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After Justify won the Belmont Stakes in June, it would have been hard to fathom anyone else grabbing horse of the year honors.

That has changed. Justify retired early and by Accelerate was sensational all year. There is a real debate brewing.

Justify became the 13th Triple Crown winner after he swept the three jewels. He was excellent beating what has turned out to be an average crop of three-year-olds. He finished his career undefeated (6 for 6) and victorious in four consecutive Grade 1 races. He became the first unraced two-year old to win the Kentucky Derby in 135 years. 

Accelerate won six of seven starts in 2018 with his only loss coming in the Oaklawn Handicap by a neck to City of Light (future winner of the Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile). He won five Grade 1 races, including the Breeders’ Cup Classic and the Santa Anita Handicap. The Classic win was even more impressive considering he broke from the 14 post. He won the Pacific Classic at Del Mar by over 12 lengths with a 115 Beyer speed figure. 

Both horses are deserving. The question is whether to penalize Justify for an abbreviated career.

The answer is yes. When connections decide to retire superstars well before they’ve even reached their prime it is detrimental to the sport. In addition, much of the best racing happens in the second half of the year. Justify was untested against older runners. This is a huge void in his resume. As good as Justify was early in the season, he left us with questions as he continuously defeated three-year olds who haven’t yet shown much outside of their own division. Despite three-year olds making up nearly half of the field in the Breeders’ Cup Classic, the best they could do was fourth.

Hopefully the voters do the right thing and reward Accelerate while sending a message that longevity carries weight. Failing to do so will only further encourage a risk-averse approach by connections with talented three-year olds.

Maximus Derby contender?

Recent Grade 2 Remsen winner Maximus Mischief could be a serious Kentucky Derby prospect. He is 3-for-3 in his career and has yet to be behind a runner at any point. His first two starts were blowout wins at Parx and he was bet heavily in both. He then easily punished the Remsen field at Aqueduct while making his first start going long. He is a $340,000 purchase and the buzz certainly surrounded him prior to his debut. He was working fast in the morning and he ran to the promise when crushing a pretty decent MSW field by nearly nine lengths.

There are very few runners in the female family which makes the high sale price even more intriguing. He was clearly selected on confirmation and not the potential of pedigree. His sire, Into Mischief, is quickly becoming one of the best in the country.

This ownership achieved success with champion three-year old of 2005, Afleet Alex. In addition, they had 2016 Kentucky Oaks winner, Cathryn Sophia, and 2018 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies winner, Jaywalk.

Play of the week

Wednesday, Turfway Park, race 2. It is a maiden claiming race for a $30,000 tag at 1 mile on the synthetic track. Albireo (No. 5) has run four times in his career. He ran second once and the other three produced six place finishes. He’s had some excuses (muddy track, turf, maiden allowance at Keeneland). He gets Lasix for the first time here, takes a needed drop in class and has a solid work coming in. the seventh-place finisher two back returned to run second in a MSW here at Turfway at long odds. His trainer, Ronald Kahles, has a win and two runner-up finishes from his four starters at this meet. The morning line on Albireo is 8-1. Post time is 3:44 (PT).

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