With all due respect to the Breeders' Cup, it is not a one race season to determine championships, especially this year.
MIAMI, Dec. 27, 2013--I respect the Breedersâ€™ Cup. I anticipate it for weeks. I love the spectacle. I applaud its intentions to identify the best of the best.
All things being equal, the winners of Breedersâ€™ Cup races should wear the crown of at least a divisional championship. However, all things are not always equal or even fairly equal, especially this year.
This struck me as I was filling out my Eclipse Awards ballot. The majority of horses I voted on top did not win on Breedersâ€™ Cup weekend. One of those that did was an agonizing decision I wavered on until I hit the button to submit my choices.
Hereâ€™s the way my ballot looked and the reasons I came to the conclusions I did.
2-year-old maleâ€”New Yearâ€™s Day. This was the category in which I changed my mind repeatedly right up to the moment of truth. No horse excited me more than Shared Belief. However, I couldnâ€™t get past the fact that all three of his wins came on synthetic tracks. If he had even one win on conventional dirt, my decision would have been different. Arguments that Hollywoodâ€™s Cushion Track plays more like conventional dirt than any of the synthetics almost convinced me to ignore my own prejudice, based on the history of synthetic stars becoming busts on conventional dirt. But Hollywood was still a synthetic. Taking this into consideration, the Breedersâ€™ Cup Juvenile winner is the obvious choice.
2-year-old femaleâ€”Sheâ€™s a Tiger. Iâ€™m not overly excited by any of them and had to settle for a filly who lost her last two starts, albeit the BC Juvenile Fillies by DQ. Two of her stakes wins were on synthetics but she did cross the wire first on Santa Anitaâ€™s main track and broke her maiden on conventional dirt. Streaming impressed in the Hollywood Starlet but again, it was on a fake dirt track.
3-year-old male--Will Take Charge. Until he ran down Game on Dude in the Clark I was prepared to vote for Orb. The Kentucky Derby is still Americaâ€™s race. The Triple Crown is what 3-year-old racing is all about and WTC ran 8th, 7th and 10th, all three times behind Orb. But Orb did nothing after the Classics while Will Take Charge closed with a flourish.
3-year-old femaleâ€”Princess of Sylmar. Iâ€™m not going to punish the filly who won all the big races for her generation because her owners had the courage to ship west and take on Beholder on her home course, which was a paved highway, ideally suited to her style, on Nov. 1.
Older maleâ€”Wise Dan. Iâ€™ll get into the reasons when I discuss my Horse of the Year vote. Basically, I donâ€™t believe you can be HoY without being best in class.
Older femaleâ€”Royal Delta. She wasnâ€™t the horse she was last year but she won a pair of Grade 1â€™s and was second to Princess of Sylmar in another. No challenger won more than one Grade 1.
Male sprinterâ€”Points Offthebench. The ill-fated gelding won four straight, the last two Grade 1â€™s. His only serious challenger, Sahara Sky, won only one Grade 1 and didnâ€™t race after May.
Female sprinterâ€”Cluster of Stars. I was leaning toward Dance to Bristol for her season-long body of work, seven wins, including a Grade 1, in 10 starts. But even though she didnâ€™t win a Grade 1, I couldnâ€™t get past the fact that Cluster of Stars was 7-for-7, including a crushing victory the only time they met. In spite of her Breedersâ€™ Cup victory, Iâ€™m mystified anyone could seriously suggest Groupie Doll is worthy of a second Eclipse. Her only win in four other starts was at Presque Isle Downs with a former $4K sprinter closest to her at the wire.
Male turfâ€”Wise Dan. Do we even need to discuss this?
Female turfâ€”Dank. I have an aversion to voting for Euros, who start only once or twice in North America, but I couldn't ignore what she did. She came, she saw and she conquered the best America had to offer twice.
Horse of the Yearâ€”Wise Dan. This shouldnâ€™t be debatable.
The most laughable knock on him is that he is only a miler and ducked tough competition.
Really? His connections announced where he was going months in advance. He went everywhere they said he would, including the Turf Classic at Churchill Downs. Point of Entry was also pointing for the Derby Day stakes, run at a mile and an eighth, supposedly a more advantageous distance for Point of Entry. When a monsoon turned the course into a swamp, Wise Dan stayed in but Point of Entry came out. Who ducked who?
Wise Dan also stayed in the Firecracker when that was contested in horrid conditions. No one could have blamed his connections if they scratched out of the Shadwell Turf Mile when it was moved to a soaked main course at the last minute. But he ran and suffered his only loss of the year when a quality wet track specialist at the top of his game, Silver Max, got loose on the lead.
Wise Dan won graded races in April, May, June, August, September and November. He won at Keeneland, Churchill Downs, Saratoga, Woodbine and Santa Anita.
The anti-Wise Dan crowd seems to have settled on Mucho Macho Man as the alternative. Mucho Macho Man was two for five, both wins at Santa Anita, within a five-week period.
Iâ€™d love to see Mucho Macho Man win an Eclipse in 2014 because of his South Florida connections and the inspiring story of Kathy Ritvo. But there is no case to be made for 2013.