HORSE OF THE YEAR: ACCELERATE OR JUSTIFY?

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.

Analysis

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

MIDEAST ROYALS AND WALL STREET INVESTORS

The most recognizable Thoroughbred owners in both Europe and the United States once hailed from socially prominent families of mostly inherited wealth in Great Britain, France, and the United States.  No longer.  Nowadays, many owners at the top level of horse racing come from the royal families of the Mideast and investors on Wall Street.  The latter are risk-takers by occupation and thus are drawn to owning racehorses.

At the 2018 Breeders’ Cup, for example, races were won by horses owned by Dubai ruler Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid al Maktoum and Saudi Arabian Prince Khalid bin Abdullah Al Saud, while other races winners were owned by Martin Schwartz and Sol Kumin, whose wealth came from equity trading.  Similarly, Wall Street billionaire Vincent Viola owned part of 2017 Kentucky Derby winner Always Dreaming and the Aga Khan and Princess Haya of Jordan (wife of Sheikh Mohammed) are prominent owners.

How things have changed can be seen by the fact that a British peer from a well-known horse-racing family with ties to The Jockey Club going back generations, Edward John “Teddy” Beckett, the 5th Baron Grimthorpe, is the racing manager for Prince Khalid.

Finding enough owners is a perennial issue in horse racing.  Absent owners from the Middle East and Wall Street, who have the monetary wherewithal to spend on racehorses and the desire to do so, horse racing in Europe and the United States would be in dire straits.  The future will be brighter still if deep-pocketed owners continue to emerge from developing nations, most notably China.

Copyright © 2018 Horse Racing Business

A WARNING SHOT THAT SHOULD CONCERN THE NORTH AMERICAN HORSE-RACING WORLD

On election night 2018, Florida voters banned dog racing with 69% of those casting ballots in favor of passing Amendment 13 to the Florida constitution.  Florida follows five other states that have outlawed dog racing in the past two decades.  By 2020, Florida’s eleven greyhound tracks will close to racing, which will leave only six greyhound tracks in the United States operating in five states.

Greyhound racing in Florida began in the 1920s at Hialeah.  Dog racing in 2016-2017 accounted for 25% of Florida’s pari-mutuel revenue, though the business has been in a secular decline.

The passage of Amendment 13 culminated some 20 years of advocacy by an organization called GREY2K USA Worldwide.  A major point emphasized in the campaign to eliminate dog racing was that Florida’s Department of Business and Regulation found that 460 greyhounds died since 2013, when Florida began tracking the mortality numbers.

The overwhelming passage of Amendment 13 should send a wakeup message to the horse racing industry.  On a single election night in a future year, horse racing in a major racing and breeding state like Florida could be ended.

Horse racing, you say, is much more humane than dog racing.  Whether you and I agree with this point of view is immaterial.  The only perspective that matters is how the public in general and voters specifically look upon the sport.

It is beyond the scope of this blog post to suggest a strategy for horse racing, other than to say, emphatically, that people in the industry had better put aside differences and come to an agreement on such urgent matters as a nationwide medication protocol, aftercare as an alternative to slaughter, and further progress on curbing breakdowns.  Divisive internal debates about, for notable example, race-day furosemide will be resolved for the industry if there is no racing in prominent racing states like Florida, California, or who knows where else.

Horse racing at Gulfstream Park and Tampa Bay Downs (or elsewhere nationally) is permitted by the consent of the public.  This approval can be taken away with alacrity and the outcome would reverberate from racetracks to breeding farms, auction companies, and other commercial enterprises.

Copyright © 2018 Horse Racing Business