Mott, Gomez, Three-Year-Olds Top Inaugural Insider Awards
To honor those individuals and animals that made the 2007 racing season memorable, and to celebrate our first year, the officers of HorseRaceInsider.com have created the HRI Awards, a.k.a. 'The Insiders.'
The winners represent the combined opinions of HRI's editorial staff. Some honorees will be familiar names in the sport and obvious winners in their respective categories.
In keeping with the HRI mission, however, we occasionally strayed from traditional Eclipse-type categories and sought something different. We also had some fun, highlighting the lowlights of a racing
As usual, your comments are appreciated and encouraged. You can also discuss the Insider Awards in our Forum. Here then, the inaugural HorseRaceInsider.com Insider Awards.
Of many deserving candidates, it's unusual when a Hall of Famer raises his game, adapting to the animals in his care rather than fitting horses into a patterned program. With the aid of talented youngsters provided by the powerful Zayat Stables, Mott became a Saratoga Rainmaker once again, winning his ninth training title at America's premier race meet.
Insider Trainer of 2007, Individual Performance: CARL NAFZGER
Nafzger won his first Kentucky Derby with Unbridled by getting that colt to peak during Derby week. He did it again 17 years later with Street Sense, underscoring he can get a horse to run the race of its life--the one everyone wants to win--despite negative historical trends. A most deserving and unanimous staff choice.
Insider Jockey of 2007: GARRETT GOMEZ
This award could have been named the Jerry Bailey Memorial Insider Award for the sport's last great 'money rider.' In that tradition, Gomez became everyone's go-to rider when there was a big prize to be won in. He rewarded that confidence by winning more stakes in a single season than any other jockey in history, including Bailey.
Insider Ride of 2007: JOHN VELAZQUEZ
It's hard to know whether Rags To Riches would have made history without Johnny's strength and skill. Despite the fact she was meeting colts, there was plenty of pressure to win a first classic for top client Todd Pletcher and expectations were relatively high. Velazquez had faith to put the filly on the outside throughout, where she prefers to run, and the timing and strength to win a hellacious stretch run from Preakness hero and eventual Horse of the Year Curlin in the 12th furlong.
Insider Worst Ride of 2007: GARRETT GOMEZ
Proving that you should allow a jockey to beg off a call before an important race, Gomez rode Hard Spun like a 10-pound apprentice in the Belmont. Not only did he take away the colt's best asset, his gifted front-running speed, but by taking him out of his game he gave the horse absolutely no chance to win. Not to mention that Hard Spun looked like the controlling speed.
Insider Performer of 2007, Human or Equine: THE THREE-YEAR-OLD CLASS
In a close call over German-owned, French-trained, European classic winner Manduro, 5-for-5 before injury ended the five-year-old's racing career, the American sophomore class performed at an extremely high level at any distance throughout the entire year. The group included a history making filly and a Horse of the Year champion.
Insider Performance of 2007, Human or Equine: CALVIN BOREL
Rags To Riches got serious consideration, of course, but the Cajun rider won not for his daredevil Derby ride but for the post-race celebration on horseback. Exploding with emotion, he thanked God, his brother Cecil for looking after him, exchanged high fives with every horseman within arm's length, and blew kisses to the crowd. "My Old Kentucky Home" notwithstanding, it was a racetrack moment that reduced grown men to tears.
Insider Disappointing Performance of 2007: YUM BRANDS!
The fraudulent wing of Curlin's ownership brought shame to the Triple Crown and the executive and legislative branches of New York State received serious consideration. But when Yum Brands! offered a million-dollar bonus to the connections of the Derby colt that could exceed Barbaro's 6-� length winning margin, it won this distinction easily.
Insider Dramatic Moment of 2007, Human or Equine: CURLIN�S PREAKNESS VICTORY
Rags To Riches' Belmont leapt to mind, of course, and the Longchamp stewards did take 35 minutes to make the Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe official, but Curlin's extremely unlikely resurgent victory after the connections and fans of Street Sense began conjuring their Belmont reservations was the year's most dramatic event, a moment that defined what thoroughbred racing can be at its highest level.
