In the case of Justify, the math is a lot different because a far larger deal for his breeding rights — $60 million — was concluded after he won the Derby but before he captured the Preakness and the Belmont. On one side of this deal were two of the horse’s owners — WinStar and China Horse Club — along with SF Racing, a group backed by George Soros, the billionaire owner and philanthropist, that sold its ownership share of Justify but still owns some of the horse’s breeding rights. On the other side of the deal was Coolmore, the breeding farm that also oversees American Pharoah’s sire activities.
People in racing with knowledge of the deal said it included a bonus of about $25 million were Justify to win the Triple Crown, which he then went on to do, and that it also allowed the multiple owners to retain some shares in the horse when he begins his career as a sire (a provision that also has benefited Zayat to the tune of millions of dollars). Walden has maintained that a deal for Justify’s breeding rights has yet to be finalized. But he may be making that assertion because the partners, for tax benefits, are waiting until September to finalize it.
For now, the owners of Justify — which also includes Head of Plains Partners and Starlight Racing — are taking a circumspect approach to the horse’s future. In the wake of his Belmont triumph on Saturday, they said they were open to the idea of keeping him on the racetrack but wanted to be absolutely sure he was healthy after a whirlwind schedule in which he raced and won six times, beginning in mid-February.
As he spoke to reporters on Sunday, Walden did seem seduced by the thought of seeing what else Justify, who will return to Churchill Downs in Kentucky on Monday, could accomplish on the track. “He’s now become a household name and I’m looking forward to his next race as much as you guys are,” he said.
So for the moment, at least, he sounded just like Zayat, who showed up at Justify’s barn on Sunday to congratulate the horse’s trainer, Bob Baffert, who also trained American Pharoah. In thinking back to part of his rationale in allowing American Pharoah to keep running after the Triple Crown, Zayat said: “How do you deprive the sport of him? I felt on my watch, if he’s happy, I’ll keep him running. Honestly, I felt a little bit guilty that I had a stud deal and he had to retire at end of his 3-year-old season. It’s kind of the economics of the business.”
When Affirmed won the Triple Crown in 1978, as the last horse to do so before American Pharoah, it was commonplace for Triple Crown champions to keep running, even as 4-year-olds. Affirmed not only raced, but also won Horse of the Year honors, at age 4.
Now, the risk of injury that would short-circuit a lucrative career as a sire seems to loom a lot larger. There is also, of course, the risk of defeat, which takes away some of the invincibility of a Triple Crown winner. American Pharoah was in that invincible category until he lost the Travers Stakes in Saratoga Springs, N.Y., two months after winning the Belmont.