Opinion: How Rob Murphy “Justifies” His Vote for 2018 Horse of the Year

(Justify — the 2018 Triple Crown Winner / Photo by Holly M. Smith)

Rob Murphy, Breeding Analyst

By Robert A. Murphy, Jr./ Pressbox Breeding Analyst:

As I walk into my virtual voting booth, I realize this an electorate of one. Majority rules. But this process must take a heartfelt look at the cold, hard facts of Thoroughbred racing in and for 2018.

One would think that the Breeders’ Cup Classic champ gets a quick nod for Horse of the Year.


In 34 prior runnings to 2018, 13 Classic winners were named Horse of the Year.


Not so quick with that nod and nomination. That number is lower than my first inclination.

The phenomenon and original theory of winning the Breeders’ Cup Classic would and should propel a horse to victory in the “Horse of the Year” voting, got off to a rather hot start, mind you. From 1987 (the year of Ferdinand) through 1995 (led by the great Cigar), six of the nine horses that were named Horse of the Year stamped their credentials with a victory in the Breeders’ Cup Classic.

But after that, there was only one dual recipient of the Breeders’ Cup Classic and HOY honors from 1995 until 2004 — when the versatile, flashy, and outstanding Ghostzapper ran the table.

That did start another string of dual winners through 2007.


Another drought ensued after 2007 and lasted until Triple Crown champ, American Pharoah, won racing’s grand slam in 2015. American Pharoah was the first Triple Crown winner to race in the Breeders’ Cup era. And, his win at Keeneland only made his achievement in the Spring that much better and more impressive.

There’s little doubt that Accelerate had an outstanding season in 2018, concluding with his exciting win at Churchill Downs in the Breeders’ Cup Classic. He also won the Santa Anita Handicap; the Santa Anita Gold Cup; and the Awesome Again at Santa Anita.

Not too shabby. Wouldn’t we all love to own Accelerate? My congrats to all of his connections. Job Well Done!

Actually, what would be an amazing feat if he was just able to do all of that again. Say, in 2019? He could, you know. Although, I am not sure that Lane’s End Farm would be happy with that.


All of these words and deliberations only bring me to my vote.

Which is?

Envelope please?

Before 2018, only 12 Thoroughbreds have been successful in their Triple Crown bid.


Of those twelve, only two colts won the Triple Crown while still undefeated.


The first happened in 1977 with the great Seattle Slew! Slew was subsequently beaten in 1978, but his greatness still rings through today. Make no mistake about that.

On June 10, 2018, the entire Thoroughbred population was filtered down to just one by the words – Undefeated. Triple. Crown. Winner.


This is very thin air.

Maybe his Eclipse Award should be coated in Platinum, not gold.

(The grand Justify / Photo by Holly M. Smith)

Justify is clearly my vote for Horse of the Year in 2018.

Remember in 2014, some “dumb ass” (blush) said there would NEVER be another Triple Crown winner. I think we should keep fond memories of what happened this past Spring, because it could just as easily be decades, again, before we see another Triple Crown winner.

Simply put, they don’t come along very often. And, when they do?

Well, they become Horses of the Year.

And, Horses to Remember.


P.S. – Seattle Slew was said to have proven his greatness in defeat by Exceller in 1978. Accelerate should have his greatness in his 2nd place finish to Justify.

The end of this story.

The horse broke well today,” Gaffalione said. “I had the horse inside, Dunph, going to the lead and then (Gun It) showed a little bit of speed. When I saw they were intent on going I just tried to get him back and got him to relax. He came back to me nicely and settled well down the backside. Got a little keen going into the far turn and wanted to move a little early. But I didn’t want to take too much away from him so I tried to sit as long as I could. He was waiting on horses down the lane but I kept him at task and there was plenty of horse there.”

“Mark (Casse, the trainer) and his team have done a great job,” Gaffalione said. “They’ve had a ton of confidence in this horse the whole way. It’s just an honor to be able to ride the horse. He’s just so professional, trains great and he’s a pleasure to be around.”

Tyler Gaffalione, Rode of War of Will to victory in the G2 Risen Star Stakes at the Fair Grounds
  • Rob Murphy

    Rob Murphy

    A horse racing and thoroughbred enthusiast, Murphy has devised his own method for handicapping and breeding. Murphy's company, M375 Thoroughbreds, Inc., has bred, raised and raced successful horses such as Platinum Tiara, Swing and Miss, Diamond Studs, Strike Three and Golden Spikes. Murphy is a former Major League Baseball player. ...

    Full Bio >

More From Rob Murphy