Justify’s Triple Crown run caps magical run for Canadian breeder

John Gunther, owner of Glennwood Farm in Kentucky, bred 13th U.S. Triple Crown champion Justify

Justify, with jockey Mike Smith up, crosses the finish line to win the 150th running of the Belmont Stakes horse race and the Triple Crown, Saturday, June 9, 2018, in Elmont, N.Y. (AP Photo/Peter Morgan)

What a ride it’s been for Canadian John Gunther and Glennwood Farm.

Justify captured the Belmont Stakes by 1 3/4 lengths Saturday to become just the 13th U.S. Triple Crown champion and second since 1978. The majestic chestnut colt was bred at Glennwood Farm in Versailles, Ky., which is owned by Gunther and run by his daughter, Tanya.

“What an amazing experience, my heart was pounding and I had to sit down,” said Gunther, who witnessed Justify’s historic run at Belmont Park. “Everybody was in tears, the staff at Glennwood, my daughter and even myself.

“It’s just incredible to consider the horse’s first start was Feb. 18. What he’s accomplished in such a short time is just really incredible, I just don’t know what else to say.”

It was Tanya Gunther who paired Justify’s sire (Scat Daddy) and mare (Stage Magic). John Gunther credits his daughter’s encyclopedic understanding of blood-lines for creating the champion thoroughbred.

“This means everything to Glennwood,” said John Gunther. ”We’re a small, petite farm and now we’re going to be recognized around the world.

“Any time we’re consigning yearlings we’re going to get people certainly taking a second look at our consignments when we do sell yearlings. We’ve been able to brand something very special in what we’ve accomplished.”

RELATED: Triple Crown hopes dashed for B.C. jockey

The Gunthers knew shortly after Justify’s birth he was something special. In fact, John Gunther, of Langley, B.C., was so convinced Justify would win the Triple Crown he boldly predicted the sweep long before the horse’s Kentucky Derby win last month.

“What’s most impressive about him is his mental attitude, nothing upsets him at all,” Gunther said. “You look at 170,000 people yelling and screaming at the Kentucky Derby and he doesn’t even turn a hair.

“When we saw him in the paddock (Saturday), he just looked so typically fantastic. He even looked like he added a few pounds from the Preakness, I mean, this horse just recovers so amazingly quick.”

At 6-0, Justify joins the legendary Seattle Slew (1977) as the only two undefeated Triple Crown winners. Justify is also the first horse to register the sweep without racing as a two-year-old due to a pulled muscle.

Justify’s pedigree features plenty of Canadian content.

Scat Daddy’s bloodlines include Canadian-breds Nijinsky (an English Triple Crown champion), Northern Dancer and Storm Bird. Stage Magic’s genealogy features Canadian Hall of Famer Awesome Again — the 1997 Queen’s Plate and 1998 Breeders’ Cup Classic champion — and Canadian-breds Deputy Minister, Vice Regent and Mint Copy.

By winning the Derby, Justify broke the dreaded Apollo Curse, becoming the first horse to win that race after not starting as a two-year-old since Apollo did in 1882.

Justify was a US$500,000 Keeneland September yearling purchase by China Horse Club and Maverick Racing. He earned $800,000 for winning the Belmont, boosting his career total to almost $3.8 million.

Justify’s quick ascent to North American prominence will undoubtedly put pressure on Glennwood to produce another Triple Crown contender. But it’s a challenge Gunther welcomes.

“To achieve a result like this, how do you beat it?”he said. “But you’ve got to keep doing it just to try it again

“We’ve just got to keep working and working and working and just try to produce more graded stakes winners.”

Justify joins a long list of champions Glennwood has bred or co-bred including First Samurai (Grade 1 winner, $915,075 earned); Mo Town (co-bred, Grade 1 winner); My Miss Sophia (second 2014 Kentucky Oaks); Stay Thirsty (co-bred, Grade 1 winner, $1.936 million); Stevie Wonderboy (co-bred, 2005 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile champion, $1.059 million); and Tamarkuz (2016 Breeders’ Cup dirt mile winner, $1.84 million).

And Gunther might have to look no further than his farm for the next Justify. The Triple Crown winner’s yet unnamed half-brother is a yearling at Glennwood and is the spitting image of his older sibling.

“He’s as impressive as Justify was as a yearling,” Gunther said. “When the half-brother was foaled he was lying in the stall and his legs were so long that I said to Tanya, ‘Well, here’s one we can’t sell.’

“I didn’t even realize it was Justify’s half-brother and it was Stage Magic who’d had the foal.”

That goes against the traditional breeding business practice of selling the yearlings to help fund their operation. But Gunther opted to follow his gut with this decision, which came long before Justify’s emergence as a champion racehorse.

“If he can run like Justify or almost as good, that would do it,” Gunther said. ”If he could win a graded race it would be unbelievable.”

Especially considering another Stage Magic offspring, The Lieutenant, won a Grade III race last month, giving the mare two recent graded states winners.

“That mare is so special,” Gunther said. “She really puts everything into her foals.”

Gunther guesses Justify’s next race will be $1.25-million Grade 1 Travers Stakes on Aug. 25 at Saratoga, with an eventual appearance at the Breeder’s Cup. But with the Triple Crown in tow, Gunther believes the pressure is off Justify.

“No more pressure,” Gunther said. “He’s done everything I or anyone could dream of.”

Dan Ralph, The Canadian Press

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Just Posted

Many gather to Chip in for Health Care with annual tournament

The annual golf tournamnet in Sylvan Lake was a fundraiser for the AACS

The Hlinka Cup exhibition game a great success for Sylvan Lake

Sylvan Lake held an exhibition game for the Hlinka Gretzky Cup on Aug. 4

Central Alberta Buccaneers come up short against Monarchs

Bucs’ lose star quarterback in heartbreaking affair

Ponoka man faces 95 theft-related charges

Police recover stolen license plates, mail, tools

Latest Lock it or Lose it campaigns give drivers poor scores

Red Deer RCMP flag visible garage door openers as a temptation to thieves

Pride in the Park takes over Bower Ponds

Central Alberta Pride week continues in Red Deer

Red Deer RCMP seek public assistance to locate Bruce Redhead

There is concern that he may have lost his way

Gun used in Fredericton killings is legal, man had licence

Police Chief Leanne Fitch said the long gun is commonly available for purchase, and is not a prohibited or restricted weapon

Ontario will sell pot online when legalization comes in the fall

There are further plans to have pot in private retail stores in early 2019

Will Idris Elba be the first black James Bond?

The British actor is fueling speculation on Twitter

Cooler weather helps crews fight Southern California wildfire

The Holy Fire has destroyed 16 structures in the Cleveland National Forest

One trillion litres of sewage leaked into lakes and rivers over last five years

Toronto, like the vast majority of Canadian cities, doesn’t monitor real-time data of sewage leaks into lakes, rivers or oceans.

Friendly tone belied desperate acts of Seattle plane thief

Investigators working to find out how an airline employee stole the plane Friday and crashed it after being chased by military jets.

Charlottesville anniversary: Peaceful protests, few arrests

The events held in both Charlottesville and Washington, largely peaceful though tense at times, were part of a day of speeches, vigils and marches marking one year.

Most Read