Year in Review: The Best Race of 2018

Profile Picture: J. Keeler Johnson

December 15th, 2018

Horse racing fans were treated to some highly memorable moments in 2018. From Justify’s sweep of the Triple Crown to Accelerate’s season-defining victory in the Breeders’ Cup Classic, the racing year was packed with exciting action and thrilling finishes.

As a result, trying to define the single greatest race of the year is a task easier said than done, and one fraught with caveats and clarifications. Are you looking for the fastest race of the year? The most historically significant? The most exciting?

For me, hands-down the best race of the year was the Preakness Stakes (gr. I) at Pimlico, in which Justify was bidding to win the second leg of the Triple Crown and continue along the road to glory in the spring classics.
From start to finish, the Preakness was exciting, dramatic, and contested. Pre-race downpours had left the Pimlico main track sloppy and sealed, and as post time approached dense fog settled in, making it difficult to discern the horses even on television.

Justify, breaking smoothly from an outside post, showed speed as usual but quickly found himself locked in a duel for the lead with the champion two-year-old and Kentucky Derby runner-up Good Magic. Together, the two talented colts opened up a clear advantage over their six other rivals, and for the first mile of the race neither would give an inch.

For a brief moment on the far turn, and again in the homestretch, the horses all but disappeared from view on the telecast, leaving viewers to wonder how Justify was handling his start-to-finish battle with Good Magic. But when the horses emerged from the fog in the final furlong, Justify had forged to a narrow advantage, and jockey Mike Smith—showing confidence and hoping to save something for the Belmont Stakes—put away his whip and went to a hand-ride on the Derby winner.

Maybe the move was premature, for the race wasn’t over yet; as Justify began to grow a bit leg-weary from his early exertions, the late-running Bravazo burst onto the scene, swallowing up the leaders with an eye-catching finish. Just when it seemed like Justify might win the battle but lose the war, the horses flashed under the finish line, with Justify the winner by a diminishing half-length.

On the speed figure scales, the Preakness wasn’t a particularly fast race, but in every other respect it was as memorable a horse race as you can hope to see. The fact that Justify returned three weeks later to win the Belmont Stakes and complete his Triple Crown sweep made his Preakness victory all the more significant, so far all these reasons, I rank the Preakness as the single best horse race of 2018.