Horse of Year Finalists: Justify, Accelerate, Monomoy Girl

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HALLANDALE BEACH, Fla. — Justify and Accelerate never got to face off on the track. Instead, they’ll duel for Horse of the Year.

Justify, Accelerate and Monomoy Girl were the three finalists announced Saturday for Horse of the Year. The top prize will be handed out at the Eclipse Awards on Jan. 24. Justify won the Triple Crown, Accelerate won the Breeders’ Cup Classic and Monomoy Girl capped her year with a win in the Breeders’ Cup Distaff.

Justify raced six times in his career, all in 2018, and prevailed every time before retiring in July because of issues with his left front ankle.

The rest of the year belonged to Accelerate, who won his last four races. All were of the Grade 1 variety, capped by winning the Classic.

“I read somewhere where it said maybe he did this all on the wrong year,” Accelerate owner Kosta Hronis said after the Classic victory, while lobbying for the Horse of the Year prize as well. “But maybe Justify won the Triple Crown in the wrong year.”

If Justify wasn’t retired, he almost certainly would have faced Accelerate in the Breeders’ Cup Classic.

Their lone matchup will be settled on paper.

The voters have decided – officials said Saturday that out of 271 eligible voters, 249 returned ballots. Voters made three selections in each category to determine the finalists, but only first-place votes will be counted when choosing the Eclipse Award winner in the 17 categories.

The only Triple Crown winner not to be declared Horse of the Year was Omaha, in 1935.

“I think he’s the greatest of all time,” said Mike Smith, who rode Justify to the Triple Crown.

Monomoy Girl won the Kentucky Oaks as part of her six-victory year, and she’s the likely winner in the 3-year-old filly category. Justify is almost certain to win top honors in the 3-year-old male division, and Accelerate – whose final race is set to be the $9 million Pegasus World Cup Invitational at Gulfstream Park on Jan. 26 – is the heavy favorite now in the older dirt male race.

Bob Baffert, who trained Justify, is one of the finalists for top trainer, along with two-time reigning winner Chad Brown and 2008 and 2009 winner Steve Asmussen.

Jose Ortiz, the Eclipse winner as top jockey in 2017, is a finalist again this year alongside his brother – Irad Ortiz Jr. – and Smith, who could win the Eclipse for the first time since 1994.

The finalists in each category:

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, partnership of 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

Flightline, Pletcher, Godolphin lead way at Eclipse Awards

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PALM BEACH, Fla. — Flightline ran away in all six of his races, and ran away with top honors at the Eclipse Awards on Thursday night.

And trainer Todd Pletcher, for the first time in nearly a decade, received the sport’s top prize as well.

Flightline – the now-retired winner of last year’s Breeders’ Cup Classic to cap an unbeaten six-race career – won Horse of the Year as well as the Eclipse as top Older Dirt Male. It was no surprise that Flightline took home both awards, and he’s now standing stud.

“We’ll hope that his future is as bright as his past,” co-owner Kosta Hronis said.

Godolphin was also a double winner, sweeping the Eclipses as top owner and top breeder for the second consecutive year. It was also the third consecutive top-owner Eclipse for Godolphin.

“This is truly a golden era for Godolphin racing,” said Michael Banahan, the stable’s director of bloodstock. “And these awards and accolades recognize how special it is.”

It was Pletcher’s eighth Eclipse, extending his record for the most by any trainer, and his first since 2014. It was one of the few close races in the voting; Pletcher got 108 first-place votes, while four-time Eclipse winner Chad Brown got 95 and finished second.

“This really is not an individual award. This is a team award,” Pletcher said. “This is an award about the owners, and most importantly, the horses.”

Irad Ortiz Jr. won the Eclipse as top jockey for the fourth time in the last five years; he tied Pat Day and Javier Castellano for third-most in history, behind only seven-time winner Jerry Bailey and five-time winner Laffit Pincay Jr.

Ortiz led all jockeys with more than $37 million in purses in 2022.

“Wow,” Ortiz said. “It’s been an amazing year for me.”

Forte won the Eclipse as 2-year-old male, and will enter this year’s Triple Crown season as one of the early favorites.

“We’re all in this game for a horse like Forte,” said Mike Repole, the horse’s co-owner along with Florida Panthers owner Vincent Viola and Teresa Viola. “We’re all in this game to one day maybe own a 2-year-old that has a chance. It’s great to have the Kentucky Derby favorite. … Forte’s an incredible horse.”

Epicenter won the 3-year-old male Eclipse, after running second at both the Kentucky Derby and Preakness Stakes, then winning the Jim Dandy and Travers at Saratoga over the summer.

Wonder Wheel was the winner as 2-year-old filly, while Nest won the Eclipse in the 3-year-old filly division. Malathaat was the Eclipse winner for older dirt female, Goodnight Olive for female sprinter and Regal Glory for female turf horse.

Elite Power was picked as the top male sprinter, Modern Games won the Eclipse for male turf horse, and Hewick was the Eclipse winner in the steeplechase division.

Jose Antonio Gomez won as top apprentice jockey.

The Eclipse Awards are voted on by members of the National Thoroughbred Racing Association, the Daily Racing Form and National Turf Writers And Broadcasters.

Trainer Bob Baffert’s ban from racing in New York is over

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Bob Baffert can once again enter horses at New York’s major tracks.

The Hall of Fame trainer’s one-year ban by the New York Racing Association ended Wednesday, allowing him to enter horses as soon as Thursday.

“I was disappointed they even did it, but it’s water under the bridge,” Baffert told The Associated Press by phone.

He was suspended last June for repeated medication violations, although none of them occurred in New York. He was barred from Aqueduct, Belmont and Saratoga. A panel credited Baffert for time served for an initial suspension, which allowed him to return this week.

Aqueduct is currently holding its 44-day winter meet that runs through March 26. Baffert doesn’t typically run horses this time of year in New York; he targets the biggest stakes races at Belmont in the spring and Saratoga in the summer.

Baffert remains under a two-year ban by Churchill Downs Inc., which sidelined him after Kentucky Derby winner Medina Spirit tested positive for a substance that is not allowed on race day. The penalty expires shortly after the Kentucky Derby in May. However, Baffert is fighting the suspension in federal court.

The Southern California-based trainer has a big weekend coming up around the country, although not in New York.

He has horses running at three tracks on Saturday.

Defunded is entered in the $3 million Pegasus World Cup at Gulfstream in Florida, where Baffert assistant Jimmy Barnes will be on hand.

Arabian Knight goes into the $750,000 Southwest Stakes as the early favorite at Oaklawn in Arkansas. Baffert has won the Kentucky Derby prep race a record-tying five times and will travel to Hot Springs to watch the 3-year-old colt.

“It’s going to be a good test for him. The only way to find out is to run him long,” he said. “It’s going to take a superior horse to do that and I’m hoping that he is.”

The Southwest offers Kentucky Derby qualifying points to the top five finishers. Arabian Knight won’t receive any points regardless of his placing because of Baffert’s Derby ban.

Hopper will run in the $200,000 San Pasqual Stakes on Saturday at Santa Anita.

On Sunday at the same track, Baffert has entered four of the five horses set to run in the $200,000 San Vicente Stakes for 3-year-olds.