At the conclusion of the 2018 Belmont Stakes, the Horse of the Year argument was closed. Justify had shocked the world by winning the Triple Crown™ at Belmont Park, and has become the most famous steed on the planet.
While the Horse of the Year discussion was thought to be closed, Accelerate's conquest opened it back up, turning it into a duel between two titans of the sport.
While it may seem crazy to be pondering Horse of the Year in a Triple Crown year, this is where we, and especially the voters for the Eclipse Awards, find themselves.
With such a tight race for the biggest year end honor in the sport, we decided to look at the case for both Justify and Accelerate to see if it offers any clarity.
Horse of the Year Case for Justify
When Justify crossed the finish line at the 2018 Belmont Stakes, he became a part of the most elite group in the history of the sport.
This year, Justify became just the 13th horse to win the Triple Crown — which in every other case has guaranteed a horse the Horse of the Year title. In fact, since the inception of the Eclipse Awards in 1971, all four Triple Crown winners have been awarded Horse of the Year.
One of the stronger arguments for Justify is that the Bob Baffert-trainee dominated every race that was put in front of him in 2018. He won all six of his starts in 2018, highlighted by a streak of four-straight Grade 1 victories that started with the Santa Anita Derby in April and ended with the treble conquest at Belmont Park.
The three-year old also vanquished the "Curse of Apollo" by becoming the first horse since 1882 to win the Kentucky Derby® after not competing in its two-year old season.
While his retirement from injury in July came as a shock to the fairly young horse, it also etched him into an ever most exclusive club. After retiring with a 6-0 record, Justify became only the second undefeated Triple Crown winner in the history of the sport.
The best case for Justify truly rests in the almost mythical status of what he accomplished. In the almost century-and-a-half existence of the Triple Crown races, only 13 horses have been able to collect all three jewels. That should mean something, even if his racing career was cut short.
Horse of the Year Case for Accelerate
The fact that we are even having this discussion in a Triple Crown year proves how downright incredible Accelerate's 2018 campaign has been.
Accelerate has validated his contendership throughout every performance all the way from February through November of this year.
But then Accelerate boosted his resume by proving that he wasn't only dominant on just one side of the country by beating out Gunnerva and the rest of the world's competition in the Breeders Cup Classic.
Accelerate raced a total of seven times in 2018, collecting six victories. In his one loss at the Oaklawn Handicap, Accelerate finished less than a head behind winner City of Light. A loss is still a loss, but it's important to note that Accelerate was at full speed for the entire calendar year.
Accelerate's argument over Justify is in both longevity and scope. The John Sadler-trained horse competed for 10 months and bested competition from all age groups, not just three-year olds.
Who Wins Horse of the Year?
It's important to note that the Horse of the Year award is completely subjective.
There's no certain qualifications to win, nor a bar needed to be reached in order to get your name into contention.
If history is an indicator, the Triple Crown winner will be awarded the title like it has always been, and we shouldn't have a problem believing that it is deserved.
But if the voters truly do value a 'what have you done lately' mentality, and take points off of Justify for his early retirement, then we have one of the tightest Horse of the Year races in recent memory.
There's really no prediction to be made. If one side wins, then the other will have one of the best rebuttals ready with a resume to prove every point.
But at the end of it all, one horse will come out on top and another will not. Whether it is Justify or Accelerate, the real takeaway is that 2018 has been one of the best years we've seen in recent memory.
Get Your Official Ticket Package for the 2019 Kentucky Derby®
The Horse of the Year race started with Justify's performance at Churchill Downs® in May, and we want you to be at the next chapter of this epic sprint. You can secure your spot at the 2019 Kentucky Derby with an Official Ticket Package from Derby Experiences. Click the link below to see our official offerings: