SNIDER: Does Justify rank among top 5 ever?

Rick Snider
June 11, 2018 - 1:54 pm

Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports


Justify made winning the Triple Crown look boring. He just went to the early lead and never looked back while sweeping the Kentucky Derby, Preakness and finally the Belmont Stakes on Sunday.

After American Pharoah ended the crown's 37-year drought in 2015, the pressure was off Justify to carry an industry. He was never truly tested despite two wet tracks. Justify joined Seattle Slew as the only undefeated champions at 6-0, with maybe three races left before becoming a $75 million stallion.

The only question left for Justify is where he ranks among the 13 Triple Crown champions. The rest of his career may impact the rankings.

The greatest Triple Crown champion ever is Secretariat. There's no debate, not even in the wee hours of bar closings when little makes sense. Secretariat set Derby and Belmont records, including a 31-length win in the latter. He would have earned the Preakness mark too if not for a teletimer problem.

Citation is considered No. 2 after his 1941 sweep, then War Admiral (1937) and Count Fleet (1943).

But Justify could compete with American Pharoah for No. 5 over Seattle Slew (1977) and Affirmed (1978). The latter three all followed the Triple Crown with impressive victories. American Pharoah won the Breeders' Cup Classic later that year. Seattle Slew defeated Affirmed in the 1978 Marlboro Cup.

They were all killers, and if Justify wants that No. 5 ranking, trainer Bob Baffert needs to grind out a couple more wins. That Justify won six races in 111 days after not racing as a two-year-old is amazing. The colt looked dead tired at the Preakness finish line, yet quickly bounced back for the Belmont. He's a massive 16.3 hands and nearly 1,400 pounds that is even bigger than "Big Red" Secretariat.

Baffert is undecided on Justify’s future races. Most likely, the colt has earned a rest until the Pacific Classic on Aug. 18 at Del Mar, or the Travers Stakes on Aug. 25 at Saratoga. There will probably be a late September/early October race and then the Breeders' Cup Classic on Nov. 3 at Churchill Downs.

And then retirement most certainly looms. There will be nothing left for Justify to accomplish on the track. Certainly, he'll finish among the top eight greatest crown champions, and who knows – maybe the top five.

Rick Snider has covered Washington sports since 1978. Follow him on Twitter: @Snide_Remarks