Insider Prep of 2007: TAMPA BAY DERBY
The conventional wisdom is Street Sense's Blue Grass or Curlin's Jockey Club Gold Cup. But the Tampa Derby was the race that would provide significant clues to Street Sense's Derby chances. Did he develop physically and mentally from 2 to 3? Would two preps be enough? Street Sense and Nafzger had to prove the foundation was there. Following this gritty win over a quality and seasoned rival, the Blue Grass became little more than a Grade 1 public workout.
Insider Blooper of 2007: STEVE GUISE
Said the former plant manager of Santa Anita Park: "The one good thing about Cushion Track is that rain won't hurt it at all."
Insider Worst Beaten Favorite of 2007, Overbet Underperformer: DYLAN THOMAS
Arguably over the top of condition following his all-out Arc win but universally advertised as a very poor soft-course performer due to size and temperament, bettors world wide made him 9-10 in the Breeders' Cup Turf. He was a never-threatening fifth, beaten by nearly double digits.
Insider Overrated Performer of 2007, Major Stakes: LAWYER RON
After high-style wins in the G1 Whitney and Woodward, he looked like an heir apparent to Invasor. He had every opportunity to beat a less seasoned three-year-old in the Jockey Club Gold Cup but was beaten more handily than Curlin's victory margin suggested. Instead of being a major tactical player at Monmouth Park, his Classic was lifeless. An Eclipse finalist, the editorial staff of HRI believes him to be a horse for one course, and not very effective beyond nine furlongs.
Insider Underperformer of 2007, Human or Equine: THE GREEN MONKEY
Patrick Biancone and Pat Valenzuela were considered. But $16-million for a horse that can't pick up its feet? This could be the colt's only lifetime win.
Insider Sportsperson(s) of 2007: FOX HILL FARMS
Michael Tabor, Derrick Smith and Todd Pletcher deserve their Belmont props for running the filly. But the owners of Hard Spun ducked nobody all year. No one would have blamed them for skipping the Belmont's unsuitable 12 furlongs. But after the Belmont he turned back in the Haskell and turned back again into a G1 seven furlongs. After winning a soft-paced Turfway prep, beating Street Sense, they went after big game again, eschewing the Sprint. Just like their colt, they never stopped trying.
Insider Storyline of 2007: NYRA FRANCHISE
Like presidential candidates, we're going negative. This storyline gave racing media something sensationally stupid to massage virtually every day of the year.
Insider Synthetic Surface of 2007: HOLLYWOOD PARK CUSHION TRACK
On balance, this venue was relatively problem free. Races developed a lot like those on dirt--the highest form of praise. Arlington Park's Polytrack was a very close second.
Insider Worst Synthetic Surface of 2007: DEL MAR POLYTRACK
Del Mar's loss was Saratoga's gain. (Santa Anita did not become eligible until January. They might have opened an insurmountable lead in 2008).
Insider Racing Organization of 2007: BELMONT CHILD CARE ASSOCIATION
A small, hard-working racetrack-community-based charity, almost every cent and pool of sweat goes into the preparation of pre-kindergarten backstretch children from Anna House for entrance into elementary education.
Insider Worst Racing Organization of 2007: MAGNA ENTERTAINMENT CORPORATION
Lou Raffetto dismissal sealed the deal. It would take a village to upset the heavy favorite in this category for years to come.
Insider Worst Politician of 2007, National: CALIFORNIA GOV. ARNOLD SCHWARZENEGGER
For completely turning his back on California's horse racing industry while embracing Native American casino dollars, and for presiding over the California Horse Racing Board whose premature synthetic-surface mandate almost single-handedly wrecked the sport in the Golden State.
Insider Worst Politician of 2007, Regional: (dead-heat) NEW YORK GOV. ELIOT SPITZER and SEN. JOSEPH BRUNO
When colossal egos collide, everyone loses.
Please feel free to leave a comment here, or head on over to HRI's Forum to discuss 'The Insider Awards'.
Written by John Pricci