One category that should be settled is Horse of the Year. Wise Dan deserves to be a lock to repeat. That there is even conversation otherwise is solely a product of contrarians, who resented him winning in 2012 and probably maintain the same opinions after his parallel campaign in 2013. Their oft-stated objection is that Wise Dan is too much of a specialist, racing almost exclusively at a mile on grass.
So what. Juveniles have won the title. Fillies and mares have won the title, usually on the basis of one win outside their division against males.
Game on Dude would have been an almost unanimous choice if he had won the Classic after racing all but once in California, where he routinely beat up on short fields with Clubhouse Ride his immediate victim three times and Kettle Corn twice. Either of these would have been 50-1 or better if they had made the Classic field.
A primary characteristic of champions is consistency. Wise Dan was almost perfect again this year. He won on the East Coast at Saratoga, in the Midwest at Churchill Downs and Keeneland, in Canada at Woodbine and on the West Coast at Santa Anita.
He won in April, May, June, August, September and November.
The Euros cleaned our clocks in every BC turf race but the Mile, where Wise Dan cleaned theirs. What more do the naysayers want?
More dĂ©jĂ vu. Wise Danâ€™s detractors might grudgingly concede him the big prize but rest assured there will be opinions written and spoken that he should not cop best older horse, also because he won only on turf.
If not him, who? To reiterate, Game on Dudeâ€™s entire campaign of beating up on the same creampuffs was exposed in the Classic. There were no excuses this time. He was ideally positioned throughout, right there at the top of the stretch on a track that favored this (although not as much as Friday) and backed up badly when he realized it wasnâ€™t Clubhouse Ride and Kettle Corn breathing down on him.
Some will offer Mucho Macho Man. But if Wise Dan was a specialist, what can you say about a horse whose only two wins were at Santa Anita in a compact span of five weeks?
The Eclipse voters will risk their credibility if they do not vote Wise Dan the same triple as last season: Horse of the Year, Turf Horse and Older Horse.
Very few other categories were settled at the â€śworld championships.â€ť New Yearâ€™s Day is the pro tem leader of the juvenile division off his upset win but the only other first on his resume is a maiden race. Whatâ€™s more, he ran slower than the fillies. With major 2-year-old races still to come at Churchill Downs, Aqueduct, Hollywood and even Delta Downs, this category is far from settled.
Same goes for the juvenile fillies. Sheâ€™s a Tiger is being talked up after being taken down but even Gary Stevens acknowledged on TV that she deserved to be DQâ€™ed. She also failed to hold a clear lead in her previous start. My hunch is her connections wonâ€™t risk her reputation around two turns during Hollywoodâ€™s final season, leaving the door open for a late season star. If she gets the Eclipse, it will be by process of elimination, hardly the criteria of a champion.
I canâ€™t believe Groupie Doll is being pushed by some as outstanding female sprinter. Letâ€™s review: she ran third to undistinguished foes at Ellis Park, beat a $4k claimer at Presque Isle Downs, was third best again at Keeneland, then came through on the same track where she won the title last year. It is no more rational to award her an encore championship than it would be to give the 2-year-old filly title to Ria Antonia.
Anybody hear of Dance to Bristol? She might have thrown in a clunker at Santa Anita but unlike Game on Dude, her prior resume--7 wins, 2 seconds in 9 starts--canâ€™t be faulted. She took on all comers and her only loss after winning 7 in a row was a second to undefeated Cluster of Stars.
The male sprint division is so bereft of outstanding players that Secret Circle could steal the title with similar, albeit lesser, credentials as Mucho Macho Man; a Breedersâ€™ Cup win, preceded by an optional claimer score. The 2011 BC Juvenile Sprint winner has never been beaten around one turn. Letâ€™s hope we get the opportunity before yearâ€™s end to see him attempt to wipe out any challenges to his superiority. He probably would be odds-on if Bob Baffert chose to have him tackle the Cigar Mile.
Speaking of the Cigar, TV commentators and some in the print media all but awarded the 3-year-old title to Will Take Charge after his gallant second in the Classic. Hold on. Shug McGaughey is pointing Kentucky Derby winner Orb to the Cigar.
Will Take Charge is still only 4-for-10 and he finished 8th, 7th and 10th in the Triple Crown races. His only Grade 1 win is the Travers. As disappointing as Orb has been since Derby Day, he is still 4-for-8, with two Grade 1â€™s, including the big one, and he finished ahead of WTC in each of the Triple Crown events. A bookend score in the Cigar, however improbable off his recent form, would move Orb to the top of the class again.
Update: After publication, it was announced that Orb has been retired. He is perfectly sound, so this is every bit as objectionable as Verrazano's retirement, which I railed against last week. Actually more so. There is no bigger drawing card in racing than a Kentucky Derby winner.)
The most spirited arguments from now until the Eclipse winners are revealed in January will be over 3-year-old filly honors. Beholder stated her case with a resounding triumph in the BC Distaff, her second Grade 1 against older rivals. Princess of Sylmar misfired badly Friday but has won the more prestigious races and defeated Beholder, a Santa Anita specialist, in their only previous meeting in the Kentucky Oaks.
No matter which one comes out on top, the division will have a stellar champion. This canâ€™t be said about many of the other categories.