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Justify Still Horse of the Year Favorite

by Jon White

September 12, 2018

The 2018 Horse of the Year is going to be either Justify or Accelerate. This is indicated by the NTRA Top Thoroughbred Poll this week in which these two horses received 39 of the 41 first-place votes. 

Justify received 30 first-place votes this week, compared to 9 for Accelerate. However, because the NTRA Top Thoroughbred Poll is conducted on a 10-9-8-7-6-5-4-3-2-1 basis in terms of points, even though Justify received by far the most first-place votes, Accelerate tops the poll with 380 points, compared to 354 for Justify. 

The only horse besides Justify and Accelerate to get any first-place votes this week is Diversify. Diversify received two first-place votes. 

Here is this week's NTRA Top Thoroughbred Poll: 

Rank Points Horse (First-Place Votes) 

1. 380 Accelerate (9) 
2. 354 Justify (30) 
3. 298 Diversify (2) 
4. 263 Monomoy Girl 
5. 211 Abel Tasman 
6. 162 Catholic Boy 
7. 96 Sistercharlie 
9. 85 Catalina Cruiser 
10. 82 Mind Your Biscuits 

The reason Accelerate sits atop the poll despite not having the most first-place votes is that while many of those put him first on their ballot for 10 points, they ranked Justify lower -- sometimes much lower -- than the 9 points he would get if they had put him second. 

I am one of the 30 voters who put Justify first this week. He got 10 points from my first-place vote for him. 

Because I think Justify deserves to be No. 1, I gave brief consideration to ranking Accelerate lower than second on my ballot, or perhaps even leaving him off it, in order to help Justify. But I decided not to do that because I do not think it would be fair to Accelerate. Inasmuch as I believe Accelerate should be ranked second, that is exactly where I put him on my ballot this week. Because I did put Accelerate second, he got those 9 points. 

Keep in mind that when Eclipse Award voters do cast their votes later this year for the 2018 Horse of the Year, only first-place votes will count in that particular Eclipse Awards category, unlike votes in the NTRA Top Thoroughbred Poll. 

Years ago, it seemed that some Eclipse Award voters were playing games by not putting a qualified Horse of the Year candidate second or third in an attempt to increase the chances of the horse they voted for first to get the Horse of the Year title. The powers that be reacted -- wisely, I think -- to any possibly game playing by instituting a change to count only the first-place votes for Horse of the Year, even though voters do list their three choices, in order. 

Thus, based on Justify receiving so many more first-place votes in the NTRA Top Thoroughbred Poll, I believe he is a strong favorite at this time to be voted 2018 Horse of the Year. 

Here are my odds for 2018 Horse of the Year: 

1-5 Justify 
2-1 Accelerate 
20-1 Diversify 
20-1 Yoshida 
30-1 All Others 

If 5-year-old Accelerate does win all of his remaining races this year, he no doubt will tighten the race for 2018 Horse of the Year with 3-year-old Justify. After Justify won the Grade I Belmont Stakes on June 9 to complete a rare Triple Crown sweep, he was retired from racing in July. 

But even if Accelerate does not lose another race during the rest of this year and wins the Grade I, $6 million Breeders' Cup Classic at Churchill Downs on Nov. 3, will he topple Justify in Horse of the Year balloting? History tells us that no matter what Accelerate does during the remainder of 2018, he still will be fighting an uphill battle to be Horse of the Year vs. a Triple Crown winner. 

A negative for Accelerate regarding his Horse of the Year resume is that he, unlike Justify, has a lost a race this year. Accelerate finished second to City of Light in the Grade II Oaklawn Handicap in April. Prior to his retirement, Justify was victorious in all six of his races this year. 

Four of Justify's wins this year have come in Grade I races. If Accelerate were to win both the Grade I Awesome Again Stakes at Santa Anita on Sept. 29 and Grade I BC Classic, it would give him a total of five Grade I victories this year to surpass Justify in that category. If this occurred, it certainly would bolster Accelerate's Horse of the Year candidacy. 

Sir Barton in 1919, Gallant Fox in 1930 and Omaha in 1935 won the Triple Crown prior to Granville becoming the first Horse of the Year in 1937. Any way you slice it, what does not bode well for Accelerate’s chances to become the 2018 Horse of the Year is that since Granville, all nine Triple Crown winners prior to this year have been voted that season's Horse of the Year.

A prime example of how important a Triple Crown sweep is with Horse of the Year voters occurred in 1978. Affirmed swept the 1978 Triple Crown. But even though Seattle Slew defeated Affirmed both times they met that year, Affirmed was voted 1978 Horse of the Year. 

Below is a look at those nine Triple Crown winners compared to that season's champion handicap horse prior to 1971 or champion older male horse from 1971 on. 


Triple Crown winner WAR ADMIRAL in 1937: 8 starts, 8 wins (6 in stakes). 
Number of stakes wins against older horses: 1. 

Champion handicap horse: SEABISCUIT in 1937: 15 starts, 11 wins (10 in stakes). 

