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.

  2. I agree that Accelerate should be Horse of the Year. Winning the Triple Crown as an unraced two year old like Justify did was indeed impressive, but if you look at past Triple Crown winners they likely would have lost to an older horse with a resume like Accelerate’s. They just happened to not have them in their Triple Crown year. There are three instances where this happened and all are distinguishable:

    1. In 1943, Count Fleet was voted HOTY after not racing past his Belmont Stakes win. He raced 4 times that year setting a track record in his Wood Memorial win, and then sweeping the Triple Crown setting another track record winning the Belmont Stakes. He was injured and retired as a four year old when his injury would not allow him to race. That year the racing publications split their older male vote so there was no Accelerate type campaign to challenge Count Fleet.

    2. In 1977, Seattle Slew opened the year setting a track record at 7 furlongs at Hialeah in an allowance race before winning 5G1s. and sweeping the Triple Crown as the first undefeated winner. Forego was a three time HOTY champion and was voted champion older male off two G1 wins. It has been suggested that had Forego not been scratched from a race and won becoming the. first $2 million winner he would have taken HOTY from slew, so again there was no Accelerate like campaign.
    3. In 1978, Affirmed swept the TC and 5 G1s losing all his races post TC, but competing against older horses several times and doing well despite a slipped saddle in one race. Seattle Slew took champion older male with six out of ten wins, and beat out Exceller who had six G1s on turf and dirt, but the voters felt if they could not give champion older male to Excellerl, he could not get HOTY. Plus Affirmed had faced older males and done well and ended up edging out Seattle Slew for HOTY by seven votes.

    So it has always been clear that winning the Triple Crown is not an automatic guarantee of HOTY since Omaha in 1935 lost it to Discovery.