Triple Crown winner Justify marks final time on racetrack at Del Mar

Justify had the easy duty on Saturday at Del Mar.

The reigning and undefeated Triple Crown winner, his chestnut coat brightly reflecting the sun, only had to put one hoof in front of another in an easy stroll as he was paraded in front of the grandstand.

It was far tougher for all of his connections, who gathered with mixed emotions to watch the 3-year-old appear at a racetrack for the final time. It was announced on Wednesday that Justify would be retired to stud after winning all six races he started in a 112-day career.

No other Triple Crown winner has retired undefeated or with fewer starts.

“It’s very emotional. I could cry right now,” said trainer Bob Baffert. “He looks ready to go right now. He gave us some great thrills. He’s number 13 (to win the Triple Crown). That’s the best accomplishment you can have.”

Accompanied by an entourage that included Baffert, owners from WinStar Farm, and jockey Mike Smith, Justify did a couple of tours of the paddock and was led onto the track as a video of his Triple Crown exploits was played. The horse received warm, but hardly thunderous applause from the usual laid-back weekend crowd.

His ears pricked high while eyeing the crowd, Justify was led by hot walker Polo Silva Luna on the grandstand stretch, looped back, and then briefly paused in front of the winner’s circle for a final round of applause. He appeared not to break a sweat.

“It’s all of a sudden become real,” said Smith, the 55-year-old Hall of Famer. “I knew there was going to be a time, but for some reason it didn’t sink in. After seeing how good he looked on the racetrack, and how beautiful he is, we’re going to miss him.

“I’m a little sad, I’ll tell you. But if anyone deserves to be retired, it’s him.”

Justify is expected to be shipped to WinStar in Kentucky on Tuesday. He is being sold for $75 million to Coolmore Stud, which reportedly plans to breed him to 250 mares in his first year at a cost of $150,000 per live foal — for a take of $37.5 million.

tod.leonard@sduniontribune.com; Twitter: @sdutleonard

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