-year-old, Justify’s start has been very promising, and his offspring can be expected to continue to perform well as juveniles. It will be interesting to see if any prove up to Grade 1 level as the season goes on.