Racing fans and avid readers are in for a treat just weeks before the start of horse racing’s 2019 Triple Crown series. On April 15, Emmy Award-winning writer Lenny Shulman’s new book “Justify: 111 Days to Triple Crown Glory,” will be available in stores and online. We’ve got a sneak preview of the book and we spoke with Shulman about how it all came together and what readers can expect.
So, we know the book is about Justify, the 13th horse to capture the Triple Crown. But what part or parts of his story are you most focused on in your telling of it?
Since Justify raced only six times, it was essential that I dig into his back story, so I did an extensive amount of research in speaking to everyone who had a hand in creating and developing Justify, from his breeder to his going to the yearling sale, to the people who purchased him, trained him, owned him, and were part of his day to day life. There is also plenty of behind-the-scenes info leading up to and after his big races. People like Bob Baffert and Mike Smith were great in sharing their insights with me.
At what point did you realize you not only had the materials you needed for a book but that you in fact wanted to write a book?
It was shortly after Justify won the Triple Crown that I thought about writing the book. I must credit my friend Paul Volponi, who is a gifted writer himself, in pushing me along on that. I was fortunate in that I had written magazine articles on John Gunther, the breeder of Justify; and Bob Baffert, his trainer, shortly before the Kentucky Derby, so I wasn’t starting from scratch with them. I had also written a book about jockeys that included Mike Smith.
What moment or story within the book either stands out to you or is an example of the type of story that you wanted to highlight through your retelling of Justify’s historic run in 2018?
The magic moment occurred in March 2018 when I was interviewing Baffert at his barn at Santa Anita, and he asked me if I wanted to come see the Derby winner. This was outlandish, because Justify had run only once at that point. But Baffert brought me over to his stall, and Justify was the most imposing specimen of a Thoroughbred I’d ever seen. Right then and there I began following him very closely.
Did your perspective on Justify and what his legacy might be change over the course of writing the book?
I think Justify’s legacy is an open question, which makes him fascinating. Unfortunately, his career ended all too quickly, so where he fits in racing history is really up to one’s opinion. What I did learn in writing the book is how important a horse’s intelligence is to his success. Beyond talent, he has to have the mental aspect, and everyone who touched Justify commented on what a smart horse he is. My opinion—and it is only that—is that Justify is one of the greatest horses we will ever see. And within the book Baffert gives his opinion on who was better: Justify or American Pharoah. But you’ll have to read it to find out.
Justify’s career will probably be remembered most for two things — that he was perfect and that he didn’t race for too long. Does either fact weigh more heavily on what his legacy might ultimately be?
You have hit on the two factors that will define Justify: his brilliance and what he was able to accomplish in such a short amount of time, and the brevity of his career. The second is bound to affect people’s opinion of him, but I believe we saw enough to say that this was a great, great racehorse. And he is forever in a very exclusive club that numbers only 13.
Who might be interested in reading the book - do you have to be a horse racing fan to get into the stories you tell in the book?
I tried to write the book so that it was accessible to hardcore fans of the sport as well as beginners or casual fans. I think all of the above will enjoy the story, and especially the stories behind the story. This was very important to me.
When and where can readers get the book?
Right now, the book is scheduled to be available at Barnes & Noble bookstores by April 15. Readers can pre-order it on Amazon, and I believe they will be filling orders in the last week of April.
From the book:
With a trademark powerful stride amid a blaze of red and yellow silks, Justify emphatically crossed the finish line at the 2018 Belmont Stakes and became the 13th winner of horse racing’s elusive Triple Crown. In “Justify: 111 Days to Triple Crown Glory,” veteran scribe Lenny Shulman provides an insider account of this Thoroughbred’s rise to greatness. Through extensive interviews and first-hand accounts, readers will discover the fascinatingly disparate cast of characters who were crucial to Justify’s success. Packed with riveting action, keen insight and behind-the-scenes perspectives, Justify is an illuminating look at the modern Thoroughbred industry and an essential story for the ages.