SARATOGA SPRINGS, NY, February 08, 2010--It took some time but the votes for the third annual HRI Readers Choice Awards have been tabulated. As you might suspect, some of the results were formful, some were not, but many interesting in their own way.
If you study the results, two things become apparent: That fans of thoroughbred racing are among the most passionate in sports, and that the attraction is both the athletic prowess of the horses and riders and the participatory nature of parimutuel wagering.
Unlike most sports, horse racing is year-round and not seasonal. That means racingâ€™s fan base stays engaged 24/7/365, making them among the most knowledgeable fans in sports.
Here, then, is HRI Readers Awards III, celebrating the storylines and saluting individual achievement in 2009 with a few predictions of whatâ€™s in store for 2010 sprinkled in, listed by category. (Some categories may not add up to 100 percent due to rounding).
HORSES & HORSEMEN:
The Retired Horse Readers are Going to Miss Most was, who else, the Un-Retired Zenyatta, by a 65 percent majority. After the late January announcement that she would return, that honor now belongs to the redoubtable Einstein, by a 17 percent winning margin over Ventura.
Will Rachel Alexandra run in the Classic if Summer Bird and Quality Road show up in top form? And, now, Zenyatta, too? Readers believe that Rachel will, including 44 percent of yes voters, 28 percent who donâ€™t think so, and another 28 percent who are not sure.
The Big-Race-Rider of 2009 was Julien Leparoux, who attracted 45 percent of the vote. Just over 28 percent thought it was Calvin Borel, while only 9 percent voted for Garrett Gomez.
Thirty-two percent of HRI Readers believe that Rachel Alexandra will win the Breedersâ€™ Cup Classic--but that was before Zenyatta jumped back into the fray. Summer Bird attracted 23 percent of the voters, nine percentage points more than Quality Road. Over 32 percent thinks it will be none of the above.
The HRI Readers Choice for Trainer of the Year 2009 is John Shirreffs, by a majority of 54 percent. There was a dead-heat for place between Steve Asmussen and Linda Rice, each garnering 21 percent of the vote.
The Sprint Performance of the Year 2009 went to Quality Roadâ€™s Amsterdam narrowly over Vineyard Havenâ€™s DeFrancis Memorial, 35 percent to 30. Gayego was third with one of every five voting for the Ancient title winner.
The Best Effort in a Losing Performance in 2009 was Mine That Bird in the Preakness Stakes by a comfortable margin over Lookin At Luckyâ€™s Breedersâ€™ Cup Juvenile, 47 percent to 32. A number of horses combined to comprise the remaining 21 percent.
HRI Horse of the Year 2009 was conducted in a separate poll and was the most popular public opinion exercise ever conducted on this site: By a significant margin, 52 percent of the HRI voters preferred Zenyatta to Rachel Alexandra.
Considering that 14 percent of the voters thought that there should have been co-champions this, the margin was effectively 59 percent to 41 percent, a Zenyatta landslide.
In keeping with the prevailing trend, the Fantastic Finish of 2009 belonged to Zenyatta for her Breedersâ€˜ Cup Classic, doubling up Mine That Birdâ€™s 27 percent for his furious Derby finish. Several others received support, accounting for the remaining 19 percent.
Early returns on the possible Derby winner are that Lookin At Lucky is most likely to succeed, so said 38 percent of HRI readers. Buddyâ€™s Saint was next at 12 percent after Take Command, which attracted 23 percent but is off the Derby trail with bucked shins.
The Most Memorable Races of 2009 were conducted at Saratoga last summer, followed closely by Oak Tree-Santa Anita meet, a two venue race, 48 percent to 40.
Best Races to Bet On: An overwhelming majority of readers prefer betting on classy horses, stakes races attracting 79 percent of the vote and allowances, 21 percent. Surprisingly, there was no support at all for maiden or claiming events.
The Best Surface to Race On was a dead-heat between Dirt and Turf with each getting 43 percent. Only 13 percent of HRI Readers preferred an All-Weather surface.
The Best Race Story of 2009 was Zenyattaâ€™s Classic at 47 percent over Rachel Alexandraâ€™s 41 percent Woodward victory. Calvin Borelâ€™s risky Derby ride finished a distant third.
THE WOMEN OF 2009:
Rachel Alexander Over/Under for number of 2010 starts was set at 5-Â½: A clear majority believe Rachel will run far less often this year, by a margin of 59-to-41 percent.
HRI Readers do believe, however, that she will make at least two starts vs. males in 2010, by a 77-to-24 percent margin.
The HRI Female Trainer of the Year was Linda Rice, so said 53 percent of responders. Place and Show was close between Helen Pitts-Blasi (25 percent) and Kathleen Oâ€˜Connell (19 percent).
HRI Readers selected Rosemary Homeister Jr. as Female Jockey Of The Year by a surprisingly wide margin; 69 percent compared to 16 percent for Anna Napravnik. Chantal Sutherland got 14 percent of the vote.
The HRI Readersâ€™ Choice for Horsewoman of the Year was extremely close, jockey Homeister edging out trainer Rice by a margin of two percent, 37 to 35.
STATE OF THE GAME:
The On-Track Disappointment of the Year was no contest. Rachelâ€™s non-appearance in the Breedersâ€˜ Cup attracted 60 percent of the voters. Zenyattaâ€™s non-appearance on dirt was next at 20 percent.
The Boardroom Disappointment of the Year, according to HRI Readers, was the failure of the industry to work together, said 58 percent of responders; 25 percent believed it was back-to-back Breedersâ€™ Cups over a synthetic track.
The Best News We Could Read in 2010 provided another statistical dead-heat. Lowering the takeout to 10 percent and Hialeah becoming the future permanent home of the Breedersâ€™ Cup each received 38 percent of the votes tallied. A sport AND gambling vehicle, indeed.
The award for Biggest Challenge in 2010 was not even close, according to HRI Readers. Sixty-two percent said racing must reverse its current slide in popularity; 38 percent think that finding homes for retired race horses is the industryâ€™s biggest issue.
The HRI Readers Choice Award for Owner of the Year goes to Jerome and Ann Moss with 47 percent of the vote, compared to 40 for Jess Jackson.
The Best Division of Either Sex Overall surprisingly was extremely close, the 3-year-old division nosing out older males, 40 percent to 39. Older turf horses received backing from the other 19 percent.
And, finally, the HRI Readers Choice for Biggest Story of the Year 2009 was a landslide: The Horse of the Year Battle between Rachel Alexandra and Zenyatta was the choice of 62 percent of the responders.