No matter what happens during the rest of the Triple Crown, Justify has guaranteed his place in the history books by breaking the so-called Curse of Apollo. Until he splashed to victory in the Kentucky Derby, no horse had won the race after failing to run as a 2-year-old since Apollo in 1882.
Next up is the Preakness Stakes on Saturday, when Justify will be making only his fifth career start. As he looks to add to his accomplishments, Justify’s exploits bring to mind another improbable campaign, except this one took place in Europe in 1995 and involved a Derby hero who raced even less.
Lammtarra, who ran once as a juvenile and three times as a 3-year-old, left a huge mark on racing during a brief but unquestionably successful career that also featured records, life-threatening illness, and murder along the way.
Unlikely Derby hero
Unlike Justify, Lammtarra was seen on the racetrack as a 2-year-old, but only once. Bred in the United States by Sheikh Maktoum’s Gainsborough Farm, the chestnut was sent to Europe to compete. He made his debut a winning one in August 1994 by taking the Washington Singer Stakes at Newbury, racing in the name of Sheikh Maktoum’s teenage son, Saeed Maktoum Al Maktoum.
After his victory at Newbury, Lammtarra’s trainer, Alex Scott, put £1,000 on him to win the Epsom Derby at odds of 33/1. The young trainer, who was best known for conditioning the likes of champion sprinter Cadeaux Genereux and Breeders' Cup Sprint victor Sheikh Albadou, was confident in his charge, but he didn’t live to see if he was right. That September, Scott was shot and killed in his Newmarket stables by a groom. He was 34-years-old.
Lammtarra was sent to Godolphin, the racing operation of Saeed Maktoum’s uncle, Sheikh Mohammed, to continue his career. He went to Dubai for the winter, where his own luck also took a bad turn, as he developed a life-threatening abscess on his lung. Upon recovery, he returned to Europe in the spring of 1995 and progressed enough that he was entered in the Derby by trainer Saeed bin Suroor.
With 302 days between races, Lammtarra came from the clouds to take the original Derby by a length, and in doing so, he became the first colt to win the famed contest without a prep race since Grand Parade in 1919.
He also did it in record time, stopping the clock in 2:32.31, breaking the mark set by Mahmoud at Epsom in 1936. That record would stand for 15 years, until being lowered by Workforce in 2010.
LAMMTARRA’S SECOND EVER RUN: HE WINS THE EPSOM DERBY
HIS THIRD RUN: HE WINS THE KING GEORGE
HIS FOURTH (AND FINAL) RUN: HE WINS THE ARC
The victory was a bittersweet moment for Lammtarra’s connections.
"This is a dream come true, but my thoughts are now of Alex,” Sheikh Mohammed said immediately after the race. “He made this horse early in his career and was quite convinced he would win the Derby."
Although bookmakers typically cancel a bet if the person who placed it dies, Ladbrokes paid the winnings of Scott’s wager to his widow.
Adding to Lammtarra’s triumph was a breeding accomplishment that had never before been achieved. Lammtarra’s sire, Nijinsky, had won the Derby, and his dam, Snow Bride, was awarded the Oaks, making him the first Derby winner produced from winners of the two classics. Australia, a son of Galileo out of Ouija Board, would match the feat in 2014.
Adding to the legend
Lammtarra, which means invisible in Arabic, was anything but that, making his next appearance against open company in the King George VI and Queen Elizabeth Diamond Stakes at Ascot. Although it was no easy task, and he was in fact passed two furlongs from the wire, Lammtarra remained undefeated in his third start when he battled back to beat Pentire by a neck.
Pentire, also a 3-year-old, had impressed when taking the King Edward VII Stakes at Royal Ascot. He would go on to defeat Singspiel in the Great Voltigeur Stakes in his next start before ending his season with a victory in the Irish Champion Stakes at Leopardstown. The following year, Pentire finished fourth behind Cigar in the inaugural running of the Dubai World Cup before winning the King George in his second attempt.
Meanwhile, Lammtarra would make his fourth and final career start in the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe. Like his three previous races, Lammtarra refused to lose, beating Freedom Cry by three-quarters of a length, while Swain checked in third.
Freedom Cry had finished second by a short head to Pentire in the Champion Stakes in his previous race, and after the Arc, he shipped to the United States, where he finished second by a neck to Northern Spur in the Breeders’ Cup Turf.
Swain would race on through 1998, winning such contests as the Coronation Cup, Champion Stakes, and King George (twice), while finishing second in the Dubai World Cup and third in the Breeders’ Cup Classic.
With his victory at Longchamp, though, Lammtarra became just the second horse — after Mill Reef in 1971 — to win the Derby, King George, and Arc. It was also his swansong.
Named Europe’s 3-year-old champion, Lammtarra was retired to Dalham Hall Stud. He bred a full book of mares in 1996 — which included most notably Urban Sea — before being sold for $30 million to Japan, where he had a fairly quiet stallion career at Arrow Stud.
A decade later, when word came Lammtarra was going to be sold to Korea, Sheikh Mohammed bought the champion back and returned him to Dalham Hall to live out his retirement as a pensioner. He received visitors there until he died at the age 22 in 2014.
“Lammtarra was a horse that was very close to Sheikh Mohammed’s heart,” said Liam O’Rourke, Darley’s stud director, upon the horse’s death after a short illness. “He was very intelligent, a true gentleman and never gave anyone a moment’s trouble. He will be missed by everyone here at Dalham.”
Last year, Lammtarra was again in the news, and perhaps true to his racing career, it was for both tragic and jubilant reasons, this time relating to the two men who rode him to victory.
That February, coroners ruled that Walter Swinburn’s death in December 2016 was the result of an accident, not suicide, after he fell from a window. Although best known for his partnership with Shergar, Swinburn also rode Lammtarra in the Derby.
Then, in October, Frankie Dettori won a record fifth Arc aboard Enable. His first?