Kentucky Derby pedigree profile: Just Steel

April 15th, 2024

Runner-up finishes in the Arkansas Derby (G1), Southwest (G3), and Smarty Jones S. have qualified Just Steel to compete in the 2024 Kentucky Derby (G1).

The veteran of 11 starts is a capable competitor on dirt, but that’s arguably in defiance of his bloodlines. A glance at Just Steel’s pedigree suggests turf might actually be his preferred surface.

Let’s start with Just Steel’s sire, Justify. The 2018 Triple Crown winner competed exclusively on dirt and entered the history books with his determined victories in the Kentucky Derby, Preakness (G1), and Belmont (G1). Some of his progeny have done well on dirt, including 2023 champion two-year-old filly Just F Y I, 2023 Kentucky Derby starter Verifying, and recent Blue Grass (G1) runner-up Just a Touch, who is slated to join Just Steel in the 2024 Kentucky Derby starting gate.

But just as common among Justify’s progeny are top-class turf campaigners. For example, Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies Turf (G1) heroine Hard to Justify, Dewhurst (G1) winner City of Troy, Belmont Oaks (G1) victor Aspen Grove, and Prix Marcel Boussac Criterium des Pouliches (G1) winner Opera Singer. That’s not too surprising since Justify is a son of Florida Derby (G1) winner Scat Daddy, a versatile stallion who sired a bevy of major winners on dirt, turf, and synthetic.

The bottom half of Just Steel’s pedigree is definitely geared toward turf. His dam, Irish Lights, was a talented Australian sprinter/miler who won the Thousand Guineas (G1) at Caulfield. Prior to Just Steel, she foaled Omei Sword and Call Me Teddy, a pair of stakes-winning turf sprinters.

That Irish Lights is a source of speed on turf isn’t surprising. Her sire is Fastnet Rock, a top-tier turf sprinter who won the Lightning (G1) and Oakleigh Plate (G1) in Australia. He counts among his foals Mosheen, a four-time Group 1 winner over distances from 1,600 meters (about one mile) to 2,500 meters (about 1 9/16 miles); Shoals, a three-time Group 1-winning sprinter/miler; Fascinating Rock, winner of the 1 1/4-mile Champion (G1) and 1 5/16-mile Tattersalls Gold Cup (G1) in England; Sea Siren, a three-time Group 1-winning sprinter who has become the dam of Pegasus World Cup Turf (G1) winner Warm Heart; and many other Group 1 winners. All the ones we listed excelled on grass.

Many of Fastnet Rock’s progeny have done their best work racing one mile or less, though as horses like Mosheen and Fascinating Rock illustrate, he’s capable of siring long-winded runners as well. Similar can be said of Fastnet Rock’s record as a broodmare sire. His daughters have produced elite sprinters like five-time Group 1 winner Santa Ana Lane and Black Caviar Lightning winner Gytrash, but also top-tier route racers like the above-mentioned Warm Heart and also Russian Emperor, a three-time Group 1 winner in Hong Kong over distances from 2,000 meters (about 1 1/4 miles) to 2,400 meters (about 1 1/2 miles).

Taking all of these pedigree elements together, Just Steel is bred to shine on turf, perhaps over distances from six furlongs to 1 1/4 miles. If his Kentucky Derby aspirations don’t pan out, a surface switch down the road might unlock even greater potential.