Can Justify Join Racing’s Most Elite Club of Triple Crown Winners? After All, He Wasn’t Last Year’s 2-Year-Old Champ

Rob Murphy, Breeding Analyst

The most exclusive list in thoroughbred racing is this group of horses – the twelve Triple Crown winners.

Sir Barton (1919), Gallant Fox (1930), Omaha (1935), War Admiral (1937), Whirlaway (1941), Count Fleet (1943), Assault (1946), Citation (1948), Secretariat (1973), Seattle Slew (1977), Affirmed (1978), and American Pharoah (2015).

I started watching racing in the 1970s as a casual fan.  My favorite horse, Seattle Slew, won the Triple Crown while still undefeated.  I named my miniature dachshund after him. In an upside down way, I named my business after Slew, M375 Thoroughbreds.  With three winners in six years in the 70s, and almost three in a row, it was as if there should be a Triple Crown winner every year.

Then the drought….thirty-seven long, frustrating, difficult years… people wanted to change the rules, people wanted to change the breed.

But, eventually, that streak was snapped. Finally.

All we needed was the reigning 2yo champion to attempt the Triple Crown. When he finally did, he won it.  That’s all it took.

In 37 years since Spectacular Bid, only American Pharoah was the returning champ. Only American Pharoah had the opportunity.  Only American Pharoah got it done.

These horses were certainly excellent runners: California Chrome (2014), I’ll Have Another (2012), Big Brown (2008), Smarty Jones (2004), Funny Cide (2003), War Emblem (2002), Charismatic (1999), Real Quiet (1998), Silver Charm (1997), Sunday Silence (1989), Alysheba (1987), Pleasant Colony (1981).

But none was the reigning champ.  Some were undefeated when they broke out of the gate in the Belmont. Only American Pharoah…

In about three weeks, we will see another brilliant 3-year-old colt, Justify, by Scat Daddy, out of the Ghostzapper mare, Stage Magic, seek to join that elusive company as a Triple Crown winner.

He is undefeated.

He broke the curse of Apollo from 1882.

Yet, he was not the Eclipse Award winner from last year.


There are many conflicting thoughts and circumstances.  There is a lot yet unknown.  The one thing I do know is that I will be watching from my living room. I might even get on my knees and pound the floor rooting Justify home, just like my mom did for Affirmed in 1978.

Affirmed and my mom got the job done. Go, Justify!


The horse broke well today,” Gaffalione said. “I had the horse inside, Dunph, going to the lead and then (Gun It) showed a little bit of speed. When I saw they were intent on going I just tried to get him back and got him to relax. He came back to me nicely and settled well down the backside. Got a little keen going into the far turn and wanted to move a little early. But I didn’t want to take too much away from him so I tried to sit as long as I could. He was waiting on horses down the lane but I kept him at task and there was plenty of horse there.”

“Mark (Casse, the trainer) and his team have done a great job,” Gaffalione said. “They’ve had a ton of confidence in this horse the whole way. It’s just an honor to be able to ride the horse. He’s just so professional, trains great and he’s a pleasure to be around.”

Tyler Gaffalione, Rode of War of Will to victory in the G2 Risen Star Stakes at the Fair Grounds
  • Rob Murphy

    Rob Murphy

    A horse racing and thoroughbred enthusiast, Murphy has devised his own method for handicapping and breeding. Murphy's company, M375 Thoroughbreds, Inc., has bred, raised and raced successful horses such as Platinum Tiara, Swing and Miss, Diamond Studs, Strike Three and Golden Spikes. Murphy is a former Major League Baseball player. ...

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