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With ankle problem and 'nothing to prove,' undefeated Triple Crown winner Justify retired

The chestnut colt appeared as if from nowhere, as an unraced 3-year-old, to capture this year’s Triple Crown. Now, just as quickly, Justify has been retired, done in by a bum ankle that will whisk him to WinStar Farm (Ky.), which announced Wednesday that the celebrated champion will stand at stud after a season well spent.

“It’s a bittersweet feeling,” said Hall of Fame jockey Mike Smith, who rode Justify to victories in the Kentucky Derby, Preakness and Belmont Stakes. “I’d love to ride him again, but this horse has nothing to prove.

“Justify did all we asked, and much more, in a matter of a few months. Did he make the most of that time, or what? He did more in a short period than most horses do in a lifetime. I’m just glad he’s retiring happy and healthy; he did so much for my career that I’ll be forever grateful.”

In June, Justify became the 13th horse to win the Triple Crown and the first to do it undefeated since Seattle Slew in 1977. He ends his career with six victories in as many starts and earnings of $3,798,000.

“Justify had some filling in his ankle, and he is just not responding quick enough for a fall campaign,” trainer Bob Baffert said in a statement. “We all wanted to see Justify run again, but ultimately it is my responsibility to make sure he is perfect.”

America embraced the game thoroughbred who won the Kentucky Derby by 2 1/2 lengths, becoming the first horse in 136 years to do so without having raced as a 2-year-old. At Pimlico Race Course, Justify led all the way, in a dense fog, to eke out a half-length victory in the Preakness. His win in the Belmont Stakes, by 1 ¾ lengths, earned him the immortality afforded the likes of Secretariat, Citation and American Pharoah.

Justify didn’t win big, but he won, with a gritty persona that endeared him to the public. Aptly named, he seemed to have to prove his mettle each time out.

“He is an incredible horse and we are very disappointed he can't run again,” Kenny Troutt, Justify’s co-owner, said in a statement. “All things happen for a reason, and we are blessed to have raced him to be the 13th Triple Crown winner in history.”

All those in his corner seemed to favor Justify’s adieu.

“The timing is bad for another start in 2018, and therefore, we have to retire him,” said Elliott Walden, president of WinStar Farm. “Like American Pharoah, we can’t take the risk of running Justify as a four-year-old. We all wanted him to finish his career in the Breeders’ Cup Classic, but it was not meant to be.”

Though brief, the colt’s time on the track was historic. How he performs in the breeding shed, time will tell.

“Justify’s extraordinary racing career — from maiden to Triple Crown winner in less than four months — was as brilliant as any our sport has seen,” Alex Waldrop, president and CEO of the National Thoroughbred Racing Association, said in a statement. “We can’t wait to have his first runners [offspring] hit the track in 2022.”

mike.klingaman@baltsun.com

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