My response was that I didn’t know, that I needed more time to reflect. That was five days ago and I’m no closer to having a definitive opinion. Several years ago, the Eclipse Award committee decided that split votes no longer would be valid.
Too bad. It might have been a viable option this year.
I could vote for Curlin or I could vote Zenyatta and make a winning case for both. I could also consider Big Brown, strictly a biased opinion of course. First, he’s a very neat animal. Second, the ability he demonstrated winning the Kentucky Derby and Preakness, in tandem, were the best performances delivered by an American-based Thoroughbred this year.
But, of course, there was Curlin’s consummate Dubai World Cup victory; Zenyatta’s thoroughly comprehensive Ladies Classic to consider. Similarly, I was very impressed by Goldikova’s Mile and, believe it or not, by Square Eddie’s electric turn of foot while dominating Keeneland’s Breeders’ Futurity.
Or is turf or synthetics or a victory delivered 6,000 miles from these shores out of bounds? When choosing, it’s about mostly multiple variables. But it can also be about one victory in one particular race
The JHF, as defined by a legendary founding member of the National Turf Writers’ Association, is that “the Horse of the Year can be anything.”
Parenthetically, the NTWA is one of three industry groups charged with defining a champion in any given year. Daily Racing Form staffers and Racing Secretaries from America’s leading racetracks are the other groups.
In general, what’s good for Joe Hirsch traditionally has been what’s good for the game. In this matter Hirsch feels there’s no clear delineation between a horse making the most championship-defining victories in prestigious events and a horse, such Big Brown, who despite an incomplete championship portfolio, occasionally demonstrated that he was best in show. Clearly, he did more to capture the imagination of the general sports public on a national level than any other horse to race this year.
Those critical of this notion hold that Horse of the Year is neither a popularity contest nor recognition for racing’s Most Valuable Horse. But why not? After voters finish counting Grade 1 victories, the rest of the process is about subjectivity and politics. On graded value, there is no difference between the Derby and Preakness. But if there were a tie-breaker involving these two races, on what side do you believe most voters would err? Like synthetic tracks, all Grade 1s are not created equal.
In political terms, I am willing to wager any amount there will be more West Coast Horse of the Year votes cast for Zenyatta than there will be for Curlin. Any takers? I am also willing to bet that the converse will be true. Interesting to note, however, that Zenyatta already is ranked #1 atop the weekly NTRA poll.
And some racing secretaries, when given no clear cut mandate, will be even more provincial. They invariably will lean toward those horses or connections who either brought the big horse to their racetrack or whose horses and, by extension, and trainers labor in their barn areas. Human nature.
It is expected that 2008 will mark the 17th season in which a champion will be crowned after winning a Breeders’ Cup event race day. Make that race days: Filly Friday and Sire Saturday.
And that leaves Curlin out, although he did win at Saratoga, Churchill Downs and Belmont Park, in addition to Nad Al Sheba. On the other hoof, Zenyatta remained undefeated, but only once on dirt outside of California. But she did defeat a reigning filly champion, Ginger Punch, at Oaklawn Park, but nary a boy in sight.
Champions have been crowned in the past off singular Breeders’ Cup victories. Eclipse rules say that the only qualification needed is a lone win in North America, which presumably includes Southern California. Hey, then what about Raven’s Pass?
Raven’s Pass beat a horse that beat him twice, Henrythenavigator, winning his previous start and earning a Timeform rating the equal of Curlin’s in the World Cup and better than ‘Henry’ ever earned in his life.
The Classic was his fifth Grade 1 win of the year, he beat elders, including Curlin, at scale weights. Why not Raven’s Pass for Horse of the Year? Right. He “only” won on turf and Pro Ride, but not dirt. Unlike Curlin, who couldn’t win his debuts on turf or Pro Ride, the Classic was Raven Pass’s first time racing left-handled.
I’m not saying I would vote for Raven’s Pass, even though the Horse of the Year “can be anything,” and because he’s arguably the most accomplished horse to run all year. The point is that Horse of the Year often is a subjective exercise. Why should this year be any different?