Note: War Admiral and Seabiscuit did not meet in 1937. 


Triple Crown winner WHIRLAWAY in 1941: 20 starts, 13 wins (8 in stakes). 
Number of stakes wins against older horses: 0. 

Champion older male horse: MIOLAND in 1941: 12 starts, 5 wins (5 in stakes). 

Note: Whirlaway and Mioland did not meet in 1941. 


Triple Crown winner COUNT FLEET in 1943: 6 starts, 6 wins (5 in stakes). 
Number of stakes wins against older horses: 0. 

Co-champion older male horse MARKET WISE in 1943: 10 starts, 3 wins (3 in stakes). 

Co-champion older male horse DEVIL DIVER in 1943: 9 starts, 4 wins (4 in stakes). 

Note: Count Fleet did not meet either Market Wise or Devil Diver in 1943. 


Triple Crown winner ASSAULT in 1946: 15 starts, 8 wins (8 wins in stakes). Number of stakes wins against older horses: 2. 

Champion older male horse ARMED in 1946: 18 starts, 11 wins (9 in stakes). 

Note: Assault and Armed did not meet in 1946. 


Triple Crown winner CITATION in 1948: 20 starts, 19 wins (16 in stakes). 
Number of stakes wins against older horses: 7. 

Champion handicap horse in 1948: CITATION. 


Triple Crown winner SECRETARIAT in 1973: 12 starts, 9 wins (9 in stakes). Number of stakes wins against older horses: 3. 

Champion older male horse RIVA RIDGE in 1973: 9 starts, 5 wins (3 in stakes). 

Note: Secretariat and Riva Ridge met once in 1973. When Secretariat won the 1 1/8-mile Marlboro Cup at Belmont Park by 3 1/2 lengths, Riva Ridge finished second. 


Triple Crown winner SEATTLE SLEW in 1977: 7 starts, 6 wins (5 in stakes). Number of stakes wins against older horses: 0. 

Champion older male horse FOREGO in 1977: 7 starts, 4 wins (3 in stakes). 

Note: Seattle Slew and Forego did not meet in 1977. 


Triple Crown winner AFFIRMED in 1978: 11 starts, 8 wins (7 in stakes). 
Number of stakes wins against older horses: 0. 

Champion older male horse SEATTLE SLEW in 1978: 7 starts in 1978, 5 wins (3 in stakes). 

Note: Affirmed and Seattle Slew met twice in 1978. When Seattle Slew won the 1 1/8-mile Marlboro Cup at Belmont Park by three lengths, Affirmed finished second. When Seattle Slew finished second in the 1 1/2-mile Jockey Club Gold Cup at Belmont Park, Affirmed finished fifth. 


Triple Crown winner AMERICAN PHAROAH in 2015: 8 starts, 7 wins (7 in stakes). 
Number of stakes wins against holder horses: 1. 

Champion older male horse HONOR CODE in 2015: 6 starts, 3 wins (3 in stakes). 

Note: American Pharoah and Honor Code met once in 2015. When American Pharoah won the 1 1/4-mile Breeders' Cup Classic at Keeneland by 6 1/2 lengths, Honor Code finished third. 


Accelerate continues to be the favorite at Las Vegas' Wynn Race & Sports Book for the Breeders' Cup Classic. Race & Sports Book director John Avello lists Accelerate at 9-2 for the Nov. 3 race at Churchill Downs. 

The BC Classic price on Accelerate at the Wynn is down slightly from his 5-1 favoritism on Aug. 28. 

Meanwhile, back on Aug. 1, I suggested to Avello that he add Catholic Boy to his BC Classic list. Avello did so, opening Catholic Boy at 85-1. 

On Aug. 25, Catholic Boy registered a four-length victory in the Grade I Travers Stakes at Saratoga. After the Travers, Avello slashed Catholic Boy’s BC Classic odds to 14-1. 

Catholic Boy's current BC Classic price at the Wynn is down to 10-1. 

These are the horses listed at 50-1 or lower as of Sept. 10 for the BC Classic at the Wynn: 

9-2 Accelerate 
5-1 West Coast 
6-1 Diversify 
10-1 Catholic Boy 
10-1 Collected 
10-1 Thunder Snow 
10-1 Yoshida 
12-1 Hofburg 
12-1 McKinzie 
12-1 Pavel 
15-1 Gunnevera 
18-1 Mendelssohn 
20-1 Gunnevera 
20-1 Bravazo 
22-1 Hoppertunity 
25-1 Elate 
30-1 Good Magic 
35-1 Mind Your Biscuits 
35-1 Seeking the Soul 
40-1 Ax Man 
40-1 King Zachary 
40-1 Vino Rosso 
45-1 Gronkowski 
45-1 Take Your Guns 
45-1 Tiz Mischief 
50-1 Honorable Duty 
50-1 Instilled Regard 
50-1 Mr Freeze 
50-1 Tapwrit 
50-1 Telekinesis