Can We Compare Recent Triple Crown Winners?

Justify winning the Kentucky Derby (Photo by Coady Photography)

2015 saw American Pharoah bring the end of a long 37-year wait for a new Triple Crown winner. The wait for our next winner was much shorter; it’s 2018 and we already have another winner in Justify. Both American Pharoah and Justify have been trained by Bob Baffert, who hasn’t shied away from comparisons; “It’s amazing and it never gets old,” Baffert said. “Pharoah and him, what they have in common is they’re extremely fast,” Justify “was showing me the same signs [as American Pharoah]. He showed me the same brilliance. He’s a superior horse. He could have won every race on the undercard. He’s just that kind of horse.” However, Baffert states American Pharoah will “always be my first love.” American Pharoah’s jockey made it clear who he thinks is the better of the two: “It’s not even close,” Espinosa told The AP. “(American Pharoah is) one of a kind. It’s hard to explain that because I rode many, many horses, but nothing like this guy. Probably the power and the endurance that he has that not many horses can do it. He does things so easy when other horses, they can’t just even get close to him.” Is this fair from Espinosa?

Except for Justify’s higher Beyer Speed Figure in the Santa Anita Derby and his time in the Preakness Stakes, American Pharoah produced better times. American Pharoah won eight Grade 1 races in his short career. Justify has four Grade 1 wins, however American Pharaoah has eight. With Justify’s breeding rights sold for $75m, it is unlikely we will see another four races before he is retired. A Breeders’ Cup Classic win will see an increase in comparisons, and should Justify become the first horse to win this, the Triple Crown and the Pegasus World Cup, he will become the first Super Grand Slam Champion of American thoroughbred horse racing.

Justify is the best horse in his 3-year-old class, however it doesn’t compare to the class that American Pharoah faced. The likes of Keen Ice, Frosted and Dortmund provided tougher competition in 2015 with better times and/or speed figures at the same time in the season. American Phaorah was an expected winner and backed it up; so far Justify’s success has come somewhat unexpected, as we saw with McKinzie being the favourite for the Derby before his injury. Later in the year we will hopefully see Justify and McKinzie meet in the same race, and along with colts Bolt d’Oro and Good Magic, we should see some good competition for him. Horse racing fans will be able to get a true gauge of who has the best pedigree, by having a look at how Unibet or any other established horse race betting services price any of the up and coming races where these horses compete.

It is easy to compare the two horses when one Triple Crown Winner has come so quickly after another after such a long wait, however, as the competition for American Pharoah was stronger, and we may never get to see Justify race another four times to match the eight wins and become the Super Grand Slam Champion. If that happens, this discussion could be very different. However, it is likely American Pharoah will remain number one.