With his game victory under trying conditions in the May 5 Kentucky Derby, Justify brushed a couple of tedious talking points into the dustbin of history. The most obvious is the wretched “curse of Apollo,” as the unbeaten colt became first Kentucky Derby winner in more than a century not to race as a 2-year-old. Horses who haven’t raced at 2 rarely can be prepared in time for the classic on the first Saturday in May. Therefore, they typically don’t even make the race, much less win.
The glowing chestnut also became the sixth favorite for the Kentucky Derby in succession to stand in the winner’s circle with the wreath of roses. Not so long ago, mavens spewing weasel scat were telling everyone who would listen that favorites could not win the Derby. Another favored platitude has been that juvenile champions couldn’t win the Derby and that winners of the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile were “jinxed.”
Well, the latter pair of fluttering absurdities were correct this year. Good Magic was only second. It looked like a pretty good second too.
But the most significant stroke of demystification by Justify came on behalf of his male line.
Prior to May 5, no male-line descendant of Storm Cat (by Storm Bird) had won the Kentucky Derby. That was a major hole in the stallion legacy of the most dominant sire of his time, and the fact that none of his sons or grandsons had managed to get a winner of the race was a glaring omission.
Storm Cat’s great-grandson Scat Daddy (Johannesburg) is the sire of Justify, who clearly has the speed and class of his famous father, with a touch more luck and stamina. In contrast to Justify, however, Scat Daddy had proven himself a top-quality 2-year-old with victories in the Grade 1 Champagne and G2 Sanford, plus a second-place effort in the G1 Hopeful Stakes at Saratoga.
The next season, the big son of Johannesburg was even better. Scat Daddy won the G2 Fountain of Youth and then the G1 Florida Derby on his way to the 2007 Kentucky Derby. After a trip reminiscent of Mendelssohn’s this year, the big dark brown colt ran 18th behind Street Sense, Hard Spun, and Curlin.
Scat Daddy never raced again.
Sent to stud at Ashford, where Coolmore had retired his sire, international champion Johannesburg, Scat Daddy attracted breeders with his size, balance, and excellent conformation.
And from the first, Scat Daddy was a good sire. He got winners, good winners, stakes winners, graded stakes winners, and eventually champions. The stallion’s oldest sons are now at stud, and hopes are high for them, especially in Ireland (G1 winners No Nay Never and Caravaggio), Argentina (G1 winner Il Campione), and Canada (G2 winner Frac Daddy). In the U.S., G2 winner Handsome Mike stands in Florida, G3 winner Daddy Nose Best stands in California, and G3 winner Tu Brutus entered stud in Kentucky for the 2018 season at Crestwood Farm.
As Scat Daddy’s star was rising, his sire had gone into eclipse. Johannesburg wasn’t the power at stud that he had been as a racer. As a 2-year-old, Johannesburg had taken the world by storm and was acknowledged the champion or highweight performer in England, France, Ireland, and the U.S. The sharp-looking bay’s final race at 2 was the 2001 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile at Belmont Park, and Johannesburg pulled away to win by 1 ¼ lengths.
After that unbeaten season of seven victories, Johannesburg was expected to deliver exceptional results the next season. Those expectations were not fulfilled. The colt was second in his debut, then a middling eighth in the Kentucky Derby. After one more attempt at racing, Johannesburg went to stud at Ashford, and there he sired Scat Daddy in his first crop.
Johannesburg was the brightest star by the Storm Cat stallion Hennessy, winner of the G1 Hopeful and second in the G1 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile, where he was a neck behind Unbridled’s Song. Hennessy raced only at 2 and yet proved a major promotion for his sire, at the sales, on the racetrack, and at stud.
Bred by W.T. Young’s Overbrook Farm, Hennessy was such an outstanding specimen by Overbrook’s then-burgeoning power sire that the decision was made to sell the grand-looking colt, even though Overbrook trainer Wayne Lukas had named him as the best of the farm’s yearlings.
Unable to train the colt for Overbrook, Lukas went to major owners Bob and Beverly Lewis, who loved what they saw and ponied up a half-million to acquire the striking chestnut at the 1994 Keeneland July sale. Lengthy, powerful, and very handsome, Hennessy was worth every buck.
Hennessy earned $580,400 from four victories and three seconds in nine starts. The colt’s conformation and racing class made him a hot item as a stallion prospect, and all the stallion farms wanted the best-looking son of the hot young sire Storm Cat.
The colt could not be raced at 3, and Hennessy became Coolmore’s first major acquisition of a Storm Cat son. That began the international stallion and racing conglomerate’s love affair with the great stallion son of Storm Bird. Coolmore’s allegiance to Storm Cat paid enormous dividends, most especially with Hennessy’s Johannesburg and Storm Cat’s son Giant’s Causeway.
After standing three generations of this male line, Coolmore would naturally have liked to have a Kentucky Derby winner by Scat Daddy to stand at Ashford, but that distinction will go to WinStar Farm, which purchased Justify from breeder Glennwood Farm at the 2016 Keeneland September sale in conjunction with China Horse Club. The purchase price was $500,000.
So WinStar, which stands one of the largest groups of sires in Kentucky – including star stallions like Distorted Humor, More Than Ready, Pioneerof the Nile, Speightstown, and Tiznow – will be the future home of Justify when he retires to stud.