Story of the year? Like it or not – strangely some don’t seem to admit it – came and went in a pretty short stretch of time from February 18 to June 9. That’s exactly the stretch of time Justify went from unraced maiden looking to defy history to undefeated and dominating Triple Crown winner.
History will certainly remember others from the 2018 season but will recall the year as one where we saw a second Triple Crown winner in four years. We covered the Triple Crown sweep with stories titled “First string: Derby winner rises to challenge,” “Clear Path at Pimlico,” and “Horse on the Wall: Justify joins the greats” and “Priceless Moment.”
We also covered the aftermath of the historic sweep from the perspective of his Hall of Fame jockey and his longtime valet and Joe Clancy’s story “Harry & Mike: Valet, jockey share Triple Crown bond” finished as the most read story of 2018 by a significant margin.
The story gave a glimpse at the working relationship, which goes back to December 1989 at Aqueduct when the up-and-comer Smith took the plunge and moved his tack to New York after carving out a successful career in the Southwest and Midwest.
Rice offered plenty of insight into the early days, when Smith enjoyed a dramatic rise to the end of his run in New York.
“(Rice) remembered Smith’s early days in New York, the fame and fortune that followed, big victories, four consecutive 300-win seasons in the 1990s, a Hall of Fame induction in 2003, nasty falls, wicked injuries, long recoveries, an almost desperate move to California in hopes of saving a career and then another cycle back to the top as Smith teamed up with some of the best horses of the last 15 years,” Joe wrote. “Rice – a NYRA valet at Aqueduct, Belmont and Saratoga – watched those last steps from afar, reuniting with Smith on the jockey’s trips to Belmont Park and Saratoga with the big names.
Rice later commented on Smith’s move to Southern California, saying: “I thought it was a great move. He had a chance to ride for some big outfits. They kind of forgot about him here a little bit, maybe he came back a little bit too quick from his injuries but it was a smart move and you see how good it worked out.”
The story appeared June 23 and is No. 1 on the TIHR Top 10 for 2018:
The complete TIHR Top 10 for 2018:
No. 9: Three weeks…
No. 7: Newspapers, tragedy, life
No. 6: Far From Ordinary
No. 3: Friends lost in 2018