Justin Phillip

Justin Phillip

Coglianese Photos

Justin Phillip Perseveres for Grade I Prize

Son of First Samurai earns his first grade I some 28 races after his debut.

Justin Phillip  made his racecourse debut Aug. 19, 2010 at Saratoga. In an era when conventional wisdom has it that the Thoroughbred isn’t as tough as it used to be, it was particularly rewarding to see the 5-year-old, 28 races and almost three years later, gain a first grade I victory with a decisive score in Saratoga’s Alfred G. Vanderbilt Handicap (gr. I).

Justin Phillip finished second in that debut, then broke his maiden going six furlongs at Belmont Park a month later, before closing out his first season with thirds in a pair of Churchill Downs allowance races. After a victory in an allowance/optional claiming contest over a long mile at Fair Grounds came a brief attempt to shape Justin Phillip into a classic candidate, but this was ended by unplaced efforts in the Lecomte Stakes (gr. III) and Risen Star Stakes (gr. II). Since then he’s campaigned as a sprinter/miler, proving more adept at the “sprinter” end of that description. After cutting back in distance, Justin Phillip made seven more starts at 3, gaining a first stakes score in the Woody Stephens Stakes (gr. II), which he took by 3 1/4 lengths, and taking thirds in the Foxwoods King’s Bishop Stakes (gr. I), Jerome Stakes (gr. II), and Bay Shore Stakes (gr. III).

In 2012, eight starts brought just one win, in an allowance/optional claiming event at Belmont Park, but Justin Phillip still added to his black-type ledger by way of seconds in last year’s Vanderbilt—where he missed by just a nose to Poseidon's Warrior —and True North Handicap (gr. II), and a third in the Mr. Prospector Stakes.

Justin Phillip kicked off this year in California, where he’d remained after a fith in last year’s Xpressbet Breeders’ Cup Sprint (gr. I). Two wintertime starts at Santa Anita Park saw him earn a third in the Palos Verdes Stakes (gr. II) before moving on to Oaklawn Park, where he claimed wins in an optional claiming event and the Count Fleet Sprint Handicap (gr. III). Back in New York, a second tilt at the RTN True North Handicap (gr. II) saw him take second to his entry-mate Fast Bullet. He prepped for the Vanderbilt with a fourth—on the disappointing end of a three-way photo for second—behind Vanderbilt runner-up Bahamian Squall , Breeders’ Cup Sprint victor Trinniberg , and multiple grade I winner Jackson Bend—in a tough renewal of the Smile Sprint Handicap (gr. II) at Calder.

Justin Phillip has proved to be significantly more durable than his sire, First Samurai . The son of Giant's Causeway  won a maiden special weight at Churchill Downs on his July debut at 2 and followed up in a Saratoga allowance. He then caused something of an upset in the Hopeful Stakes (gr. I), scoring by 4 1/4 lengths over the pro-tem leader of the crop, Henny Hughes. That the upset was no fluke was established in the one-mile Champagne Stakes (gr. I), where First Samurai ran down Henny Hughes—who blitzed an opening six furlongs in 1:08.75—to tally by 2 3/4 lengths. The duo met for a third time in the Bessemer Trust Breeders’ Cup Juvenile (gr. I). Once again, Henny Hughes committed to using his speed early and was in front at the three-quarters pole, and this time he was able to repel First Samurai, who was alongside him turning for home. The victory, however, proved to be pyrrhic, as Stevie Wonderboy ran down the tiring rivals to claim not only the race, but also the juvenile championship.

On his 3-year-old debut, First Samurai was second at odds-on in the Hutcheson Stakes (gr. II). He remained in the classic picture after being awarded the Fountain of Youth Stakes (gr. II) on the disqualification of the wayward Corinthian, but fractured two ribs after hitting the starting gate when finishing fifth in the Toyata Blue Grass Stakes (gr. I). When it became clear that the injury was unlikely to heal in time for First Samurai to enjoy a fall campaign, it was announced that he would retire to Claiborne Farm for the 2007 breeding season.

Despite the brilliance he himself showed at 2, it has taken a little while for First Samurai to hit his stride as a sire. After starting at $40,000, he had dropped to $10,000 for the most recent season, despite ending the previous year as the fourth leading third-crop sire, behind Bernardini , Flower Alley, and his old foe Henny Hughes. Although, by and large, they took their time to show it, First Samurai’s initial crop is quite respectable, with six stakes winners. In addition to Justin Phillip are the graded scoers Swift Warrior and Le Mi Geaux, and grade I-placed Nakano. There are eight stakes winners in First Samurai’s second crop, including graded winners Last Gunfighter , Northern Passion, and Lea . His third, crop, now 3, is headlined by Executiveprivilege, who last year took the Del Mar Debutante Stakes and Chandelier Stakes (both gr. I). Ironically, Executiveprivilege probably would have claimed the juvenile filly championship, had she not fallen a length shy of catching Henny Hughes’s daughter Beholder for the Grey Goose Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies (gr. I).

Justin Phillip’s dam, Ava Knowsthecode, a daughter of Cryptoclearance, was another tough runner, starting 29 times over four seasons, winning three times, and gaining black type with a third in the Senorita Stakes (gr. IIIT). Useful as she was as a runner, Ava Knowsthecode has been even better as a producer. Six of her seven foals to start are winners and five are stakes winners. The most naturally talented, besides Justin Phillip, would be Algorithms  and Keyed Entry. Algorithms, a son of Bernardini , was undefeated in three starts but had to be retired after suffering a career-ending injury following a five-length victory over Hansen in the Holy Bull Stakes (gr. III). Keyed Entry, who was by Honour and Glory, set a track record when defeating First Samurai for the Hutcheson Stakes (gr. II) and also won the Deputy Minister Handicap (gr. III). Ava Knowsthecode’s other stakes winners were Successful Mission, a Successful Appeal  gelding who took the Miami Mile Handicap (gr. IIIT), and Alex's Allure, a daughter of Sky Classic who was successful in the Senorita Stakes at Louisiana Downs. Justin Phillip’s granddam, Ava Romance (by the Santa Anita Derby and Belmont Stakes, both gr. I, scorer Avatar), was a stakes winner at Thistledown and Hawthorne, and also produced the minor stakes winners Time for Romance and Ava Singstheblues.

Justin Phillip (TrueNicks) and Le Mi Geaux are the two stakes winners from only four starters and three stakes horses sired by First Samurai out of mares by Cryptoclearance, a mating that gives Fappiano (sire of Cryptoclearance and of First Samurai’s second dam) 4x3.