Justify, the wonder horse that could
As many of our readers know, I am a big horsewoman. I enjoy all disciplines of horsemanship, including thoroughbred racing. We now have a new Triple Crown winner, a big red colt named Justify. He is the 13th Triple Crown winner, and only the second to win with an undefeated record. The three year-old, trained by horse racing legend Bob Baffert, has a royal racing pedigree including Seattle Slew, Secretariat, Count Fleet and War Admiral. All have also won the Triple Crown.
Justify is a large Thoroughbred, coming in at a staggering 16.3 hands (67 inches for you non-horsey people) and a whopping 1,380 pounds. He has been described as “light on his feet,” for such large horse.
Baffert was also the trainer of the last Triple Crown Winner, American Pharoah, who earned his title in 2015. While American Pharoah was known to be an easy-going horse, Baffert described Justify as a little more testy in an interview with the Washington Post on June 10.
“You have to watch him,” said Baffert. “He likes to push you around. He’s not a mean horse, but his patience level with people is, like, five seconds.”
Justify came out the gate at the 2018 Belmont Stakes with a frighteningly quick opening quarter of 23.37 seconds. Legendary jockey Mike Smith guided the colt to the rail and finished the mile and a half race in 2:28 minutes. He had hardly a speck of dirt on him, he stayed in the lead the entire race.
I have a lot of respect for racehorses and the jockeys that ride them. The horses have a heart for running and the jockeys often endure hair-raising injuries from riding these young horses at break-neck speeds.
There are also a lot of racehorses that don’t fare so well after their careers end. Horses that don’t run well on the track are retired early for running too slow. A good trainer will find a nice home for the horse and the horse will be retrained to become a hunter-jumper, eventer, dressage horse or even a barrel racing horse.
A bad trainer will take their horse, or horses, to a sale barn where they will get sold to the highest bidder to make a one-way trip to Mexico. As incredulous as this sounds, it happens all the time.
I once owned an ex-racer whose registered name was Gold Expedition. He was also a big red horse and I didn’t care much for his name so I called him (you probably guessed it) Big Red. He had been given to me by a trainer friend of mine who had rescued him from a bad situation. When I got Big Red, he was skin and bones. Every vertebrae and rib was visible. His hair coat was sloughing off, his teeth needed to be floated (trimmed) and he was lethargic.
He was a mighty poor sight for eyes. However, I could see he still had some spark in him so I decided to take a chance.
Big Red had won just over $67,000 on the track and was raced until he was six, which is old for a racehorse.
After Big Red gained some weight back, I started putting him back into training. It was clear the horse was talented, but I needed to figure out what he was best at. I started doing some barrel racing on him, which he was good at but I could tell he didn’t want to run anymore. We moved onto jumping, but he was just a bit of a klutz. The one thing Big Red really loved was trail riding. Nothing scared him. Water? Loved it. Hopping over logs? Loved it. Galloping across the field, albeit slightly terrifying for me, Big Red loved. Though he hated to run barrels, Big Red loved to run in an open pasture, free from the monotony of the racetrack.
I had Big Red for a little over two years and ultimately decided to sell him because I loved barrel racing. He’s now in possession of a trail riding company in Aledo, spending time out on the trails, far from the racetrack.
Bethann Coldiron is the editor of the Burleson Star. She has been riding horses since she was a child and currently competes in Ranch Versatility competitions with her Appaloosa mare Going for Kelly Rose.