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How Does Justify Compare to American Pharoah?

by Johnny D

May 10, 2018

Earlier this week I received an inquisitive e-mail from a friend containing a link to a Sports Illustrated article by Tim Layden posted at MSN.com, Justify Elicits Comparisons to American Pharoah in First Step of Following Same Historic Path. 

The question my friend asked is, “So, what do you think?” 

As I typed a reply it occurred that others might be interested in an opinion regarding a comparison between American Pharoah, our last Triple Crown winner, and Justify, the current threat to sweep the series.

Here’s my reply:

Since you asked…

Justify is bigger than American Pharoah with an accompanying stouter caboose. He’s more radiant in coat--although chestnuts seem to have a strange advantage; like how gentlemen prefer blondes.

While I haven’t measured it with a ruler, Justify’s stride appears to be longer than Pharoah’s was. However, the former isn’t quite as nimble nor as smooth changing leads as the latter. When Juistify readjusts the weight of that massive frame from one prime limb to the other he does it with a deliberate move, almost a thud. If Justify suggests strength, power, dominance, Pharoah, implied poetry in motion. A silk scarf in a gentle breeze. When he switched leads it was accomplished with a magician’s sleight of hand. Now you see it, now you don’t.

Both equines are worthy of devotion. Feel free to observe in awe. I doubt you will see such brilliance again. Of course, I said that when ‘Pharoah roamed between the rails. And then along came Arrogate and his record-setting Travers and stupendous Dubai World Cup. And now there’s Justify. Amazingly, coincidentally or not surprisingly Bob Baffert is trainer to all. Is Baffert that good, or just that lucky? Probably a little of both. And he’d definitely admit to it, too.

When you’ve watched as many races as we have--40+ years-worth--it’s downright inspiring to see such magnificence—in the horses mainly, but to some degree Baffert, too. In full-flight these equines are as captivating as works of art. Masterpieces. Perhaps, I have seen others like this. Spectacular Bid immediately comes to mind. However, I fear that I may have been too inexperienced to fully appreciate them. Not now, though. I’m soaking it all in. Making up for lost time.

As to whether Justify, like 'Pharoah, can win the Triple Crown…it’s not a slam dunk conclusion. He’s certainly talented enough and we’re not that concerned with the Preakness outcome. Justify should win handily. We’re more bothered by Belmont prospects, specifically, the possibly cumulative toll of so many demanding races squeezed into such a short timeframe.

Several horses that finished behind Justify in the Kentucky Derby ran solid races on Cinco de Mayo. Of note are Audible, Hofburg, Instilled Regard and My Boy Jack. Derby alums skipping Preakness will benefit from roughly one month’s rest before Belmont. Others that may have passed on both Derby and Preakness will enjoy an even longer freshening.

As potential heir to the Crown, Justify positively must toil in Baltimore. And no matter how facile the triumph there the confluence between overexertion and challenger rejuvenation might occur exactly where it has so many times before: somewhere in that seemingly endless Belmont homestretch. 

We qualify the above scenario with the word ‘might’ because Justify, so far, has raised the bar; achieved heights that no horse has realized for almost as long as they’ve been lining up equines and wagering on which one is fastest. Normal rules don’t apply to him. He’s unique. An exception.

Exceptions are everywhere in horse racing. Every day. We even have names for some that surprise us on a regular basis. We call them longshots. Upsets. Dark horses. But when one does the things Justify has done we lovingly refer to it as a freak.

Both Justify and American Pharoah are incredibly special. Amazing athletes, but different.  Born of a similar era but as distinctive as Jordan from Lebron. Mays from Aaron. Manning from Brady. It’s fun to compare and to contrast the greats over a cold one. However, don’t let the side show discussion detract from what’s happening right now under the big tent.

So, that’s what I think. Aren’t you glad you asked?

Race On!