There's no doubt in Canadian John Gunther's mind Justify will capture the American Triple Crown.
The impressive three-year-old won a soggy Kentucky Derby at Churchill Downs on May 5 to improve to 4-0 lifetime. Justify is the early 1-2 favourite for the Preakness on Saturday at Baltimore's Pimlico Race Course.
But Gunther, who bred Justify, is convinced the horse will not only win the Preakness but become the 13th horse to capture the Triple Crown, and just the second since 1978.
"What happens is the horses that were beat in the Derby, their trainers and owners don't want to run them in such a short period of time because the Preakness is only two weeks after the Derby," Gunther said. "Also, every time (trainer) Bob Baffert has won the Kentucky Derby and gone to the Preakness, he's won the Preakness every time so the chances of Justify winning are highly favourable.
"The Belmont is three weeks after the Preakness but this horse is bred to get the (1 1/2-mile) distance . . . Put it this way, if he gets into the starting gate for the Preakness and Belmont, I think he'll win the Triple Crown."
Justify was bred at Glennwood Farm in Versailles, Ky., which is owned by Gunther, of Langley, B.C., and run by his daughter, Tanya. Scat Daddy, a Grade 1 winner, was bred with Stage Magic, a mare owned by Gunther, to produce the eventual Derby champion.
Justify was a US$500,00 Keeneland September yearling purchase by China Horse Club and Maverick Racing. Gunther said Justify looked every bit a champion.
"When Justify was a yearling, he was a big, strong individual with a great walk," Gunther said. "He almost looked like a two-year-old.
"He's like 17 hands high, he's a very big, strong horse and has terrific athletic ability. If you looked at hundreds of yearlings you could see that just by looking at him. He had "it," that was very evident."
Justify is Glennwood Farms' first Derby winner but joins a long list of successful horses bred or co-bred by the operation. Some notables include: First Samurai (Grade 1 winner, $915,075 earnings); Mo Town (co-bred, Grade 1 winner); My Miss Sophia (second '14 Kentucky Oaks); Stay Thirsty (co-bred, Grade 1 winner, $1.936 million earnings); Stevie Wonderboy (co-bred,'05 Breeders' Cup Juvenile champion, $1.059 million); and Tamarkuz ('16 Breeders Cup dirt mile winner, $1.84 million).
Gunther said his daughter puts a lot of time and effort into the matching of stallion to mare.
"She looks at the stallions standing in Kentucky and has studied pedigrees since she was eight or nine," he said. "She delves into that pedigree going back several generations and does the same with the mares.
"She'll spend several hours planning the mating with just one mare and it was her hard work and diligence that picked Scat Daddy to breed to our mare."
Canadian-bred Northern Dancer, who died in 1990 at age 29, is the most prolific stallion ever but Gunther said Scat Daddy, who died in 2015 at age 11, had a very bright future.
"If he was still alive today he'd be the hottest and highest-priced stallion in North America," Gunther said.
Scat Daddy fetched up to $150,000 for stud fees by his death but Glennwood reportedly only paid $35,000 because Tanya Gunther spotted the stallion early.
On May 4, Canadian filly Wonder Gadot was second in the prestigious Grade 1 Kentucky Oaks. The horse's breeder, David Anderson of Anderson Farms Ontario Inc., in St. Thomas, Ont., said the Gunthers are deserving of their success.
"John has almost perfected breeding Grade 1 winners and now Kentucky Derby winners," Anderson said. "He and his daughter have done just an exemplary job with a relatively small broodmare band.
"They're a real study of pedigree. They understand it and the proof is in the pudding."
Anderson said much goes into the creation of eventual champion horses.
"The simple one is you breed the best to the best and hope for the best," he said with a chuckle. "But there's raising the animal properly, there's proper nutrition for the mare while the foal is in utero.
"You need to raise your animal on proper farmland and what's the proper hay and water and feed and blacksmiths and vets? There's just so many variables."
A staple of the breeding business is the selling of promising yearlings for top dollar. Therefore, it's imperative the breeder not get too attached to the young horses, although Gunther said that's easier said than done.
"You do get attached, my daughter gets attached," he said. "She's down there, she helps with the foaling and is involved in the raising of them right through to their yearling years so she definitely builds an attachment to them in that process."
Gunther said Justify's success means a lot for Glennwood.
"It does because we own the mare, we own the half-brother who's now a yearling," he said. "All (Stage Magic's) progeny is very valuable at this point.
"The mare is worth a lot of money but I don't plan on selling her."
Dan Ralph, The Canadian Press