When voters cast their ballots for the Eclipse Award for 2018 American Horse of the Year, the choice will come down to 5-year-old Accelerate and 3-year-old Justify.  My analysis of which horse will win the award follows a brief summary of the achievements of each horse.

Accelerate Credentials

His first race in the 2018 season was on February 3rd and his last race was on November 3rd in the Breeders’ Cup Classic.  Accelerate won six of seven races with one second-place finish.  He achieved a feat that only three racehorses (Affirmed, Alysheba, and Cigar) have accomplished–winning four Grade 1 races, in a single year, on dirt at 1 ¼ miles (Alysheba holds the record with five).

Justify Credentials

The colt broke his maiden on February 18, 2018 and was retired undefeated after the Belmont Stakes on June 9th.  His seven career starts included four Grade 1 races–the Santa Anita Derby, the Kentucky Derby, the Preakness, and the Belmont.  Justify was the 13th American Triple Crown winner and the only undefeated one at career end.


A reasonable case for Horse of the Year can be made for either Accelerate or Justify.  Accelerate competed for virtually the entire 2018 year, whereas Justify ran for less than four months.  Additionally, Accelerate capped off his 2018 campaign by convincingly winning the Breeders’ Cup Classic.  By contrast, Justify became only the 13th 3-year-old in American racing history to win the coveted Triple Crown, though some observers have questioned the quality of the competition he engaged…and he never raced against older horses.  He won the Belmont at 1 ½ miles, a distance never attempted by Accelerate.

The view here is that the prestige associated with a colt winning the Triple Crown will be decisive and therefore Justify will prevail in Horse of the Year voting, even though statistically a Triple Crown does not qualify as being unique, which is defined as “sole” or “unequaled.”  A better descriptor would be rare, defined as infrequent.  In the one hundred years of Triple Crown history, the first champion being Sir Barton in 1919, the Triple Crown has been won 13 percent of the time, which equates to about 1 in 7.6.  This metric is unusual but certainly is not unique.  What is inarguably “unique” is that Justify is the “sole” Triple Crown winner who was never bested in an official race.

No doubt Accelerate will be preferred by some voters, but more voters will find Justify’s undefeated Triple Crown season compellingly distinctive.  The reasoning will be that a Triple Crown champion, and an undefeated one at that, must almost automatically be Horse of the Year.  The Triple Crown is the ultimate prize in American horse racing and winning it conveys an aura to a champion.

When Justify is eligible for induction into the National Museum of Racing and Hall of Fame in five years, debate will focus on his very brief racing career and the fact that he did not compete against older horses.  Nonetheless, Justify will join his Triple Crown peers in the Hall of Fame.

Copyright © 2018 Horse Racing Business


  1. Well, I think Accelerate should win the award. As you pointed out, 12 other horses have done what Justify has done. Only a single horse has done what Accelerate has done capturing the 4 G1 route races in California and the Breeders Cup Classic.

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