Justify’s potential Triple Crown win makes history for WKU alumni

Justify with Mike Smith up, center, after winning the 144th running of the Kentucky Derby Saturday at Churchill Downs. Good Magic with Jose Ortiz up, left, finished second and Audible with Javier Castellano up finished third.

Nicole Ziege

Justify, a 3-year-old thoroughbred, could make history for both himself and for one WKU alumnus, Mary Nixon.

Justify won the Kentucky Derby and the Preakness Stakes. If he wins the Belmont Stakes on Saturday, he will be the thirteenth horse in racing history to win all three legs of the Triple Crown. 

Bethany Wurl, marketing coordinator at WinStar Farm in Versailles, Kentucky, which is where Justify began his training, said there has always been something different in Justify, compared to other horses at the farm.

“He definitely moves different than the other horses,” Wurl said.

While other horses who have raced for the coveted title usually started racing at 2 years old, Justify began racing in February 2018 at 3 years old. He was the first horse since 1882 to win the Kentucky Derby after not racing as a 2-year-old.

Despite Justify’s late start, Wurl said she thinks Justify is faster and smarter than his counterparts.

“We’ve never had a horse like him,” Wurl said. “He just glides through the air.”

His win could make history for WKU alumni as well. One of his co-owners, WKU alumnus Mary Nixon, could become one of the first WKU alumni to be part of the ownership group for a Triple Crown winner.

Nixon, of Lexington, and her husband Ted Nixon joined Starlight Racing in August 2017, not realizing that one of the horses they would invest in would end up winning the Kentucky Derby and the Preakness Stakes. Justify is owned by a partnership of four horse-racing farms, including China Horse Club, WinStar Farm, Head of Plains Partners and Starlight Racing.

“To think that one of my horses would be Derby caliber, that was never a possibility,” Nixon said.

Nixon grew up reading novels like Black Beauty. In junior high school, she got involved with horses, working part-time on a thoroughbred farm in Lexington. She put her love for horses aside, though, when she decided to attend WKU.

Nixon graduated from WKU in 1977 with an accounting degree, becoming a business executive in Louisville. She worked as the tax senior manager at EY in London, Kentucky, and she worked at PNC Bank. She was also the vice president of tax and internal audit at Yum! Brands, Inc. for 21 years.

In 2015, when she started thinking about retirement, she rekindled her interest in horses by joining StarLadies Racing, a racing interest group which consists of about 8-12 partners and five fillies. She later joined her husband as partners in Starlight Racing.

Nixon has been a supporter of WKU for many years.

In 1998, Nixon donated $500,000 to WKU for an accounting professorship called the Mary R. Nixon Professorship in Accounting. The state matched her donation through the Kentucky Regional University Excellence Trust Fund with $500,000.

The donation marked the fourth $1 million professorship at WKU since the trust fund’s creation. WKU accounting professor Yining Chen currently holds the position.

“I have enormous affections for my alma mater, and a lot of great things have happened from my experience at WKU,” Nixon said. “It just makes me that much prouder of being a WKU alumni.”

Nicole Ziege can be reached at 270-745-6011 and [email protected] Follow Nicole Ziege on Twitter at @NicoleZiege.