A Lot at Stake For Accelerate

Accelerate's connections are just focusing for now on winning the Breeders' Cup Classic. But the truth is the 5-year-old is embroiled in a hot rivalry with a horse he has never faced and never will. We are all aware, especially judging by the weekly NTRA poll, that a victory by Accelerate in the Breeders' Cup Classic could actually snatch Horse of the Year honors away from Justify, who would become the only Triple Crown winner not to be named Horse of the Year since championships were inaugurated in 1936.

This time it would be up to the voters to decide without the benefit of a showdown between the two horses. If Accelerate wins the Classic, and wins it impressively, it is possible that Justify would become the first Triple Crown winner to lose Horse of the Year honors and to a horse he never faced.

This could turn into a vote that actually has little to do with accomplishments on the racetrack. It could come down to voters refusing to reward Justify (actually his connections) for retiring him after the Belmont Stakes after a whirlwind six-race romance that ended abruptly with racing fans and media members feeling like they were jilted. Many believe the ankle filling and failure to respond explanation for his retirement was nothing more than a smoke screen to hide the real reason for his retirement - his enormous value as a stallion combined with a fear of him losing and detracting from his value. There is no way anyone other than Justify's connections could know the truth.

But the NTRA poll shows that some people may believe that. Each horse no doubt will have his supporters when it is time to vote for Horse of the Year, but to demonstrate that there are those who may resent Justify's retirement and hold it against him, just look at the voting on the latest NTRA poll. Although Accelerate leads the poll 340 points to 310, Justify has more first-place votes, 25 to 11. That is a huge difference. Just about everyone who voted for Justify first had Accelerate second. However, four voters who went for Accelerate first did not even have Justify in the Top 10, and one voter had him fifth, which accounted for Accelerate securing the top spot on total points. 

It also is possible that in voting in the poll, some voters prefer to only consider active horses. After all, Gun Runner slowly dropped from the poll after he was retired following his early 2018 Pegasus World Cup Invitational win. In considering Eclipse Award votes, these voters may come back and consider all horses who have raced in 2018. As far as the poll goes it all depends on how each voter interprets it and how he or she assesses the horses they place on it.

Still, if bitterness over Justify's early retirement is the reason he may lose Horse of the Year, it would not be fair to the horse, who rewrote more pages in the history books in 112 days than anyone before him. If the feeling is that Accelerate was more deserving because he won at the highest level all year and beat the best dirt horses in the world in the Breeders' Cup Classic, that is a different story. What we have now is an indication of what is to come. That is why a victory by Accelerate on Nov. 3 would set off one of the most hotly debated Horse of the Year battles of all time. And with social media, it could get ugly. Just go back and look at all the daggers thrown when Zenyatta and Rachel Alexandra slugged it out for Horse of the Year without ever facing each other. 

Unlike Secretariat, Justify's value as a stallion has not yet been established, and one would imagine it's a tough decision weighing the good of racing on one hand against the high risks of racing on the other hand.

But no matter how you look at it, what makes this unprecedented battle for supremacy so profound is that both horses in their own way are fighting for so much more than just Horse of the Year honors. They are fighting for tradition vs. change; for longevity and dancing every dance vs. a quick fix and rapid exit; for earnings on the racetrack vs. earnings in the breeding shed; for racing the way it was vs. racing the way it may be in the future. Will horses like Accelerate, California Chrome, Gun Runner, and Animal Kingdom who race into or through their 5-year-old campaign prevail over the horses whisked away to stud as 3-year-olds for fear of being devalued by a defeat?  It will all come to the fore with a victory by Accelerate and the battle that will ensue for Horse of the Year.

Now if Justify's trainer Bob Baffert should help his star's cause by winning the Classic with McKinzie or West Coast, or if someone else should knock off Accelerate, then we will quote Emily Litella and simply say, "Never Mind." 


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