When it was recently suggested in the comment section at HRI that Accelerate--the handicap division star that sits atop the NTRA National Poll—had a chance to become 2018 Horse of the Year, I smiled.

…And I could hear TJ harrumphing at the notion from Jensen Beach to Pahrump and back again.

A Horse of the Year other than a Triple Crown winner, an undefeated one at that, the only other since Seattle Slew and the conqueror of the Shadow of Apollo. As McEnroe one famously said: “You cannot be serious.”

But you know what?

Whether Accelerate runs the table through Breeders Cup or not, the balance of Catholic Boy’s 2018 campaign could give—could being the operative word—this voter Horse of the Year pause.

Yes, I know, it’s sacrilegious, and this is strictly conjecture because the Catholic Boy camp has no apparent Horse of the Year aspirations. But they might want to give one scenario some thought.

If they decide to prep for the Breeders’ Cup Classic in the grassy nine furlong Grade 2 Hill Prince, as has been announced, that wouldn’t get Horse of the Year done--even if Catholic Boy were to defeat Accelerate on the first Saturday in November.

Straight three-year-olds on grass for $500,000 is a sensible. But what if the connections got ambitious and decided to throw Catholic Boy’s hooves into the Horse of the Year ring?

What if they got ambitious and still wanted to stretch out going turf to dirt into the Classic, there are two races they could consider, albeit both against far better. What if they were to beat older horses going a mile in a Grade 1?

Keeneland’s Shadwell Mile and the Woodbine Mile in Toronto are out there. Those races certainly would be challenging both from a distance and competitive perspective. But they win and go on to repeat in the Classic?

That would be four Grade 1s, two on each surface, which includes a Midsummer Derby, two victories over elders, one at a mile on turf, then finish 2018 by winning America’s most prestigious championship race. Then what?

Whether or not the connections of Justify were doing the right thing by retiring the Triple Crown champion—they did, considering his value and the inherent risk of racing again with an injury that may be more complicated than anyone outside his circle knows—fans do not abide early retirements.

This is the age old question: Is Thoroughbred racing a sport first, or is it primarily a business? And what if the answer is that it cannot be had both ways, for the purpose of this philosophical exercise? Then what?

If voters wanted to handicap past performances, which achievement is more impressive?

Was it the small field G1 Santa Anita Derby and a Triple Crown sweep against a group that has boasts but three respected next out stakes winners: Good Magic’s Haskell, Tenfold’s Jim Dandy and Hofburg’s Curlin Stakes?

How does that rate on the achievement scale given that Catholic Boy whipped two of them in the Travers while Hofburg was properly sidelined, albeit a minor issue?

With each owning four Grade 1s--one against members of his own division; the other on two surfaces with two victories over elders, including an intense, top class turf mile—one would have the better degree-of-difficulty resume.

The chances that Catholic Boy’s connections would choose the more difficult road are slim and none, and Slim just asked if I had an uber app on my I-Phone or was thinking about challenging Usain Bolt in a foot race.

But if they did decide to choose the most arduous path I could conjure up and actually pulled it off, they would get at least one vote for Horse of the Year. That would be mine. Anything less, it's Justify.

Requiescat In Pace

To learn that John Asher had suddenly passed away from an apparent heart attack at 62 while vacationing with his family on Orlando was a terribly tragic way to start this or any other week.

But that’s what happened when I checked my Twitter feed Monday morning and Karen Johnson’s tribute to John was the first thing I read. To say that it was stunning would be to undersell the impact of what I had just learned.

John Asher was not a close friend but he was a good friend. I haven’t covered a Kentucky Derby since Churchill Downs repurposed the best press box in horse racing history and turned it into a luxurious money maker.

But I’ll never forget Asher from the 16 I covered for Newsday and how John’s warm greetings and extensions of kindness and consideration.

The truth is that he was a good friend to everyone who ever crossed his path. It was a privilege to know him.

Accounts of his passing officially note that he was the Vice President of Racing Communications for Churchill Downs. But as you hear so often these days when accomplished people are feted, he was an even better person.

In the oft-unforgiving corporate atmosphere of Churchill Downs Inc., John was not “one of the suits.” He was a racetracker with the soul of a journalist, one who had the professional bona fides to prove it.

As a radio broadcaster, Asher won five Eclipse Awards for “Outstanding National Radio Coverage of Thoroughbred Racing” and seven times was flattered by the Associated Press as greater Kentucky’s “Best Reporter.” Period, end quote.

In his role as CDI spokesman, my memory is of a man who went out of his way to help “the loyal opposition,” always striving for fairness, showing appreciation and respect for the men and women whose job it is to report or opine.

Not many racing administrators in any capacity loved the game more than John Asher. The fact that he died so young only underscores the cliché about how God wants good people in his kingdom sooner rather than later.

HRI and its staffers would like Asher’s family to know that their patriarch was beloved. Condolences to the family and his many, many, many friends.

I hope that before too long I will soon learn about plans for the inaugural running of the John Asher Memorial Stakes. No one could deserve it more. John Asher was Grade 1 man.