I have a question for you … Who is the best horse we have seen run on American soil in 2018?
The majority may side with the undefeated Triple Crown winner, but my choice is Gun Runner. The 2017 Horse of the Year made his triumphant swan song in January’s Pegasus World Cup, with his fifth consecutive authoritative Grade 1 victory. I believe a mature, five-year-old Gun Runner would have taken the measure of a still maturing Justify. Having said that, I will never endorse a horse with only one race as a seasonal champion. With last year’s champ doing his new duty in the breeding shed, 2018 is cleared to be all about racing’s new hero Justify.
That’s the great thing about racing, as one star retires, there is always someone new to come along to take his or her place. And Justify has more than stepped in, the son of Scat Daddy has kicked the door in. So much so, that his unprecedented run through the first half of the season has removed any drama or mystery from the race to replace Gun Runner as the next Horse of the Year winner. Still, aside from Justify, the other divisional races remain up for grabs, although Monomoy Girl is also a clear leader among sophomore fillies.
In fact, what the daughter of Tapizar has done so far this year rivals Justify, as far as a graded stakes standpoint. Each excellent three-year-old has swept through America, winning four important graded stakes within their division. Minus all the fanfare and national attention, Monomoy Girl is a few more wins away from a special season of her own.
While the stars can currently be found among the three-year-olds, the older horses have been a little less consistent. The older females look strong, but even champions, Unique Bella and Abel Tasman, have thrown in a poor outing each. On the male side, we all continue to wait for the best from West Coast, but in the meantime, those running around one-turn have been solid. Among the traditional handicap runners, Accelerate, a stakes horse the last few years, but not one of America’s best, has moved to the forefront of the division with his impressive sweep of the Big Cap and the Gold Cup.
The good news is that there is still plenty of time for the olders, turfers, sprinters, and up and coming juveniles to sort themselves out. In the meantime, we’ve had a very interesting first half of the racing year in 2018, and a lot to look forward to the rest of the way, culminating with the first Breeders’ Cup under the twin spires of Churchill Downs in seven years. As it stands now, here is my full Top 10 ballot sent to the NTRA this week …
1) Justify – Has done more in his first four months of racing than any horse in the history of American racing.
2) Accelerate – Three impressive graded stakes wins in California and a brave, tough luck loss in the Oaklawn Handicap make him the best older male of the first half of 2018.
3) Monomoy Girl – Some may question having a three-year-old filly this high on my list, but she has done everything in her first four starts of the year, producing statement wins at four different racetracks.
4) West Coast – Last year’s three-year-old champ is winless so far in 2018, but did nothing to embarrass himself when second in both the Pegasus and the Dubai World Cup. Hopefully, he comes back at his best later this season.
5) Unique Bella – The question with the big gray mare is whether or not she can bring her best outside of the comforts of Southern California.
6) Oscar Performance – The best U.S. grass horse in my book came back with a flourish, winning the Poker in record time.
7) Abel Tasman – The Champion 3yo filly from last year proved that she still has it with a dominating score in the Grade 1 Ogden Phipps.
8) Mind Your Biscuits – Followed up huge repeat win in Dubai with valiant effort on Belmont Stakes day. Will be interesting to see how he does stretching out for the Whitney.
9) Bee Jersey – Perfect this year, and needed every bit of his talent to hold off the powerful late run of Mind Your Biscuits in New York’s Met Mile.
10) Pavel – Big win in the Grade 1 Stephen Foster makes him a contender in the older male division. It also flattered Accelerate.
Justify photo courtesy of NYRA/Adam Mooshian