Bloodlines: Tracing Justify’s Lineage To An English Triple Crown Winner

by | 05.22.2018 | 11:37am
Justify and Mike Smith hit the wire first in the 2018 Preakness

Now a dual classic winner with victories in the Kentucky Derby and Preakness, the saga of unbeaten Justify (by Scat Daddy) is bookended by major mares both today and at the beginning of the 20th century.

Justify's dam, like the colt himself, was bred in Kentucky by John Gunther's Glennwood Farm near Versailles. Gunther's daughter Tanya runs the operation, and she noted that “Justify does in fact look a lot like his mum,” the stakes-placed Ghostzapper mare Stage Magic, and “Stage Magic possibly has more musculature than her dam,” the Pulpit mare Magical Illusion.

“Stage Magic is an attractive mare with good size and scope,” Tanya Gunther said, “and is a bright chestnut with a white blaze. Magical Illusion (second dam of Justify) was also a good-sized chestnut (darker chestnut) mare with a blaze,” although the second dam's blaze was narrower, Gunther noted.

Glennwood's good pair of racemares and producers trace back in the female line to a couple of mares who were important in the development of major American bloodlines.

At the other end of this family's experience in America, the broodmare Sundown was bred in England by J.H. Houldsworth, foaled in 1887 by the good sire Springfield out of Sunshine, by the 1860 Derby winner Thormanby. With an Ayrshire colt of 1893 at side and back in foal to 1891 English Triple Crown winner Common, Sundown was sold to the American breeder and racing man James R. Keene and his son Foxhall Keene.

The colt at side was later named Peep O'Day, and the bay colt became a multiple stakes winner and then a sire. His best-known offspring was the top-class race filly Milkmaid, winner of the 1919 Pimlico Oaks and 22 other races.

Five years after producing Peep O'Day, Sundown foaled a filly by the Keenes' premier sire Domino, and that filly was named Noonday.

A stakes winner at 2, Noonday became a very important producer with five stakes winners from her foals. Among these were High Noon (Voter), winner of the Toboggan Handicap, and his full sister Suffragette, winner of the Junior Champion Stakes.

A third stakes winner out of Noonday was Hudson Stakes winner High Time, a very handsome and very fast son of the Domino grandson Ultimus. Ultimus was one of the most closely inbred stallions of significance in the breed, with Domino as the sire of both his sire and dam, and High Time was out of the Domino mare Noonday, making High Time inbred to the “Black Whirlwind” 3x3x2.

High Time was arguably an even better sire than Ultimus and perhaps better than any other sire from the Domino male line, except for Domino's son Commando, the sire of Colin, Celt, and other notables.

Leading national sire in 1928, High Time also led the broodmare sire list in 1936 and 1940. His best-known racer was the top-class performer Sarazen, a top 2-year-old and winner of 21 races from 108 starts over eight seasons.

Noonday's foal of 1915 was Noontide, a daughter of the unbeaten Colin mentioned above. A marvel on the racecourse, Colin was a shy breeder, had only 83 reported foals as a result, and yet is represented widely in pedigrees through a minority of these descendants, including our current classic winner.

The female family of Justify went through the hands of some of the country's leading breeders, such as Wickliffe Stud that owned Colin for a time, Ethel Jacobs (wife of trainer Hirsch Jacobs), Louis B. Mayer, Leslie Combs, Elizabeth Graham's Maine Chance Farm, Farnsworth Farms in Florida, and Joseph Allen, who bred the classic winner's second dam Magical Illusion (Pulpit).

Glennwood Farm acquired Magical Illusion at the 2005 Keeneland January sale for $425,000 as a broodmare prospect. One of four stakes-placed racers out of G3 stakes winner Voodoo Lily (Baldski), Magical Illusion had won three of six starts and finished third in the Grade 1 Coaching Club American Oaks behind Ashado.

The mare's second foal for Glennwood was Stage Magic, by Horse of the Year Ghostzapper, and the chestnut filly ran second or third in four stakes, including the G3 Gardenia Stakes at Ellis Park.

Stage Magic's first foal for Glennwood was stakes-placed The Lieutenant (Street Sense), and Justify is the mare's third foal. Since then, Stage Magic has a 2-year-old filly by Pioneerof the Nile named Egyptian Storm, a yearling colt by Will Take Charge, and a colt of 2018 by Pioneerof the Nile.

And the line that led to our potential Triple Crown winner of 2018 began with the Keenes' purchase of a well-bred young mare in foal to an English Triple Crown winner more than a century ago.

Frank Mitchell is author of Racehorse Breeding Theories, as well as the book Great Breeders and Their Methods: The Hancocks. In addition to writing the column “Sires and Dams” in Daily Racing Form for nearly 15 years, he has contributed articles to Thoroughbred Daily News, Thoroughbred Times, Thoroughbred Record, International Thoroughbred, and other major publications. In addition, Frank is chief of biomechanics for DataTrack International and is a hands-on caretaker of his own broodmares and foals in Central Kentucky. Check out Frank's lively Bloodstock in the Bluegrass blog.

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