This piece has been a long-time coming. I’ve gone back and forth more times than I care to admit, simply because 2018’s Horse of the Year debate is arguably one of the most heated in recent memory. While I expected my stance on the subject would become clear in the weeks following Breeders’ Cup, the deeper in thought I dove, the more conflicted I became.
Immediately following the world championships, I remember texting numerous friends and colleagues stating confidently, “Look. I love myself one handsome son of Scat Daddy. But, Accelerate is Horse of the Year.”
It seemed so clear at the time.
As the days and weeks passed, the very proclamation I had so confidently professed, ate slowly away at me— knit picking at the confidence I held in the original statements I had made.
Is Accelerate truly worthy of racing’s highest honor?
There is zero doubt residing in my mind that the son of Lookin’ at Lucky ran a stellar 5yo campaign. In any other circumstance, the race for Horse of the Year would not merit an internal discussion such as this. It would be an open and shut case for Accelerate.
Unfortunately for the John Sadler trainee, a bigger, redder horse’s historic 3yo season overshadows any and all accomplishments made by other runners, this year.
That horse’s name is Justify.
I’ve seen all too many times, the comments echoing one another— over Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, and so on…
“It’s Horse of the YEAR, Not Horse of the First Half of the Year.”
Bravo, guys. Incredibly clever comments based upon the popular opinion of handicappers who likely lost money on a rare athlete who never brought an enticing price a day in his life.
These comments are nothing more than the rhetoric of individuals who simply haven’t taken an unbiased look at facts.
The facts are as follows:
Justify ran six races in the span of 112 days. His career, start to finish, was but a blip in time which will be remembered for both a rare brilliance, and an untimely end.
Unfortunately for the colt who burst on to the American racing scene as the first unraced 2yo to win the Kentucky Derby since infamous Apollo, his connections made the decision to rush him to retirement after his Triple Crown victory, which will ultimately forever tarnish the legacy he built.
Sure, he had “Filling in his ankle.” But, did any of us actually believe such a tale? Justify stepped off of the van the day he arrived to WinStar farm to report to stud duty, the picture of health and fitness— all but bursting out of his own skin with sheer power.
He was not a horse ready for retirement, he was a horse who was suddenly worth more in retirement, than he was under saddle.
As a business decision, I suppose it was understandable. Luckily for WinStar and the rest of his connections, I believe Justify is a lock for Horse of the year… but do note— to retire him immediately following his Triple Crown score, was to forever dull his place in history among racing’s elite— and this is coming from a die-hard Justify fan girl.
For the horse’s sake— for his legacy’s sake… he deserved better.
Anyhow… What sealed the deal for me, truly, was this:
Accelerate, though dominant and tenacious as they come, raced 7 times throughout the year, winning 6 times.
Justify raced 6 times in the span of 112 days, remaining unbeaten.
Guys. Do you see where I’m going with this? I am going to date myself terribly here and say to those carrying the popular opinion of
“It’s Horse of the YEAR, Not Horse of the First Half of the Year…”
Your point is moot.
If anything, Justify’s resume becomes all the more impressive when considering what he accomplished in his unfortunately short time on the racetrack.
In a modern era which tends to race Thoroughbreds every 6-8 weeks— one which fancies training-up over racing-up, doesn’t the fact that Justify transformed from debut winner to Triple Crown Champion within a matter of 3 1/2 months mean anything at all?
It certainly should.
Accelerate is one hell of a horse who had one hell of a campaign. But he is no Justify.
For me? Horse of the Year is a no-brainer.