Nine of the 10 Top Ten in the final pre-Breeders’ Cup NTRA Thoroughbred Poll will be racing, all but Richard’s Kid. That multiple Grade 1 winner has a future date in Dubai.
At stake will be championship titles in every division including, of course, 2010 Horse of the Year. Of the nine that will compete, only one, three-year-old filly Blind Luck, has locked up an Eclipse in that division no matter what happens tomorrow at 7:30 p.m.
Much already has been written about Zenyatta’s ability to earn the 2010 Horse of the Year title without a repeat victory in the Classic. But I can’t think of a single rival that got their own Sports Illustrated spread or had their names uttered in the same sentence with Oprah’s. Or had their names in lights welcoming visitors to the Standiford Airport while wishing her well on Saturday.
Voters ultimately will have to decide what all that’s ultimately worth when considering what a Horse of the Year should be. Traditionally, it has been the horse--usually an older male--with the best record in open company. But there’s no Horse of the Year rule book that says that’s the way it ought to be.
In 1997, the dominant juvenile champion, undefeated Favorite Trick, was voted Horse of the Year. His main weapon was speed. So which would you have backed in a proverbial match race: Favorite Trick or Skip Away?
In 1972, juvenile champion Secretariat won the first of consecutive Horse of the Year titles. But could Big Red have beaten the likes of the Whitney-Travers-Woodward winning Key To The Mint?
OK, so maybe he could have; Secretariat is widely acknowledged as the likely best of all time, certainly of the modern era, anyway.
Should Zenyatta win the Classic, there will be many who would argue that since she went 20-for-20, with back-to-back Classic victories, that distinction rightfully should be hers.
Perfection is impossible to knock. But wouldn’t you love to have seen Zenyatta vs. Secretariat at Belmont Park on the first Saturday of June, 1973? So, without a textbook definition, what does Horse of the Year really mean? And how do athletes from different eras compare, anyway?
As I was flying over one red state after another on my way to the Land of Rand Paul, I read Tom Pedulla’s feature piece on Zenyatta in USA Today and I thought about how superlatives don’t seem hyperbolic when she’s the subject. Exaggerated praise seems to come as easily as most of her 19 wins.
Sunday’s “60 Minutes” piece was more Jack Whittaker than Mike Wallace which is to say that it was reverential. CBS had a healthy respect for horse racing back the--and the racetrack isn’t the only sport I wish to hear Hayward Hale Broun again, waxing as softly and eloquently as his madras jackets were loud.
But when NTRA conducts its final poll on Monday, Week 36, for national release on Tuesday, the scores can really change depending on what happens at 6:45 Saturday night. Once again this week, Zenyatta was a unanimous selection.
Of course, there is sentiment for and Quality Road and Blame, each a deserving candidate. Quality Road has the more impressive resume, but Blame did run him down with a weight pull at Saratoga. If somehow he can do that again Saturday, the score between those two would appeared settled rather definitively.
There’s Horse of the Year support for Blind Luck, should her sixth transcontinental journey against America’s top older females prove successful. That’s a lot of traveling for any horse, but being a filly makes it special. “All the races I wanted to win were back East,” said Jerry Hollander at the post draw.
And should Goldikova win her third Mile, the first three-time winner in Cup history, how would that not be worthy of serious consideration.
But we love our Derby colts in America and Lookin At Lucky, the best of them, ranked second to only the “big mare,” will get his chance to put the deepest field of the year in his rear view, along with those horrible memories in May.
Any of the above are worthy of serious consideration. Then there’s Zenyatta, of whom Dale Romans on Tuesday said, “she came along to help racing when we’ve needed it the most.” On that, who could honestly disagree?
Tomorrow: Is Moss Having Some Fun, or Will Zenyatta Race Again in 2011?