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The voting debate rages on ... between Accelerate and Justify

Ron Flatter  
VSiN.com

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Accelerate (14), ridden by Joel Rosario, on his way to winning the Breeders' Cup Classic. (Ron Flatter photo)

Las Vegas

Accelerate or Justify. Which one is the Horse of the Year? If only I could bet on it.

Well, I can’t, even if the state of Nevada or any other state or a bookmaker or even a ne’er-do-well friend wanted to put some money on which one becomes the U.S. champion racehorse.

The problem is that I have one of the 250 or so votes for this and the rest of the Eclipse Awards, so legally, ethically, morally, dogmatically, whateverally, I cannot bet on this.

It is just as well, because I also cannot get a real handle on which way the vote may go, especially since ballots are not due until the first week of January.

And one more thing. I haven’t the foggiest notion yet which side I will take.

Just when I thought I was safe from the rapacious robocalls and unwelcomed text messages that preceded a separate vote this week. Now I find myself drawn like a moth to the flimsy glow of social-media debate among those who have already made up their minds. Like the election just concluded, the two sides lining up behind Accelerate and Justify are full of good points, bad points and – since it is 2018 – rude points.

From a Twitter account said to be based in Liverpool came the declaration that “some absolute lunatics (are) talking about Accelerate for Horse of the Year.” Weigh that against the man from Saratoga Springs who Tweeted: “You’d have to be a nasty little (person) with a painkiller addiction to favor Justify over Accelerate.”

It is good to see that the dirty politicking did not end on Tuesday. Tote those pitchforks. Light those torches. Mass those mobs in the streets.

From the less knee-jerk and the more measured come the arguments of the objective vs. the subjective. Most analytics favor Accelerate since he raced in open company all year en route to winning four Grade 1 races before the Breeders’ Cup Classic, whereas Justify faced nothing but 3-year-olds for 112 days in an undefeated run to the Triple Crown.

“I think he’s done something no one else has done,” Accelerate’s co-owner Kosta Hronis said last Saturday. “He swept the California Grade 1s. He’s undefeated at a mile-and-a-quarter. They’ve been saying all along that he had to win the Classic to be in the conversation. He won the Classic. This horse is special. He’s showed up every time. He’s danced every dance. This is the Horse of the Year.”

That was in the blush of a climactic moment last weekend. Compare that with what WinStar Farm CEO Elliott Walden said minutes after Justify won the Belmont Stakes with a wave of adulation for uniquely winning the Triple Crown without having raced first as a 2-year-old.

“To be great, to be a Triple Crown winner it takes something special,” Walden said. “I was looking at Justify’s past performances the other day. I was looking at the speed sheet, and man, those races were close together. I’m like, I hope it doesn’t get to him. Six races since February? I don’t know what’s going to happen when he gets a little break here, and we come back in the late summer.”

Of course, those remarks came with more than half of 2018 still to go. Accelerate’s three most impressive victories were not in sight yet, and Justify’s late-summer comeback never happened.

That is why it is important to let the emotion of celebratory moments and comments die down before measuring the feats that led to them. It is why Hall of Fame votes are put on hold for five years.

I trot this 2015 line out from Bob Padecky of the Santa Rosa Press-Democrat all the time whenever the panting of breathless hyperbole hits my ears – or my Twitter timeline: “History is best written after the passage of time, smoothing out the raw edges of hyperactive impulse.”

Thankfully, the votes from the National Turf Writers and Broadcasters and the others whose opinions count for Horse of the Year are not due until the first week of January. Forgive me, then, for not taking a stand yet. I will let the raw edges get smoothed first.

Peter Fornatale, the respected New York horseplayer who hosts a podcast for the Daily Racing Form, summed it up well this week. “It all comes down to what Horse of the Year means to you,” he Tweeted. “If it’s ‘best horse,’ there’s no case for Justify. If it’s ‘most meaningful and memorable accomplishment during the year,’ Justify becomes a (seeming) no-brainer.”

There are other ways to put “no-brainer,” but I am sure some hostile Tweep will get there first in the next couple months.

Breeders’ Cup notes and opinions

“Go in there and have an opinion.” That was what Chuck Grubbs told VSiN about his winning strategy last weekend in the Breeders’ Cup Betting Challenge at Churchill Downs. “Don’t just go in there and bet all the races. Have a strong opinion, and bet your money. You’re going to win by taking a stand. Bet big, bet hard, and if you hit, you’re going to win.” Grubbs, 51, a professional horseplayer from Georgetown, Kentucky, clinched the victory with a pair of $40 trifecta bets on the Classic, putting Accelerate cold on top over a second- and third-place box of Gunnevera and Mind Your Biscuits with “all.” Gunnevera finished second to trigger a contest-clinching $64,524 score for Grubbs, who defeated 390 other players. His victory was worth $394,020, including a $300,000 first-place bonus. By finishing in the top 12, Grubbs was also assured of a seat at the National Horseplayers Championship here in Las Vegas at the Treasure Island in February. A full interview with Grubbs will be featured next week on the Ron Flatter Racing Pod.

Lady Aurelia went for $7.5 million, the most expensive of the horses sold Monday at the Fasig-Tipton November Sale in Lexington, Kentucky. Barbara Banke’s Stonestreet Stables, which bred and co-owned the filly, spent the money to buy out her partner Peter Leidel. Stonestreet will make her a broodmare and thus own all her foals. A 4-year-old by Scat Daddy – the same stallion that sired Justify – Lady Aurelia was a two-time winner at Royal Ascot for trainer Wesley Ward and was named Europe’s top 2-year-old filly in 2016. The Fasig-Tipton sale moved 140 horses for nearly $89.5 million, breaking last year’s record by 20 percent. The average price was $639,093, down less than 1 percent from last year. The $327,500 median was up 31 percent.

Not so fast crowning Winx the world’s best racehorse. She is tied with Cracksman at 130 pounds atop the latest Longines world rankings posted Thursday by the Paris-based International Federation of Horseracing Authorities. Cracksman’s weight was based on his victory last month in the British Champion Stakes. Winx maintained her share of the lead two weeks ago with her fourth consecutive Cox Plate win and her 29th race in a row overall. What makes the Longines list so quirky (that’s my polite word for it) is that it judges only a horse’s best race rather than its body of work. No doubt there will be a hue and cry heard from Australia over this.

Ron Flatter’s weekly racing column is posted every Friday morning at VSiN.com and after big races such as here. You may also hear the Ron Flatter Racing Pod, also posted Friday mornings at VSiN.com/podcasts. Recorded at Louisville, Kentucky, after the Breeders’ Cup, this week’s edition features John Sadler, trainer of Breeders’ Cup Classic winner Accelerate, and John Cherwa, turf writer for the Los Angeles Times. A new feature – Racehorses by the Letters – considers the best horse with a name starting with “A.” The RFRP is also available at leading providers such as Apple Podcasts, Google Play Podcasts and Stitcher.

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