When aptly-named Justify rolled to victory in the April 7 Santa Anita Derby (G1), the impressive performance by the chestnut son of Scat Daddy not only affirmed the betting public's confidence that made him the 9-10 favorite, but it also justified his $500,000 yearling purchase price.
Offered by breeder John Gunther's Glennwood Farm at the 2016 Keeneland September yearling sale, Justify was hammered down to the account of China Horse Club and Maverick Racing. Trained by Bob Baffert, the colt who is undefeated in three starts entering the Kentucky Derby Presented by Woodford Reserve (G1) now races for WinStar Farm, China Horse Club, Head of Plains Racing, and Starlight Racing.
A March 28, 2015, foal, Justify was produced from the Ghostzapper mare Stage Magic, a $133,981 earner whose four stakes placings included a third in the Gardenia Stakes (G3) at Ellis Park. She is also the dam of stakes-placed The Lieutenant (by Street Sense ).
As a foal Justify shared a paddock with another Glennwood-bred and -sold 3-year-old, Wood Memorial Stakes presented by NYRA Bets (G2) winner Vino Rosso. In a recent interview with BloodHorse MarketWatch, Gunther said, "Justify knew he was a champion. He just has that look that tells you he's good."
That's the same look representatives of WinStar and China Horse Club saw in the colt when he went through the ring at Keeneland, according to WinStar general manager David Hanley.
Hanley said he and WinStar president and CEO Elliott Walden were taken by the colt, and their assessment was seconded by China Horse Club representatives Michael Wallace, Tom Ryan, and Mick Flanagan.
"He was a beautiful yearling—had great balance and leg, great shoulder and lovely length, and neck, and power," Hanley said. "He had great stature—was a very impressive horse when he was pulled out in front of you. For a big horse he was very light on his feet with good action and good energy. All in all, he looked like a nice package. He moved like a horse that could be a powerful dirt horse. All the partners liked him.
"Obviously there was plenty of interest because we had to pay a lot for him," Hanley continued. "But he was one Elliott and our partners felt very strongly about having a good shot at buying. Sometimes you get them and sometimes you get outbid. Luckily he fell our way."
In addition to his looks and movement, Justify had a pedigree with appeal. He is by a promising young Ashford Stud stallion whose career was cut short when he died unexpectedly. Scat Daddy has since emerged as a leading sire.
"He is out of a Ghostzapper mare and the second dam was by Pulpit, so you have two classic dirt horses on the bottom side in Awesome Again (Ghostzapper's sire) and A.P. Indy (the sire of Pulpit). So he ticked a lot of the boxes we look for," Hanley said.
While the partners had high expectations for Justify, they were patient and allowed the colt to grow into his large frame.
"We always thought he would go a classic distance on dirt. He was a big horse and as a 2-year-old we gave him a little bit of time," Hanley said of Justify, who did not make his first start until Feb. 18 of this year when he won at first asking by 9 1/2 lengths in maiden special weight company at Santa Anita Park. That was followed by a 6 1/2-length victory in an allowance optional-claiming event before his Santa Anita Derby triumph.
"He has benefited from that time and has only matured into what he is as a 3-year-old," Hanley said of the decision to give the colt time to justify his owners' confidence.