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Triple Crown winner Justify gets Horse of the Year

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HALLANDALE BEACH, Fla. (AP) — Justify finished unbeaten, on and off the track.

The Triple Crown winner for 2018 added Horse of the Year to his resume, getting the nod over Accelerate for the biggest prize handed out at the Eclipse Awards on Thursday night. Justify didn’t race as a 2-year-old, won all six of his starts last year and then was retired about a month after winning the Belmont Stakes because of an ankle injury.

So in a flash, he was gone.

But every Triple Crown winner since 1935 has also been declared Horse of the Year, and 2018 — even with Justify’s lone year of racing not even lasting four months, technically — would be no different. He won by a wide margin, getting 191 votes out of a possible 249, while Accelerate got 54.

“I’m so proud of Justify and I’m happy to see he is being rewarded for his unbelievable accomplishments in his run up to the Triple Crown,” said Bob Baffert, Justify’s trainer. “I’ve had the great fortune to be around some of the most talented horses and what Justify was able to do in such a short amount of time still takes my breath away.”

Justify — the third Horse of the Year trained by Baffert — also won the 3-year-old male Eclipse, unanimously, which was no surprise. Accelerate settled for the Eclipse as the top older dirt male, and the third Horse of the Year finalist Monomoy Girl was picked as the winner of the 3-year-old filly Eclipse.

Accelerate still has a chance for a huge win this weekend: He’s the morning-line favorite for Saturday’s $9 million Pegasus World Cup dirt race, which will be his last before beginning a stud career. Accelerate won six of his seven starts in 2018, including wins in his last four starts — all of them Grade 1 events, capped by the Breeders’ Cup Classic.

“This horse had an unbelievable season,” said Juan Leyva, the assistant trainer under John Sadler for Accelerate. “You can’t take anything away from Justify. He’s a Triple Crown winner. But the year this horse put up, I mean, any other year there’s no question he’s Horse of the Year. … Obviously, my vote would be for Accelerate. You don’t see years like this that often.”

Accelerate’s connections didn’t leave with just one trophy. Hronis Racing LLC, Accelerate’s owner, also won the Eclipse in that category — its first as the top owner in the sport.

“This is a little boy’s dream come true,” said Kosta Hronis, who shares the ownership of Hronis Racing with his brother, Peter.

Chad Brown won his third consecutive Eclipse Award as the top trainer, making him only the sixth person to win that many in a row and putting him alongside Baffert, Todd Pletcher, D. Wayne Lukas, Robert Frankel, Laz Barrera. Baffert was a finalist this year, after guiding Justify to the Triple Crown — Baffert’s second.

Still, Brown got the nod again.

“It’s a great honor and we take it very seriously,” Brown said.

Irad Ortiz Jr. won his first Eclipse as the top jockey, keeping the award in the family — his younger brother, Jose Ortiz, won last year.

“I want to dedicate this trophy to a very special person,” Irad Ortiz said. “My brother dedicated to me last year, and I want to dedicate it to him. Love you bro.”

Other Eclipse winners included Weston Hamilton (apprentice jockey), Jaywalk (2-year-old filly), Game Winner (2-year-old male), Unique Bella (older dirt female), Roy H (male sprinter), Shamrock Rose (female sprinter), Stormy Liberal (male turf horse), Sistercharlie (female turf horse), Zenjabeel (steeplechase horse) and John D. Gunther (top breeder).

What to know about the 145th running of the Kentucky Derby

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The Kentucky Derby is one of the most iconic sporting events in the world. Every year, millions of fans tune into NBC to watch top race horses from around the globe compete in “The Most Exciting Two Minutes In Sports.”

What is the Kentucky Derby? The Kentucky Derby, run the first Saturday in May, is one of the most well known Grade 1 Thoroughbred stakes races in the world. First run in 1875, this 1 1/4 mile–or 10 furlongs–race kicks off the American Triple Crown of horse racing.

When and where is the Kentucky Derby? The 145th running of the Kentucky Derby is on Saturday, May 4, 2019 with a post time of 6:50 p.m. ET.

The Derby is run on the dirt track at Churchill Downs in Louisville, Kentucky, where it has been held since its inaugural running in 1875.

How can I watch the Kentucky Derby? NBC is home to the 145th Kentucky Derby, providing comprehensive race coverage and analysis live on TV and NBCSports.com before, during and after. NBC will also broadcast the 2019 Preakness Stakes and 2019 Belmont Stakes.

How are horses picked for the Derby? Only 3-year-old Thoroughbreds can qualify for the Kentucky Derby. Eligible horses compete in the Race to the Kentucky Derby, a series of 35 races around the world. Horses win points for finishing in the top four spots, and the 20 horses with the most points at the end of the series gain entry into the Derby.

Who won last year? WinStar Farm’s colt Justify, trained by Bob Baffert and ridden by Mike Smith, won the 144th Kentucky Derby. He went on to win the Preakness Stakes and the Belmont Stakes, becoming the 13th horse ever to win the Triple Crown.

What are the biggest Kentucky Derby traditions? Bold formal outfits for both men and women are synonymous with the Kentucky Derby. Celebrities and fans a like go all out, donning creative and colorful hats, bright colors and wild patterns. In fact, hats and outfits are such a big part of the Kentucky Derby that the Derby Museum has a whole exhibit for the most lavished fashions.

The Mint Julep, made with Kentucky bourbon, is the signature drink of the Derby, and Kentucky’s state song “My Old Kentucky Home” is played during the pre-race post parade. After the race, the champion horse is given the iconic garland of roses in the winner’s circle.

What else is there to do during Derby Weekend? The Kentucky Oaks is a Grade 1 stakes race held annually the day before the Kentucky Derby. The Oaks has the same 3-year-old restriction as the Derby but is for fillies only. Additionally, there is a week of events at Churchill Downs, and the month-long Kentucky Derby Festival celebrated across Louisville.

Jockey Craig Perret among nine finalists for HOF

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SARATOGA SPRINGS, N.Y. — Jockey Craig Perret, trainers Mark Casse, Christophe Clement and David Whiteley, and five thoroughbreds are contemporary finalists for the National Museum of Racing’s 2019 Hall of Fame ballot.

The racehorses are Blind Luck, Gio Ponti, Havre de Grace, Rags to Riches and Royal Delta.

Results of the voting on the contemporary candidates will be announced April 22. All candidates that receive majority approval of the voting panel will be elected to the Hall of Fame.

The hall’s induction ceremony will be held Aug. 2 in Saratoga Springs.