Justify’s Win Illustrates a Major Problem in Horse Racing

By Charles Simon

Justify ran his eyeballs out in winning the Preakness and, truly, he has done some amazing things by being pushed to the limit in a modern racing world where risk taking is seemingly a foreign concept. He is headed to Belmont with a chance to win a quite unique version of the Triple Crown. However, one of the biggest underlying issues of horse racing is being exposed during this fantastic and rapid ascent by Justify.

The very top of racing is polluted with conflicts of interest, with too few horsemen training all the best horses for a narrow group of very wealthy people that have increasingly chosen to join together rather than compete against each other. When Triple Crown-runs and our most important races are now potentially compromised because of that situation, how much longer until the validity of the results of the sport are questioned?

Derby144 workout Justify at Santa AnitaAx Man won the Sir Barton over the same track as Justify did on Saturday with a better speed figure (99 to 97). Does that mean he would have won Preakness or is better than Justify? Absolutely not, but it does mean that him not participating in the Belmont Stakes because his trainer is shooting for a Triple Crown with a different horse is a little unsettling. I completely understand why they wouldn’t run, but it’s still an uncomfortable situation to try to explain away.

Audible might have won the Preakness considering the 1/2 length margin that Justify won by over clearly inferior horses with running styles very similar to Audible’s running style. If Audible who is owned by the same group that owns Justify doesn’t run in the Belmont and goes on to be the best three year old post-Triple Crown season, it could be the first modern day Triple Crown that comes with an asterisk.

Sure, Justify is a great horse who will have earned it if he completes the Triple Crown with a Belmont win but having potentially two of the arguably top five, healthy three year olds not competing because everyone seems to be on the same team… well, to be kind, it is not a ‘good look.’ We have no idea if they could beat him but the whole idea of racing is to race to see if they can.

These are our very best and most important races, and they are increasingly fraught with conflict of interest which are more readily apparent because of the spotlight focused on the Triple Crown. Think about how compromised our regular graded stakes can be affected in a similar though more subtle manner? We won’t even go into regular overnight races and the issues created there.

The entire premise of the sport of horse racing is competition. “My horse is better than yours. Let’s prove it on the track”. The more bastardized the top of the sport becomes, the more the foundation of the entire game is weakened. If this past week’s white-hot debate over the ‘future of racing in a sports betting legalized world’ doesn’t make this situation even more troubling, you just aren’t paying attention.

Imagine if the owners of the Golden State Warriors bought a 20-percent stake in the Houston Rockets before the Western Conference Finals? How do you think that would go over with sports fans? And our sport is supported by people BETTING on it!


  • Charles Simon is a successful, veteran trainer based out of South Florida.

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About Editor

Rich Nilsen is a 19-time qualifier to the National Horseplayers Championship (NHC), an event he has cashed in four times. He was the first player to finish in the top 10 of the NHC twice. A former executive with Brisnet.com and a member of the NHC Players’ Committee, Rich is a graduate of the University of Louisville Equine Business Program and is founder of AGameofSkill.com, a site devoted to horse racing education and promotion.


  1. Terri Bey says

    The asterisk movement has to go. What a dumb article. So, what if Audible didn’t run in the Preakness.

  2. Sarah McCarthy says

    This is kind of nuts. Exactly the opposite DID happen.

    The ownership group of Justify own Quip, who was a bit of a wise guy horse coming into the Preakness, and thought to have a chance and one that could compromise Justify. Without the slop, Quip very well might have. In the event, he bobbled at the start, lost all position, and was ultimately eased. But had he broken cleanly, he was expected to press the pace, which would have freed Good Magic from that job, and the race would have had a very different complexion. Before the race, Eliot Walden was asked why on earth the would run another horse who could compromise, their big horse, Justify’s chances at the Triple Crown. He said, in essence, that if Justify was worthy of winning the Triple Crown, he would beat all comers. He was roundly, and deservedly, lauded as a true sportsman.

    Ax Man on the other hand would have been a big longshot in the Preakness. He had only 3 prior lifetime starts, with wins in an MSW and a first condition allowance race. He had been 4th, beating only two horses, and losing to Kanthaka, by over 16 lengths in he only stakes try. I cannot think Baffert was too worried about Ax Man beating Justify. And it would have been a lousy thing for Ax Man to throw him to against the best 3yos, in his 4th start. Justify had run just 3 times before the Derby, but Justify is a truly rare individual. Ax Man may turn out to be a great horse, but he has never been Justify, and has a ways to go to prove otherwise.

    As for Audible, it has always been Pletcher’s pattern to skip the Preakness with horses who don’t win the Derby. Why on earth should they run back in two weeks with Audible? That is horsemanship, not a lack of sportsmanship.

  3. Josh Pryzbek says

    Food for thought….

  4. Major problem in horse racing? Did this happen in last year’s Triple Crown races or the TC races in 2015? How often is this a problem in Breeder’s Cup races? Yes I know that Audible will probably not run in the Belmont probably because of connections but the Ax Man angle is a bunch of BS. Baffert knows the distance limitations of Ax Man and is smart to look after the best interests of that horse by #1 targeting shooter than marathon distance like a mile and a half. #2 he know Ax Man is no Justify and will make sure he keeps Ax Man away from a superior horse.

  5. jay romig says

    any damn trainer whose horses all flash speed and keep on going 2 furlongs further than their opponents , is using something for wind, and something for red blood cells, but what would an actual chemist know

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