If you said winning the Belmont, you’d be wrong, at least according to the voting results for Week 15 in the final NTRA 3-Year-Old Poll of 2012.
Parenthetically, from this point forward, the sophomore class will be measured--at least according to the NTRA—by open company accomplishments, which means older rivals.
The NTRA Poll is open to turf writers and broadcasters. They are required to vote for their Top 10 choices in each category each week and are rated on a 10-9-8-7-6-5-4-3-2-1 basis.
In both the 3-year-old and open polls, there is no delineation between males and females, and neither is consideration given to surface; dirt, turf, synthetics, it’s all the same. I don’t have a real problem with any of this.
What I do have a little concern with is the fact that there are no specific guidelines reflecting the current status of the horses. Two examples:
When Derby-winning, 2011 3-year-old champion Animal Kingdom made a successful debut on turf this winter at Gulfstream Park, he received several first place votes. I had no issue with voters expressing an opinion that he was the top horse in America.
When Awesome Feather made her winning 4-year-old debut in the Florida Sunshine Millions at the same meeting, the juvenile filly champion of 2010 extended her career mark to a perfect 9-for-9. She was rated very high by many pollsters, me included.
Between her 3-year-old and 4-year-old campaigns, she’s made a total of three starts so obviously she has some issues. But her inactivity since the winter has seen her fall off the edge of the NTRA map. One supposes that, as in life, timing is everything.
Older Male champion of 2012, Acclamation, 18th last week, was ranked sixth in Week 15. It's a lot like college football; the only poll that counts is the one posted after the games have been played.
This begs several questions: Is the NTRA Poll limited to active horses only? Should lifetime achievement, in a seasonal context, considered a measuring rod?
“The only requirement we have is that a horse must have started in the last year and is currently in training,”** explained Joan Lawrence of NTRA Communications. “We don’t want to limit the options of the voters.”
Then it is “permissible” to vote for horses such as Animal Kingdom and Awesome Feather early before the more recent activity of other rivals demand their presence in the polls. Something had to give so at some point past accomplishment and inactivity gives way to recency.
With the Triple Crown series ended, the sophomores have to look to open company to make their bones once the two major objectives of summer, the Haskell and Travers, have been contested.
“We end the 3-Year-Old Poll after the Belmont because the mainstream press loses interest in carrying that poll after the Triple Crown,” Lawrence added. “They do continue to run the Open Poll [where 3-Year-Olds can be included].”
Here are the results of the NTRA Final Top 10 Three-Year Olds of 2012:
(The trailing numbers are number of first place votes; age and sex; total points; previous week's ranking.)
1 I'll Have Another (41) 3-C 4-4-0-0 436 1
2 Bodemeister (2) 3-C 6-2-4-0 426 2
3 Union Rags (6) 3-C 4-2-0-1 418 5
4 Creative Cause 3-C 5-1-1-2 299 4
5 Paynter 3-C 5-2-2-0 286 10
6 Dullahan 3-C 4-1-1-1 173 3
7 Believe You Can 3-F 4-3-0-0 137 6
8 Trinniberg 3-C 4-3-0-0 106 0
9 Mark Valeski 3-C 4-2-2-0 81 7
10 Hansen 3-C 4-1-2-0 55 8
Other horses receiving votes with points accrued:
Silver Max (44), Went The Day Well (40), Contested (32), Atigun (29), Gemologist (25), Broadway's Alibi (23), Take Charge Indy (14), In Lingerie (11), Secret Circle (10), Alpha (9), Hierro (8), Agave Kiss (7), Grace Hall (5), Liaison (5), Algorithms (4), Street Life (4), Teeth Of The Dog (4), Drill (2), Prospective (1), Rousing Sermon (1).
Of the 49 ballots cast, five voters; Dick Downey (Downey Profile), Bill Finley (ESPN), Marty McGee (Daily Racing Form), Bob Neumeier (NBC Sports) and Liz O’Connell (ThoroughbredConfidential.com), presumably due to Doug O’Neill’s issues, punished I’ll Have Another by excluding the dual Classic winner from their Top 10.
In effect, the horse was found guilty by association, which is OK. Ballots, like keystrokes, can be used to send messages, fairly or otherwise.
One nagging thought is that in the final poll of the year, it were as if I’ll Have Another never existed, deeming the horse guilty until proven innocent. That’s unjust. This is a horse poll and not a trainer popularity contest.
Voters like me apparently had it all wrong since 30 of the 49 ballots levered had Bodemeister ranked second. Poor Baffert, Smith and Zayat; second again! Flattered and not forgotten. Actually, Bodemeister was in front in the voting shortly before the polls closed, according to Lawrence, until some late precincts weighed in. How embarrassing would that have been?
I acknowledge that winning the Derby over a maximum 19 rivals and the Preakness over 13 runners is probably harder than winning the Belmont, distance notwithstanding. The other difficult aspect to the Belmont is its timing relative to the first two gut-wrenching legs.
But like Lukas says, that’s an opinion. Horses have the facts, and the fact is the record book shows that the 2012 Triple Crown races were won by two horses; I’ll Have Another and Union Rags. The polling record will not reflect that fact.
In another decade, when the circumstances surrounding the 2012 Triple Crown are in the rear view, which record is the more objective standard? Yes, exactly the point.
**Clarification made 061412, 9:27 a.m.