Originally Published: June 15, 2018 6 a.m.
Justify thrilled the racing world along with millions of people around the globe when he became the 13th horse in history to win the Triple Crown.
To join the list of immortals, a horse must win three races in five weeks - the Kentucky Derby at 1 1/4 miles, followed by the Preakness two weeks later and then the 1 1/2-mile marathon at the Belmont three weeks after that - a brutal schedule for any horse, especially a 3-year old. No wonder winning the Triple Crown is so rare.
Justify’s win came only three years after American Pharoah became the 12th Triple Crown winner. Prior to 2015 there had been a 37-year drought since Affirmed accomplished the feat, leading some in the racing industry to believe the Triple Crown was no longer possible. But Triple Crown winners have historically come in bunches.
After Sir Barton became the first to win all three races in 1919, there was a break of 11 years before the next winner, Gallant Fox in 1930. That began a run of seven winners in 19 years, followed by a drought of 25 years before super-horse Secretariat won all three aces in 1973. Seattle Slew preceded Affirmed in 1977, providing us with three winners in five years prior to the last drought.
In order to hedge their bets, prior to the Preakness WinStar Farm, China Horse Club and SF Racing, who owned the breeding rights to the chestnut colt with the big white blaze, reportedly agreed to a $60 million deal with Coolmore, a world-wide stallion operation that includes a breeding facility in Kentucky where American Pharoah stands at stud. The deal allegedly included a $15 million sweetener if Justify won the Triple Crown.
The colt’s owners suggest the Belmont won’t be his last race. However, given the injury risk there is ample reason to forego the temptation to keep Justify on the track. Although insurance could cover a portion of the risk, the premiums would likely cost as much as the owners could collect in purses.
The life of a stud is both structured and lucrative, at least for a horse’s owners. Top stallions are in demand and may cover up to three mares a day during the breeding season, which can run more than three months. American Pharoah commands a breeding fee of $200,000 per live foal, which has reportedly averaged 150 per season, generating in excess of $30 million per year for his owners. That will buy a lot of oats.
Although the work may be pleasant, stallions lead an isolated life. They are either stabled or confined in fenced areas away from other horses to avoid injury. When their breeding careers are over, some meet their end in a slaughterhouse. While that fate is unlikely to befall Justify, his days in the spotlight are numbered.
Whatever his future holds, Justify is now a member of an elite group of horses - 13 in the 143-history of the Triple Crown - who were able to accomplish the almost impossible.
Jordan Kobritz is a former attorney, CPA, Minor League Baseball team owner and current investor in MiLB teams. He is a professor in and chair of the Sport Management Department at SUNY Cortland and maintains the blog, sportsbeyondthelines.com. The opinions in this column are the author’s. Kobritz can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.