Off their spectacular seasons, Breeders’ Cup Classic victor Accelerate and Triple Crown winner Justify, along with standout filly Monomoy Girl, were announced Jan. 5 as finalists for the 2018 Eclipse Awards’ biggest prize: Horse of the Year.
The NTRA, Daily Racing Form, and National Turf Writers and Broadcasters announced the three final Horse of the Year candidates, as well as finalists for the other 11 equine divisional awards and five human awards. The 2018 awards will be presented Jan. 24 at Gulfstream Park Racing & Casino in Hallandale Beach, Fla.
Hronis Racing’s Accelerate swept Southern California’s four two-turn, Grade 1 dirt races for older horses: the Santa Anita Handicap Presented by San Miguel Indian Bingo and Casino, the Gold Cup at Santa Anita, the TVG Pacific Classic, and Awesome Again Stakes. He followed that sweep with a clear victory in the Breeders’ Cup Classic.
While Accelerate delivered in the Breeders’ Cup Classic, where top Southern California handicap horses such as Game On Dude, Lava Man, and Best Pal came up short, his path to Horse of the Year could be blocked by Justify, who became just the 13th horse to sweep the Triple Crown races.
After becoming the first horse since Apollo in 1882 to win the Kentucky Derby without a start as a juvenile, Justify followed with victories in the Preakness Stakes and Belmont Stakes Presented by NYRA Bets.
Campaigned by WinStar Farm, China Horse Club, Starlight Racing, and Head of Plains Partners, Justify joined Seattle Slew as the only two horses to sweep the classics with an unblemished record.
While Accelerate and Justify are expected to be the top two horses in Horse of the Year voting, Monomoy Girl certainly delivered a spectacular season of her own, as she took the Longines Kentucky Oaks in the spring, Coaching Club American Oaks in the summer, and defeated older females in the fall in the Longines Breeders’ Cup Distaff, along with two other Grade 1 wins.
Those three are big favorites in their respective divisions. Accelerate is a finalist for older dirt male, with Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile winner City of Light and Pegasus World Cup winner Gun Runner. Justify is a finalist for 3-year-old male, with Catholic Boy, a Grade 1 winner on turf and dirt; and McKinzie, a two-time Grade 1 winner in 2018. Monomoy Girl is a finalist for 3-year-old female with Cotillion Stakes winner Midnight Bisou and Rushing Fall, who won the Grade 1 Queen Elizabeth II Challenge Cup Stakes Presented by Lane’s End.
Undefeated Sentient Jet Breeders’ Cup Juvenile winner Game Winner joins Improbable and Knicks Go as the finalists for 2-year-old male, while Tito’s Handmade Vodka Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies winner Jaywalk joins Bellafina and Newspaperofrecord as finalists in the 2-year-old filly division.
The most wide-open equine division? Perhaps male turf horse, where it comes down to Breeders’ Cup Mile winner Expert Eye, who started just once in North America; Sword Dancer Stakes winner Glorious Empire; and Breeders’ Cup Turf Sprint winner Stormy Liberal, who also is a finalist in the male sprinter division.
The human categories include all of Justify’s connections: the ownership partnership, trainer Bob Baffert, jockey Mike Smith, and breeder John Gunther. Not that any of those connections is a lock, as the owner division also includes Hronis Racing and Peter Brant; Smith faces North American earnings and wins leader Irad Ortiz Jr. and 2017 Eclipse winner Jose Ortiz; Baffert faces North American earnings leader Chad Brown and Steve Asmussen; and Gunther faces Accelerate’s breeder Mike Abraham and WinStar Farm.
The full 2018 Eclipse Awards finalists (in alphabetical order) are:
Horse of the Year: Accelerate, Justify, Monomoy Girl
2-year-old male: Game Winner, Improbable, Knicks Go
2-year-old filly: Bellafina, Jaywalk, Newspaperofrecord
3-year-old male: Catholic Boy, Justify, McKinzie
3-year-old filly: Midnight Bisou, Monomoy Girl, Rushing Fall
Older dirt male: Accelerate, City of Light, Gun Runner
Older dirt female: Abel Tasman, Marley’s Freedom, Unique Bella
Male sprinter: Imperial Hint, Roy H, Stormy Liberal
Female sprinter: Finley’sluckycharm, Marley’s Freedom, Shamrock Rose
Male turf horse: Expert Eye; Glorious Empire, Stormy Liberal
Female turf horse: A Raving Beauty, Enable, Sistercharlie
Steeplechase horse: Jury Duty, Optimus Prime, Zanjabeel
Owner: Peter Brant; Hronis Racing LLC; WinStar Farm, China Horse Club, Starlight Racing and Head of Plains Partners
Breeder: Mike Abraham, John D. Gunther, WinStar Farm, LLC
Trainer: Steve Asmussen, Bob Baffert, Chad Brown
Jockey: Irad Ortiz Jr., Jose Ortiz, Mike Smith
Apprentice jockey: Reylu Gutierrez, Weston Hamilton, Edgar Morales
Of the 271 eligible voters representing the NTRA, the NTWAB, and Daily Racing Form, 249 (91.88 percent) took part in this year’s voting. Finalists were determined in each category by voters’ top three selections, using a 10-5-1 point basis. Eclipse Award winners are determined solely by first-place votes.
In addition to honoring the 17 winners in the horse and human categories, Joe Harper, CEO of Del Mar Thoroughbred Club, will receive the Eclipse Award of Merit in recognition of a lifetime of outstanding achievement in the Thoroughbred industry. Chris Littlemore will receive the Eclipse Award as the 2018 Horseplayer of the Year. Members of the media will be honored for outstanding coverage in six categories.