ACCELERATE JOINS AN ELITE CLUB
Thu, 11/15/2018 - 13:24
As the dust settles from Accelerate’s thrilling victory in the GI Breeders’ Cup Classic, some context is in order.
In addition to the Classic, Accelerate also won the Santa Anita H., the Gold Cup at Santa Anita, the TVG Pacific Classic, and the Awesome Again S.—all important Grade I events. Notably, four of these Grade I wins came at the American Classic distance of 1 1/4 miles, the yardstick by which the industry measures itself.
Since the Graded Race era began, only four horses have won four Grade I races at a mile and a quarter in a season. By comparison, we’ve had five Triple Crown winners since then. It’s that rare a feat.
Affirmed won four Grade I’s at 10 furlongs in 1979. Alysheba did it five times in 1988. Cigar did it four times in 1995. And now Accelerate has joined this elite club.
The list of top horses that ran in the Graded Stakes era but didn't hit the magic number of four includes Alydar, Forego, Spectacular Bid, Easy Goer, John Henry, Sunday Silence, Holy Bull, A.P. Indy, Best Pal, Skip Away, Curlin, Ghostzapper and Tiznow, as well as Secretariat, Seattle Slew and the two most recent Triple Crown winners.In the pre-Graded Race era, heroes like Kelso, Dr. Fager, Damascus, Buckpasser, Sword Dancer, Bold Ruler, Swaps, Nashua, Citation and Seabiscuit never won four top-level races at a mile and a quarter in a season.
Accelerate etched his name into the history books in other ways, as well. Consider this: since the turn of the century, only five Horses of the Year won five Grade I’s in a single season. One, American Pharaoh, won six. The other four are a who’s who of Hall of Famers: Point Given, Azeri, Rachel Alexandra, Zenyatta.
That leaves Accelerate in pretty heady company. What's more, if he were ultimately crowned, Accelerate would join American Pharaoh as the lone Horses of the Year, since 2000, with five or more Grade I’s during a championship run that also featured a win in the Breeders’ Cup Classic. In fact, only four males since 2000 have won even four Grade I’s, including the BC Classic, during a Horse of the Year campaign: Gun Runner, American Pharoah, Invasor (Arg) and Saint Liam.
And it wasn’t just the wins. It was the way Accelerate did it. At year’s end, he had earned 3 of the 6 highest Beyer Speed Figures in the country for horses going a mile or more on the main track. Accelerate’s 12 1/2-length dismantling of the Pacific Classic earned him a huge 117 figure. He got a 111 Beyer when he defeated the Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile hero City of Light by over five lengths in the Gold Cup. He got a 110 romping by over five in the Big Cap. In all, Accelerate’s Grade I victories in 2018 were by an average winning margin of 5.1 lengths. That’s domination.
In total, Accelerate won 6 of his 7 races in 2018 and earned in excess of $5 million. Five of his 6 wins came in Grade I company, including a victory in what’s annually the race that decides year-end honors, the Classic. Behind him that day at Churchill Downs were 10 Grade I winners, including a Dubai World Cup hero, two Travers winners and a quartet of last-out Grade I winners.
Looking at the sum of Accelerate’s accomplishments, it’s easy to view him as what he is: a throwback to a different time, when horses raced, raced often, and were judged by their merits on the track. Like a heavyweight fighter who answered every bell, Accelerate started good and stayed good, finding a way to win again and again through the year. He at turns humbled his opponents, battled them eye-to-eye with unwavering grit, and ultimately ran them into submission with one of the best campaigns of the new century.
Few horses in the modern era have been able to accomplish what he did in a single season, elevating him, in our eyes at least, to the justified status of Accelerate the Great.