The big winners on Super Saturday never left their stalls. The ten Grade 1â€™s raised as many questions as they provided answers for various divisional honors. But they did clarify the grand prize. Either Game on Dude or Wise Dan will be 2013 Horse of the Year.
If only one wins at the Breedersâ€™ Cup, he should be a unanimous choice. (I was going to add a caveat that Wise Dan would have to avoid being upset in Saturdayâ€™s Shadwell Mile at Keeneland. On second thought, even if he were beaten, then comes back and wins the BC Turf Mile and the Dude falls in the Classic, Dan still has the strongest resume in North America.)
If Wise Dan and Game on Dude both win on Nov. 2, Game on Dude will get the nod. All things being equal, an outstanding dirt horse will outpoll the leading grass horse every time. This is as it should be. Dirt is the dominant surface in American racing.
If they both go down to defeat, Game on Dude will capture the Eclipse for the same reason.
Itâ€™s a process of elimination. There are no other reasonable candidates even if both fall the first weekend in November.
Princess of Sylmar might have had a shot if she added the Breedersâ€™ Cup Distaff to her stunning triumph over two-time champion Royal Delta in the Beldame. (That the Princess won isnâ€™t stunning. The ease with which she ran past Royal Delta is.)
Six wins in seven races, including four straight Grade 1â€™s and two over older rivals, are awesome credentials. It would be the exact equal to Wise Dan (again assuming he wins Saturday but not at the BC) and would be superior to the Dudeâ€™s five-for-six (if he fails again in the Classic). The â€śwhat have you done for me lately?â€ť factor also would work in her favor.
However, itâ€™s unlikely she would be rewarded after avoiding racingâ€™s biggest stage while in perfect health and peak form, which seems to be the case. Her owner, Ed Stanco, changed his mind after saying the Alabama would be her 2013 finale. Maybe he will do it again when he ponders what could be on the line. Letâ€™s hope so.
If you really want to reach, you could make a case for Laughing, whose win in the Flower Bowl made her 2013 scorecard a perfect 4-for-4. If she were to win her fifth straight in the BC Filly & Mare Turf at the expense of Beverly D champion Dank and other top Euros, you couldnâ€™t blame her connections for arguing, â€śHey, what about us?â€ť
But if some voters bristled at giving the 2012 title to Wise Dan because all his wins were on grass, how do you rationalize giving it to a mare, who raced exclusively on turf and never outside her gender?
This appears to be a moot point. Like Princess of Sylmar, Laughing is not nominated to the Breeders' Cup and in all likelihood is not going to Santa Anita.
Anyone else would be a candidate solely of contrarians. Letâ€™s say Will Take Charge takes the BC Classic for his third straight win. His overall record for the year would be only 5-for-10. Moreover, do we really want to anoint a colt, who finished 8th in the Kentucky Derby, 7th in the Preakness and 10th in the Belmont, as Horse of the Year?
The road to an Eclipse shouldnâ€™t go through Moreno, who was second in WTCâ€™s two most recent victories. This is illustrative of the fact that WTC didnâ€™t come to prominence until attrition had taken its toll on his generation. Granted, he nailed Preakness champion Oxbow on the wire in the Rebel during the spring but this doesnâ€™t outweigh 8th, 7th and 10th in the Triple Crown events.
Palace Malice has supporters but he will go into the BC Classic 2-for-9. A win in the Classic would be enough to take the still-up-for-grabs 3-year-old honors, but thatâ€™s all.
If neither Will Take Charge nor Palace Malice manage to hit the board in the Classic, Orb, who is mercifully done for the year, could still sneak away with the 3-year-old title. We can debate that if and when the time comes.
Every year it seems there is one horse who goes home with nothing on Eclipse night despite an extraordinary season. Little Mike was the unfortunate odd one out last year. Grade 1 wins in the Woodford Reserve, the Arlington Million and Breeders Cup Turf would be enough to clinch the Turf Eclipse and make a case for Horse of the Year in many seasons. Poor Mike got nothing because he did it in Wise Danâ€™s year.
Beholder looks like the 2013 model for being very good in a season someone else was great. A few hours after Princess of Sylmar disposed of Royal Delta, Beholder toyed with a solid field of older fillies and mares in the Grade 1 Zenyatta. It was her fourth win in six starts, to go with a pair of seconds.
Those are Eclipse credentials most seasons. Not in the year of Princess of Sylmar, who outfinished her in the Kentucky Oaks. It won't even matter if Beholder wins the BC Distaff.
Maybe racing should create a separate trophy for situations like this. It could be called the Sham Award.