Justify, Triple Crown Winner, Is Retired Because of a Bad Ankle

Justify winning the Belmont Stakes in June. He is being retired from racing.

Justify, the undefeated colt who in June became the 13th Triple Crown winner, has been retired from racing, his owners announced on Wednesday.

His trainer, the two-time Triple Crown winner Bob Baffert, said the reason was inflammation in Justify’s left front ankle.

“He is just not responding quick enough for a fall campaign,” Baffert said in a statement. “We all wanted to see Justify run again, but ultimately, it is my responsibility to make sure he is perfect. Without 60-90 days, I can’t be definite.”

Justify conquered the slop at Churchill Downs on May 5 to become the first horse since 1882 to win a Kentucky Derby without having raced as a 2-year-old, and he followed that feat with a damp and daring Preakness Stakes victory through thick fog on May 16 that sent him to New York with the crown on the line.

In his sixth race since mid-February, Justify did not disappoint the crowd of about 90,000 as he quickly went to the lead and stayed there to become the second undefeated Triple Crown winner, along with Seattle Slew in 1977.

“He is an incredible horse, and we are very disappointed he can’t run again,” said Kenny Troutt, the owner of WinStar Farm, which owns the majority of Justify’s breeding and racing rights. He continued, “When we look back on this, we have been a part of an undefeated Triple Crown champion, and hopefully a Horse of the Year.”

Before the Preakness, the owners of Justify’s breeding rights — WinStar Farm, China Horse Club and SF Racing — agreed to a $60 million deal with Coolmore, the breeding farm that also oversees American Pharoah’s sire duty. People in racing with knowledge of the deal said that it included a bonus of about $20 million were Justify to win the Triple Crown and that it also allowed the owners to retain some shares in the horse when he began his career as a sire.

Justify has earned $3.8 million on the track, but the risk of an injury that could derail his lucrative future as a sire was ever-present. The cost to insure a horse of his stature is astronomical, possibly 3 percent to 5 percent of his estimated value of $60 million-plus, and several underwriters are needed to handle that type of risk. The matter was further complicated by the fact that the owners of his racing rights — WinStar, China Horse Club, Starlight Racing and Head of Plains Partners — were different from those of his breeding rights.

In contrast to Justify, American Pharoah, who in 2015 became the first Triple Crown winner in 37 years, kept racing through the Breeders’ Cup Classic in November of that year. But the business-minded partnership that owns Justify most likely came to a more bottom-line conclusion well before his ankle swelled.

The first year after winning the Triple Crown, American Pharoah commanded a $200,000 stud fee in the United States. With an average of 150 live foals from each spring breeding season in Kentucky, American Pharoah was racking up more than $30 million per year in stallion fees (although a reported two-mares-for-one deal could have cut that profit to about $15 million). American Pharoah also shuttles to Australia in the fall, commanding about $50,000 per live foal while there.

Justify will be paraded at Del Mar racetrack near San Diego on Saturday before returning to WinStar Farm in Versailles, Ky., early next month. His jockey, Mike Smith, will sign autographs at Del Mar.

“Like everyone else, I am disappointed he won’t run again, but I am thankful he came into my life,” Smith, 52, said. “There was never a time when I rode him that I felt like I was going to get beat.”

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