Daily Racing Form: Justify Crowned Horse Of The Year

HALLANDALE BEACH, Fla. – His six-race career may have lasted a little less than four months, but on Thursday night, more than seven months after he swept the Triple Crown, Justify provided a final reminder of his brief, brilliant career. He added two victories to his unbeaten record when he was named both Horse of the Year and champion 3-year-old male at the 48th annual Eclipse Awards dinner at Gulfstream Park.

For Horse of the Year, Justify received 191 first-place votes to 54 for runner-up Accelerate. Monomoy Girl received two votes, Enable received one vote, and one voter abstained.

The Eclipse Awards are voted on by the National Thoroughbred Racing Association, Daily Racing Form, and the National Turf Writers and Broadcasters. Of the 271 eligible voters, 249 returned ballots. Champions were determined solely by first-place votes.

:: ECLIPSE AWARDS: List of winners with bios

Justify was the 13th Triple Crown winner and the fifth since the Eclipse Awards era began in 1971. All four previous Triple Crown winners of the Eclipse Awards era – Secretariat, Seattle Slew, Affirmed, and American Pharoah – also were named Horse of the Year.

Justify won all six of his starts in a career that ended 111 days after it began and included the Santa Anita Derby, Kentucky Derby, Preakness, and Belmont Stakes. Bob Baffert, who also trained American Pharoah, trained Justify for a partnership that included WinStar Farm, China Horse Club, Head of Plains Partners, and Starlight Racing.

Justify was a unanimous choice for champion 3-year-old male, receiving all 249 first-place votes. Justify represents the ninth 3-year-old male champion trained by Baffert, including the last four.

Accelerate and Monomoy Girl scored similarly lopsided victories in their divisions.

For champion older dirt male, Breeders’ Cup Classic winner Accelerate received 245 votes, to two for Gun Runner, last year’s Horse of the Year, and one each for Discreet Lover – cast by a voter from the NTRA bloc – and Roy H.

Monomoy Girl, whose victories included the Breeders’ Cup Distaff and Kentucky Oaks, received 247 first-place votes for champion 3-year-old filly, with single votes cast for Magical and Rushing Fall, both of those votes also coming from the NTRA bloc, which includes racing secretaries and Equibase field personnel.

The achievements of Justify and Accelerate brought victories to others connected to them.

John D. Gunther, who bred Justify, was voted the Eclipse Award for champion breeder for mating his Ghostzapper mare Stage Magic with the stallion Scat Daddy, who has since died, to produce a Triple Crown winner. Gunther received 102 votes to 68 for runner-up WinStar and 21 for third-place Mike Abraham, who bred Accelerate.

Kosta and Pete Hronis, whose Hronis Racing campaigns Accelerate, were named champion owner. They received 142 first-place votes to easily outdistance runner-up Peter Brant, who had 27, and the owners of Justify, who were third with 25.

But that was the extent of the tentacles of Justify and Accelerate.

Chad Brown won his third straight training title, outpolling Baffert by 137-94. John Sadler, who trains Accelerate, tied Karl Broberg for fifth with two first-place votes, behind Steve Asmussen (6) and Brad
Cox (4).

Irad Ortiz Jr. got his first Eclipse Award as champion jockey, receiving 173 votes to easily outdistance Mike Smith, Justify’s rider, who finished second with 40. Joel Rosario, who rode Accelerate the second half of the year – as well as divisional champs Game Winner and Jaywalk – finished fourth with eight votes, behind third-place Jose Ortiz, who
received 25.

There were two winners who also won titles in 2017.

Roy H repeated as champion male sprinter after winning the Breeders’ Cup Sprint for the second straight year. He received 234 first-place votes, with City of Light a distant second with nine.

Unique Bella, the champion female sprinter of 2017, for 2018 was voted champion older female on dirt. She easily beat runner-up Abel Tasman by 182-34. Unique Bella’s victory marks the sixth divisional title won by a Jerry Hollendorfer trainee.

The closest vote came for female grass horse, in which Sistercharlie, winner of the Breeders’ Cup Filly and Mare Turf, edged Enable, the Breeders’ Cup Turf winner, by just 11 votes, 130-119. Sistercharlie was the lone divisional winner for her trainer, Brown.

Although all votes are pooled, it was interesting to see that the different blocs disagreed on female turf. The DRF (37-24) and NTWAB (73-65) went for Sistercharlie over Enable, while the NTRA preferred Enable by 30-20.

Both male turf and female sprinter also had close decisions.

Stormy Liberal, winner of the Breeders’ Cup Turf Sprint, became the first pure sprinter to win the male turf title, edging Breeders’ Cup Mile winner Expert Eye, 85-66. Glorious Empire was third with 43. A split similar to female turf happened in this category, too. Both the DRF (21-17) and NTWAB (52-27) preferred Stormy Liberal over Expert Eye, while the NTRA went for Expert Eye by 22-12.

Stormy Liberal is trained by Peter Miller and owned by Gary Hartunian’s Rockingham Ranch and David Bernsen, the same trainer-owner combination as Roy H. Yet Miller received zero votes for champion trainer, and Rockingham and Bernsen finished a distant ninth for champion owner with four votes.

The Breeders’ Cup Filly and Mare Sprint proved pivotal for female sprinter, as the race’s winner, Shamrock Rose, outpolled the race’s beaten favorite, Marley’s Freedom, 136-113.

There were runaway wins in both the 2-year-old categories.

Game Winner, the unbeaten winner of the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile, received 247 first-place votes, his chance at a sweep denied by single votes for Bulletin and Knicks Go, both of those votes coming from the NTRA.

Jaywalk, the winner of the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies, outpolled Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies Turf winner Newspaperofrecord, 214-31, to take the 2-year-old filly title. Bellafina was third with four votes.

Weston Hamilton was voted champion apprentice jockey, defeating runner-up Edgar Morales, 115-87.

Zanjabeel, the only two-time Grade 1 winner in the division, was an easy winner as champion steeplechase horse, receiving 176 votes. Optimus Prime was second with 22. More than 13 percent of the voters, 34, abstained from this category.

Also on Thursday night, Joe Harper, the chief executive of Del Mar, was presented with the Eclipse Award of Merit.

In addition, media awards were presented to DRF’s Barbara Livingston for photography, Tim Layden of Sports Illustrated for feature writing, Jeremy Balan of the Blood-Horse for news writing, NBC Sports for both live racing and television feature, and Christie DeBernardis and Patty Wolfe of Thoroughbred Daily News Weekend for multimedia

Chris Littlemore was honored as Horseplayer of the Year for winning last year’s National Horseplayers Championship.

Justify’s Triple Crown sweep was recognized as the NTRA Moment of the Year. It was the moment that carried Justify to the Horse of the Year title, too.

This story originally appeared on DRF.com

Visit DRF.com for additional news, notes, wagering information, and more.

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