Let’s Discuss: Justified?

Despite my own personal mixed feelings regarding horse racing, I do inevitably get excited when the Triple Crown rolls around. Why? Because for just a few minutes every year, the rest of the nation becomes as fascinated by horses as equestrians are on the daily. No matter whether or not you ever rode a horse, the thrill of seeing American Pharoah break an almost 40 year drought and take the Triple Crown- that was something that just set the heart on fire.

But there to douse the flames are some of the horrors that inevitably come with mixing horses and money- it invites greed to look past some of the basic principles of horsemanship, and take advantage of a creature bound to do our will. And I won’t pretend that racing is the only victim to this side of human nature. Every horse discipline, every industry has seen its fair share of a turned eye, or pushing just that bit too far, and no one can claim total innocence.

And yet there, on the morning after the Derby, questions arose. Charismatic trainer Bob Baffert led the stunning Justify out to meet an adoring press, and horsepeople looked on in dismay. That horse was not sound. Not at all.

Baffert clearly says in the video that he came out of the Derby “really well”, and yet, the horse won’t comfortably put weight on his left hind. Later in a press conference, Baffert said that the horse had Scratches, a skin infection that was irritated by the gravel. Then it was circulated that the horse had a bruised foot.

In the end, Justify was cleared for the Preakness, and made himself even more valuable by winning the second leg of the Triple Crown. At my particular viewing party, we all watched him walk before and after with eagle eyes, and couldn’t come to a unified consensus on whether he looked 100% or not. And yet, he won, and surely we’ll see him again in the Belmont at the end of the summer.

For my part, I hope he does well, and I hope that all the curfuffle really is just an ill timed stone bruise, or a skin infection. Justify is one of the strongest, well boned TB’s to win the Derby since Big Brown 10 years ago. His lack of a 2 yr old season may set an excellent precedent for later-started, but successful horses that have more longevity in their careers, both on the track and in potential sporthorse disciplines.

Things I do wonder about, and I hope there are informed individuals out there who can fill us in…
What kind of vetting is required, if any, before these big races? How is transparency viewed in the racing industry? What medications are allowed to be used (NSAIDs, etc) on the track? Do you think Justify has a shot at the Belmont? Is there a horse out there that you prefer? Where do you think the racing industry should go, or practices they should adopt?

10 thoughts on “Let’s Discuss: Justified?

  1. I’ll be the first to raise my hand and say I know next to nothing about racing and the racing industry. I was a little disheartened sewing Justified after the Derby looking so uncomfortable and thought it wasn’t a great choice for equestrian sports in general to show that so publicly.

    • I agree- as an equestrian watching that video I definitely felt squirmy. It should be obvious that horsepeople love their horses and this…. well this was definitely a less-than-obviously loving sort of situation.

  2. I found this article about the farrier and the work he did on Justify. It seems like it was a bruise and not scratches.


    I’m a little miffed with Baffert anyway. I don’t.. necessarily trust him that he’d put horse welfare before his wallet. But I also don’t know enough about the racing industry to make a fully informed judgement of anything regarding rules, transparency or anything of that sort.

    • Thank you for sharing this link- so interesting! I hadn’t heard of the 3/4 shoe before, but that makes sense if it was a heel bruise. To Carly’s point below though, it definitely seems like a bandaid.

  3. All racehorses are vetted on the regular. They have to pass a vet check the day of the race whether it’s a claiming race or a stakes race. They would not have let the horse run if it had been lame. That said, there’s a whole lot of patch work that can be done to make the horse LOOK sound even if he was still sore from the foot problem(s). Medication rules vary by state. I personally don’t think Justify has a shot in the Belmont, and wouldn’t be surprised if he comes up sore again before then and gets retired.

    • I agree that the Belmont seems like a long shot. That’s good to know though about the vetting- and an astute observation that you can maybe put a bandaid on a lot of things to get them through. It does make you wonder again about the transparency of things, the changing stories, etc…

  4. Money can make people do just about anything, including having vets mask bigger issues to get across the line. It’s a tough spot to be in as a vet because if they don’t use you, they will use someone else and who knows how much work they get from that trainer/owner. They are playing around here with far more than just one horse, one reputation, one job. I would hope that no one would ever do this but history dictates that just isn’t the case.

    How is transparency viewed in the racing industry?
    Poorly. Public perception of racing is plummeting fast and incidents like the one you posted above are why. They used to be able to justify behaviours as normal because there was less awareness of practices, less videos and social media. Now you get one video like this with a couple of upset horse people which turns viral. Maybe it is a simple stone bruise but the aforementioned lack of transparency has made people naturally inclined to distrust those in charge. I know I do, and I am not even anti-racing as a whole.

    What medications are allowed to be used (NSAIDs, etc) on the track?
    Corticosteroids and bute (NSAIDs) are legal on the track.
    They shouldn’t be.

    Do you think Justify has a shot at the Belmont?
    I haven’t been following the triple crown from down here. It would be lovely to say yes, the idea of winning the triple crown is amazing, but if he has soundness struggles I really hope not.

    Where do you think the racing industry should go, or practices they should adopt?
    Change is coming for the industry and I don’t think they are prepared to make the concessions they will need to in order to retain social license granted by the public. I am intrigued to see where this will take us though in regards to all horse sports, because you can bet if they get this one to topple in a major way there will be a flow on effect to all horse sports.

  5. Justify’s future breeding career alone is reason enough not to risk running him injured – it doesn’t make sense financially. I don’t pretend to know the inside scoop from the backside, but I’ve followed Bob Baffert’s career since he started training thoroughbreds. Besides snagging the first triple crown since forever, he has trained so many exceptional horses – I tend to think he’s one of the good guys. You don’t get where he is by disregarding the health of the horses.

    • I’m not a big Baffert fan and haven’t been ever, but that horse is worth way too much money to risk running him if he’s not 100%. Yes, a bandaid could help pass a vet, but at this level, he’s not running if he’s not sound. Not. Worth. It.

  6. What boggles my mind is their farrier practices. His heels are so extremely underrun (from the photos I have seen) that it’s no surprise he’s in pain…he is walking on his internal structures. I know long toe low heel is common in the racing industry…. but that is SO outdated. How can such a prominent horse not have better farrier care than that? Is it, “we always do what we’ve always done and it works,” ignoring the long term consequences? I mean I guess I see shitty hoof care at the top of all equine sports, but there’s no money in other disciplines like there is in racing and you would think that solid hoof care would be a priority. SO crazy to me.

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