Examining the Horse of the Year Race

Horse of the Year

Accelerate wins the 2018 Breeders’ Cup Classic (G1), his fifth Grade 1 victory in 2018 making him a contender for Horse of the Yer honors (Photo credit: Alex Evers/Breeders’ Cup Ltd.).

Once Accelerate crossed the wire in front in the Breeders’ Cup Classic (G1) on Nov. 3 the debate began with just about everyone chiming in on the Horse of the Year race.

We have a three-year-old that went from a maiden winner in February to a Triple Crown winner in less than four months but did not start in the second half of 2018.

And we have the ultra-consistent five-year-old Accelerate, who raced just one more time than Justify, but his races spanned from February to November, winning six of his seven starts.

However, before we get to examining the Horse of the Year race, can we give a little love to the ladies?

Monomoy Girl Nearly Perfect in 2018

The Brad Cox trained Monomoy Girl started seven times in 2018, the same as Accelerate and one more than Justify, and she was nearly perfect. She crossed the wire in front in all seven of her starts.

Her lone blemish was in her final prep for the Breeders’ Cup Distaff (G1) where she crossed the wire in front in the Cotillion (G1) at Parx Racing but was disqualified in a controversial decision and placed second behind Midnight Bisou.

She won four Grade 1 races including beating older in the Distaff and started her 2018 campaign by winning the Rachel Alexandra (G2) at Fair Grounds in February.

That is a pretty good year, and if Justify had not won the Triple Crown she likely would be getting more love. She had a great year.

Breeders’ Cup Distaff Replay

Breaking the Apollo Curse

Justify was not even the top rated three-year-old in Bob Baffert’s barn when he made his debut in February, but he quickly rose to the top after breaking his maiden by 9 ½ lengths and then beating first level optional claimers by 6 ½ lengths, both with triple digit Beyers.

His stakes debut came in the Santa Anita Derby (G1) which he dominated, and swept the Triple Crown races over five weeks, becoming just the 13th to sweep the three classics.

In most years that would be enough to wrap up Horse of the Year honors, but this year feels a bit different. Perhaps if American Pharoah had not won the Triple Crown for the same trainer just three years earlier we would not be having this discussion.

Can what a horse does in just 112 days be enough to win the Eclipse Award for Horse of the Year? It would take a pretty special horse to top a Triple Crown winner, right?

Justify became the first Kentucky Derby winner to be unraced as a juvenile since Apollo in 1882, and not having to talk about the “Apollo Curse“ ever again should be worth a few bonus points.

He beat a total of 35 foes in those three Triple Crown races, more than any other that swept the three races. However, the class of 2018 has turned out to be weaker than average.

Belmont Stakes Replay

Accelerating the Eclipse Race

Accelerate came into the 2018 season having won an unremarkable one out of eight starts last year, taking the San Diego Handicap (G2) and was ninth in the Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile (G1), beaten 14 ¼ lengths.

He stepped up his game this year, winning the three major Grade 1 races for older runners in Southern California— the Santa Anita Handicap, Gold Cup at Santa Anita and the Pacific Classic.

In between the Big Cap and Gold Cup he suffered his lone loss in 2018, beaten a neck in the Oaklawn Handicap (G2). He was beaten by City of Light, who won the Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile (G1).

His final prep for the Breeders’ Cup Classic came in the Awesome Again (G1) at Santa Anita where he had to beat the come backing West Coast, who was making his first start off a layoff.

Accelerate got the job done by 2 ¼ lengths but after earning Beyers of 111 and 115 in his two previous outings, the number for his win in the Awesome Again came back at just 100.

Was he tailing off?

A Classic Race at Churchill Downs

Sadler was coming into this year’s Breeders’ Cup with a 0 for 41 record that he was asked about probably a million times. When Catalina Cruiser, the favorite for the Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile tossed in a clunker, you could feel he was getting a little tired about being asked about getting off the duck.

Accelerate was sent off as the 2.70-1 favorite for the Classic in a full field of 14 and had to overcome the outside post, which he did under a masterful ride by Joel Rosario.

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It was his fifth Grade 1 win of the year to go along with one Grade 2.

Breeders’ Cup Classic Replay

“They’ve been saying all along that he had to win the Classic to be in the conversation. He won the Classic,” Accelerate’s co-owner Kosta Hronis said after the race. “And then I read somewhere where it said maybe he did this all on the wrong year. But maybe Justify won the Triple Crown in the wrong year.”

If you are a numbers guy, his average Beyer Speed Figure this year was 107. The average for Justify was 102, but you have to think if he had raced during the second half of the year his numbers may have gone upward.

Accelerate certainly has the momentum, with voters not having seen Justify since June. There will be some that feel that despite winning the Triple Crown, a longer campaign is worthier of Horse of the Year honors.

Then again, you could make the argument that winning six races over a short span of 111 days including the Triple Crown is harder than winning six of seven starts over a 273-day span.

Another factor could be with the National Turf Writers and Broadcasters. There are about 190 that will vote in that bloc and there are some that do not cover horse racing year round. I have a hunch that group will lean toward Justify.

American Pharoah was a unanimous choice in 2015 for the Eclipse Award for Horse of the Year, garnering all 261 votes. Honor Code won top older horse that year over Liam’s Map and Tonalist.

Justify has a much more imposing foe in Accelerate and the vote could be close.

My prediction when all the votes including Broward County are counted, Justify will get the hardware with 53% of the vote.

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