John Gunther says 13 is his lucky number.
“Friday the 13th was always my lucky day,” the Langley horse breeder said.
He made the observation a few days after his horse, Justify, became the 13th Triple Crown Winner by racing to victory at the Belmont Stakes on June 9, following back-to-back wins at the Kentucky Derby and Preakness Stakes.
Gunther said seeing the big chestnut colt take the win on June 9 at Belmont Park — in Elmont, New York — was an intensely emotional experience.
His heart started pounding, he recalls, so much that for a few minutes he wondered whether he was having a stroke.
“Everybody was in tears,” he said.
Justify is only the second horse to win the Triple Crown with an undefeated record, following Seattle Slew.
The champion was bred at Glennwood Farm in Kentucky, which is owned by Gunther and run by his daughter, Tanya.
Justify was sold at the 2016 Keeneland September Yearling Sales for $500,000 to a partnership of investors led by WinStar Farm.
An online Wikipedia entry describes Justify as a large horse, standing 16.3 hands (67 inches or 170 cm) at the withers and weighing 1,380 pounds (630 kg).
The Gunthers are the first Canadian breeders to record a Triple Crown win, and they can’t quite agree on who should get the most credit.
The proud father praised his daughter’s “analytical mind,” adding “she probably has a better eye for a horse than I do.”
“I’m always telling him not to do that (give me most of the credit),” Tanya Gunther said.
“It was a team effort.”
She said seeing Justify become a Triple Crown winner was “surreal.”
Tanya Gunther grew up in what she called a “horsey family” on the Gunther farm in South Langley.
She started with ponies, then graduated to hunter-jumper competitions and eventually rode in Madison Square Garden.
Then she became an investment banker, but eventually gave it up to return to her first interest, horses.
“I followed my passion,” she said.
“There’s nothing more rewarding.”
Both father and daughter said the win still hasn’t completely sunk in.
And they will have little time to savour the victory before their next challenge.
John Gunther said he has a three-year-old colt named “Without Parole” that has gone undefeated so far and will be running in the St James’s Palace Stakes at the Royal Ascot race course in Great Britain.
The St. James’s Palace Stakes is named after St. James’s Palace, a royal residence during the Tudor period.
With his daughter, Gunther has been to the exquisitely formal event before, always in a rented top hat and tails.
This year, in a possible indication of confidence, he bought his own outfit.