Tuesday, November 06, 2018

The Horse of the Year Horse Race of 2018

Could there be a better day—a day that separates this country from most of the rest of the world--than to reveal an early ballot cast Sunday? No, not that ballot, the NTRA one posted the day after Breeders’ Cup XXXV.

The NTRA National Poll--as opposed to the 3-year-old Poll that ends at the conclusion of the Triple Crown—is intended to rank America’s best racing talent, regardless of age or sex, a list of 10 horses that might be best in show, aka Horse of the Year.

For most of 2018’s post-Triple Crown season, it basically was all Justify all the time, followed closely by a seemingly invincible West Coast handicapper, Accelerate, and a leading filly, like defending champion Abel Tasman or an up-and-coming soph called Monomoy Girl.

Nearly two months of racing remain in the 2018 racing season so things could still change; opinions, at least thoughtful ones that hopefully continue, during the perspective-gaining time left, to evolve..

So, on the most important Election Day in the democracy’s lifetime, here is what the online ballot of one turf writer who, somewhat stunningly still refuses to accept abject cynicism and remains devoted to the game, is surprised by his own choices.

Suffice that it would be a major surprise to me and most of my colleagues should any horse not named Justify be crowned 2018 Horse of the Year. But like the man says: Not so fast my friends.

After considerable horserace soul searching, a few perspective-altering developments and in consideration of 74 years on the planet, I believe that I have earned the right, in good and clear conscience, to do as I damn please. To wit, one man’s NTRA ballot:

5. ROY H

Horse racing debates are raging everywhere on this topic. A recent informal Twitter poll shows 54% of fans preferred Accelerate over Justify.

And, speaking of statistical dead heats on this Election Day, an online racing poll reveals the closest thing we can have to a precise dead heat: 43.75% to 43.74% for Accelerate as this is being written. Yes, it’s thatclose.

For those who do not understand what the issue is about, it’s the 13th Triple Crown winner in history, the first to do so without having race at 2 since 1882 and the first to do so undefeated since Seattle Slew, the only other undefeated classics champ.

But, in this corner, is five year old Accelerate, the winner of five of six starts in 2018, all Grade 1, including the California “Big Three” and four of those five at the classic American distance of a mile and a quarter.

Accelerate’s only loss was a neck defeat to City of Light, an authoritative winner of the Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile on the same afternoon. Accelerate competed from February to November.

As for Monomoy Girl, all she accomplished was to finish first in all seven starts dating back to a February Grade 2. The other six were Grade 1 [once disqualified], comprising two prestigious Oaks and a Distaff over elders that included a defending Eclipse champion, Abel Tasman.

While the resumes of Accelerate and Monomoy Girl are extremely compelling, how does one knock an undefeated Triple Crown champion off his perch, even if some of the blush came off the roses, black-eyed susans and carnations courtesy of American Pharoah’s drought-ending sweep three years ago?

Whether via injury, or to protect the reputation of a reported $70-million syndicated property, Justify did not race beyond June 9, never beat an older horse and among the Triple Crown vanquished, only Good Magic returned to win a major, the G1 Haskell Invitational.

Trust that this debate will rage right up to December’s Eclipse Award-voting deadline. Ultimately, all will be revealed the night of January 24 inside Gulfstream Park’s Sport of Kings theater.

You might have noticed that my ballot did not include a vote for a leading Turf champion because I don’t believe any such runner stamped himself worthy of being called a champion, and neither did an older dirt mare assert her superiority.

As stated, racing will be conducted for two more truncated months so there might be time to impress Eclipse voters. With respect to grass horses, two European-based fillies finished ahead of America’s best males—by nine thrashing lengths.

This may be a year when I am forced to award the Turf title to a history-making Arc de Triomphe-winning filly. Like Frankie shouted after Enable’s Turf victory: “She conquered America.”

Also, observe we included two juvenile fillies in our Top NTRA 10; Jaywalk, who took a traditional dual Grade 1 path to an Eclipse title, including a tour de force Juvenile Fillies, and the Juvenile Filly Turf champion, Newspaperofrecord.

Undefeated on the grass, Newspaperofrecord tops the list of most brilliant performer in Breeders’ Cup 35. And, on this particular Election Day, the most important in the life of a democratic republic ever, she certainly earns the title of Best Named Horse of 2018.

Written by John Pricci

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