Should we be surprised that Zenyatta won Horse of the Year? Nope.
Should we be surprised that she won the award by a nose? C’mon. That would be like being surprised that Count Dracula loves blood. Or being surprised to find out the moon was made of cheese. Trust me. It is.
Out of the 238 votes cast, Zenyatta received 128. Blame took 102 and the others went to Goldikova (possibly the most deserving of the three between the fences). Fitting that such a close vote came in the state of Florida. Not since Bush v. Gore had there been such a close election. Justice Sandra Day O’Connor may have voted for Blame in a 5-4 decision.
I’d wager that of the 102 voters whom chose Blame over Zenyatta are happy Zenyatta won. It was practical to vote for Blame. He had a slightly harder campaign. He beat Quality Road, but he lost to a New York-bred speedster in Haynesfield. Quality Road’s downward spiral started after his smashing Donn Handicap effort and, at last, finished farther back on Breeders’ Cup weekend than Life At Ten.
Blame beat his only true rival for the award head to head.
Zenyatta’s beat her best rival by keeping her off the same surface: Rachel Alexandra. Remember the 1971 movie “Duel”? A businessman passes a tractor-trailer truck on a desert highway. The truck driver angers and aims to kill the businessman by tailgating him worse than a soccer mom in a Suburban texting on her Droid.
Zenyatta was the truck that scared off Rachel Alexandra.
What if Zenyatta had lost this award again? Los Angeles Times columnist Bill Dwyer aptly writes that this one was for the fans. But 102 voters weren’t happy enough to give this one to the fans. The fans shouldn’t feel like their victory was unanimous. Winning just 54 percent of the vote doesn’t exactly rattle the rafters with resounding confidence. Looks like 46 percent of experts didn’t care for the fans. Come to think of it, that may be in line with industry standards.
This is great, too. What could this have said about this sport if its darling wasn’t thought to be its best? Dwyer writes, “The general fan, especially a new legion of females who had come, seen Zenyatta and were conquered, didn't know or care about Blame, even after the Classic. Zenyatta had grabbed their hearts, convinced them that hers was a sport worth watching.” Now, in their eyes, Zenyatta is thought to be the most popular and the best. Fans love a frontrunner, and the irony is that she is the deepest of closers.
Was Zenyatta the best horse in 2010? That was probably Goldikova who beats the boys worse than a Catholic school nun. If you erase her unbeaten record from the previous three years, does she win the 2010 Horse of the Year? The award ended up rewarding her for her career, not her 2010. If ever there was a year she could have won Horse of the Year it was 2009, but Rachel Alexandra’s campaign was more deserving. Same with 2008, Curlin’s campaign was simply awesome.
The Horse of the Year Eclipse Award just got a little muddy. And, perhaps, it has always been so, but especially this year. This year sentimentality and fan pressure were bigger influences than Zenyatta’s win in the Apple Blossom.
Thankfully the fan’s voice can be heard with the Secretariat Vox Populi Award (created by Penny Chenery), which goes to the country’s most popular horse.
Blogs, Web hubs, Twitter, Facebook engage their users. The wall between writer and reader, television and viewer, sport and fan crumbled worse than bleu cheese . The writer is no longer on a holier-than-thou pedestal. He is in the peanut gallery and I, for one, welcome this (just don’t touch my suit jacket with greasy hands, all I ask).
With this Berlin Wall of sorts torn down we are exposed to the passions and vitriol. These days fans seem to be more knowledgeable than ever? If you filter through some comments on blogs you find some incredible research done. That is, of course, if you can dispel of the ones who call you a douche bag, say nasty things about your wife, and say the most vile and baseless drivel.
The Eclipse Awards should be fan free, but thanks to Penny Chenery’s award the fan has in its hands bricks from its own Berlin Wall, tossing it up and down in its hand, waiting to hurl it.
They will be heard. No more shattered glass. Give them the proper bullhorn and lets be done with it.
Brendan O'Meara is the author of the forthcoming book "Six Weeks in Saratoga: How Three-Year-Old Filly Rachel Alexandra Beat the Boys and Became Horse of the Year. You can learn more at The Blog Itself, follow @BrendanOMeara, or go to his web site http://www.brendanomeara.com.