American Pharoah and Justify have both left an eternal mark on horse racing history.
In the past three years, both horses have completed the seemingly impossible modern-era task of winning the Triple Crown™. With only 13 Triple Crown winners in history, these horse's accomplishments speak for themselves and have given them each a spot in the stable of the greatest horses of all time.
But as all great sporting stories go, we eventually start to compare two greats and put their accomplishments head-to-head. With Justify and American Pharoah reaching the mountain in such close proximity to one another and both being trained by the legendary Bob Baffert, we can't help but try and decipher which horse will end up being considered the more prolific of the two.
For this comparison, we will be looking strictly at their three-year old season and highlighting the Triple Crown races.
The Race Times
Kentucky Derby Time: 2:03.02
Preakness Stakes Time: 1:58.46
Belmont Stakes Time: 2:26.65
Kentucky Derby Time: 2:04.20
Preakness Stakes Time: 1:55.93
Belmont Stakes Time: 2:28.18
American Pharoah's three-year old roster was one of the most stacked that we've seen in recent memory — making his accomplishment that much more impressive. Pharoah's class was loaded with steeds like Dortmund, Frosted, Keen Ice and Carpe Diem. But while the roster was filled to the brim with talent, it's important to note that Pharoah was the standout in a class that was seemingly competing with everyone else but him. While Pharoah remained on top through all three Triple Crown races, the other contenders jockeyed and oscillated through the rankings with no avail.
Justify's class is considered one of the weaker in recent memory, but that isn't necessarily a slight on the most recent Triple Crown winner. Justify's only consistent competition through his three-year old season was from Bolt d'Oro and Good Magic, but even those steeds couldn't hold a candle to the treble winner.
But a class comparison only goes so far when you start looking at the race numbers. While Pharoah had the stronger class, their race times in all three races weren't too far off from one another. Even Bob Baffert said that Justify's Kentucky Derby® win was more impressive that that of Pharoah's, even if the latter ran a faster time.
Following the Triple Crown
This is likely the section in which American Pharoah takes the advantage over Justify. Following a Triple Crown triumph in the Belmont Stakes, Pharoah went on to win the Haskell Invitational two months later and then comes second in the Travers Stakes. But where Pharoah cemented his place in history was at Keeneland Racecourse. On October 15, 2015, Pharoah won the Breeders' Cup Classic, becoming the first horse in the sport's history to win the Grand Slam of Thoroughbred racing.
Justify, on the other hand, didn't have a racing career beyond victory at the Belmont Stakes. One month after claiming the Triple Crown, Justify was retired in an order to preserve his health. While the decision made sense financially, it was a sour thought for those who wanted to see just how good the three-year old could be. It also took away the chance to see the second horse in history go after the Grand Slam.
The real takeaway should be that this is quite a silly exercise. Every year is different, whether it be the conditions of the racecourses or the field of steeds that line up at the gate. But history has a way of tying figures together and, like it or not, these two horses will be linked together for years and years to come.
When looking at both resumes, it's fairly easy to come away with the belief that American Pharoah has the advantage over Justify. Pharoah raced more, collected more victories, broke the Triple Crown drought and is the only Grand Slam winner in history.
But there are still those that claim, and justifiably so, that Justify was the more impressive horse to watch when looking back at the tape.
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