Downs After Dark, June 16


Parading Justify


One of the wonderful things about sporting events and gathering at them in person is the camaraderie that can be created. It can be all too easy to find divisiveness in differences of opinion and clashes when individuals from various social media “bubbles” cross one another’s paths.

That is why Justify being paraded at Churchill on June 16, a week after his Triple Crown victory, was a credit to the sport on many levels.

Arriving at Churchill earlier than expected, I had time to talk to several ladies who had never seen him in person and trade stories of racing memories, and later read news accounts of one woman who drove seven hours to see Justify that day and made friends with the people on either side of her.

While Churchill offered its usual plethora of stakes races that Stephen Foster day, Justify was naturally the biggest draw, and throngs of people held spots at the paddock even in the sweltering heat well ahead of his appearance.

One of my favorite moments was when his connections stopped him at the request of the crowd, to give everyone a chance to take his photo while he stood still and took everything in stride, just as he appears to always do. It was also wonderful to see the pride evident in the dazzling smile of Humberto Gomez, Justify’s exercise rider, as he accompanied the colt around the Churchill paddock along with assistant trainer Jimmy Barnes and groom Eduardo Luna.

Wherever Justify goes from here in his racing career, time will tell. With a crown newly placed by his name over the Churchill paddock in the spot reserved for the most recent Kentucky Derby winner and the crowds gathering just to see him walk the paddock, it also reminds me “time loves a hero,” from the title of a favorite Little Feat song, and a Triple Crown winner is certainly hailed as a bit of a conquering hero in racing circles.

Nothing will shake how glorious it was to witness him as he stood like a statue when his connections were requested to have him stop for photos, or how wonderful it was to know he crossed that wire first in the Belmont.

Even his gallops around Churchill post-Belmont further revealed what an extraordinary athlete he is, still looking well and full of energy.

It will be most intriguing to see what he does achieve from now on, even more so for half of his total races comprising the Triple Crown.