Up close and personal with Justify as he enjoys role as a tourist attraction
The son of Scat Daddy is at WinStar as he prepares for his stallion career
He strides into the golden glow of the spotlight like a movie star and throws back his head, his expression almost cocky as he eyes the buzzing crowd aiming an arsenal of cell phones and cameras at him in search of the perfect selfie with racing royalty.
This brief performance before noon is the most work Triple Crown winner Justify is called upon to do these days during his halcyon interlude at WinStar Farm following his brilliant 112-day run to glory and before the beginning of his stud career.
The unbeaten son of Scat Daddy has handled the transition from track to farm life just as adeptly as he blitzed through all six of his races, and fans are lining up to see the 16.3-hand equine superstar, buy merchandise bearing his name and snap their selfies.
Tours around WinStar, which raced the bright chestnut in partnership with China Horse Club, SF Racing, Starling Racing and Head of Plains Partners, are sold out through late October.
“He’s doing really well,” said WinStar stallion manager Larry McGinnis after leading Justify around the show area of the farm’s main stallion barn. “He gets a little antsy during the tours, but you walk him around and he settles in fine. He’s just a really smart horse.”
While it is widely expected that Justify will move approximately a dozen miles west to stand at Coolmore’s Ashford Stud for the 2019 breeding season, official confirmation of a deal that has been described as pending has not yet been provided.
“I’m not sure,” McGinnis said when asked about future plans, including how long Justify will stay at WinStar. “I’m just waiting. The guys have told me what I need to do. I’m getting him turned out in a paddock and getting him let down and letting him relax. We’re doing as much as we can in getting him turned out. When they tell me to do something different, we’ll do something different.”
It was McGinnis’s idea to set up the selfie opportunity for the fan tours, organised in conjunction with Kentucky’s Horse Country venture in which many prominent farms participate, once Justify became used to his new surroundings.
His arrival at WinStar on August 1 was accompanied by the announcement that the farm expected to make him available to the public for about 45 days through the tours. That arrival was not without its challenges to McGinnis and his staff.
But since a rambunctious moment that gave him a scare, McGinnis said Justify has relaxed and seems to enjoy his new, stress-free routine.
“He was a little fresh coming off the van, let’s put it that way, but we survived it,” McGinnis said with a laugh. “He’s getting close to where you could lead him with a rope shank now. We won’t do that, but he’s that relaxed now.”
With that in mind but also knowing Justify has a well-documented history of biting people, McGinnis set up a small but decorative waist-high partition in the stallion barn show area, behind which fans participating in the tours stand. He or his assistant, Veronica Reed, lead the colt very close to the fans and stop him intermittently, letting each person have a chance to try to get a selfie or a close-up shot of America’s 13th Triple Crown winner.
“I saw people trying to do that, so I said let’s see if we can work it out. Veronica is probably not too happy with me because she’s had a couple of close calls with him getting a little too close to people. But it’s worked out pretty well - it’s kind of a neat interaction for the public,” McGinnis said.
Other than his tour sessions, Justify’s days are serene. He gets breakfast at around 7am and then is turned out in a small paddock until around 11am, when he comes in to get ready for his fans.
Afterwards, he is served lunch and goes back outside until around 4pm.
“As long as he’s happy, we’ll keep him out as long as we can. Then he’ll come back in and spend the night in the stall right now. We’re moving toward getting him in a bigger paddock and possibly having him out at night,” said McGinnis, noting that Justify has, for the most part, handled himself ideally.
“The first time we let him go in the paddock he was extremely good. The second time he ran around a little bit. I think it finally clicked into him after an hour of being outside that ‘Oh, nobody’s holding me, nobody’s grazing me, I’m free.’ So he was just excited and really happy and bucking and playing. We grabbed him; obviously, I got a little nervous and grabbed him and settled him down, and he just went back to grazing. He hasn’t turned a hair since,” McGinnis said.
Since stud plans have not been announced and the focus at this time of year is on yearlings, not many breeders have come by to inspect Justify to date.
“They’ll be really happy when they do see him, I can tell you that,” McGinnis said. “He’s just huge and muscled. And he has a confidence that comes through.”
When Justify was first led through the WinStar barn, the established stallions challenged him vocally. Justify was unfazed, instead indicating that he was willing to take them on, McGinnis related.
“He has that air, like ‘I’m top dog.’ He’s going to be a very good stallion,” McGinnis said. “Life is good for him now. If he’s not eating, he’s sleeping usually, which is good. He’s a pretty happy horse.”