Vic Zast

From the perspective of being an owner, an industry pioneer in corporate sponsorship, a track president and fan, Vic Zast writes the "Destinations" column for The Blood-Horse. His five-star ratings of international events have shed light on racing in all corners of the globe - from England, Australia, Hong Kong, Dubai to Japan.

Vic is a regular contributor to, a columnist for the Illinois Racing News and has written on racing for, National Public radio and The Age, Australia's leading daily.

Vic makes his home in Chicago and lives in Saratoga Springs in August.

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Sunday, November 28, 2010

Dancing with Ambiguity

(NEW YORK, NY – November 29, 2010) As the grand finale of “Dancing with the Stars” unfolded with Bristol Palin at the center of controversy, the talent-challenged contestant stumbled through her last opportunity at eliciting love from the fans with a remark unbecoming a show business diva.

“It would be like a big middle finger to all the people out there that hate my mom and hate me,” Bristol said when asked what the significance of winning would mean to her.

Bristol possessed no more qualifications to be in the top three of a dance contest in which Jennifer Grey and Brandy competed than her mother Sarah has for a run at the presidency. Yet, through great perseverance, and perhaps Tea Party voting machinery, she became a live dark horse.

Palin needn’t have commented on her improbable ascendancy in Terpsichore. Votes led to confusing results in several elections this past fortnight, so the public was already inured to the unfathomable. When humans are required to cast ballots for prizes that are ill-defined, anything is possible. Had the rules of the competition clearly stated that people with two left feet aren’t eligible, none of the ruckus, which was good for the ratings, would have happened.

In decisions only slightly more consequential, Major League Baseball elected two MVPs and two Cy Young Award winners. Both MVPs posted outstanding numbers on excellent teams that they led to the playoffs. One Cy Young Award winner was a pitcher with a 13-12 record for a team that was awful; the other won 21 games and his team finished first. All these determinations were highly subjective and somewhat inconsistent.

To explain at least one of the developments, the writers who decide on each league’s Most Valuable Player must first come to grips with what “valuable” means. Josh Hamilton’s record of a .359 league-leading batting average, 32 homers and 100 RBIs may not have meant enough to earn him the honor had not his Texas Rangers team won the American League Central Division. Miguel Cabrera hit .328 with 38 home runs and a league-leading 126 RBIs for Detroit, but the Tigers didn’t qualify for post-season play and, thus, the slugging first baseman finished lengths in back of “The Natural.”

On the other hand, without the word “valuable” to worry about, Cy Young Award voters paid little attention to team affiliation. Pitcher Felix Fernandez could barely muster more wins than losses for the hapless Seattle Mariners. Nevertheless, the 24-year-old right-hander drew 75 percent of the first-place votes by leading the Majors with a 2.27 ERA, topping the AL in innings and finishing second in strikeouts. Two pitchers on playoff teams - the 19-game winner David Price of the Tampa Bay Rays and 21-game winner C.C. Sabathia of the New York Yankees - nabbed the place and the show slots in the balloting.

“Dancing with the Stars” throws the voting wide open and lets anyone who has time to dial in determine who should win, notwithstanding his talent. Major League Baseball provides loose rules to voters that help them decide how to vote. But none of the rules is restricting. Coincidentally, Thoroughbred racing offers little concrete to define what a Horse of the Year should be. The Eclipse Awards ballot is purposely ambiguous. Is it too much to think that the people in charge understand that a difference of opinion is what followers of the sport really want?

Voters for Blame will hinge their decision on the fact that Claiborne Farm and Adele Dilschneider’s homebred son of Arch lost only once, but not to the mare that’s his number one competitor. They’ll take seriously the “World Championships” tag that the Breeders’ Cup uses to describe the multi-million dollar end-of-year event in which the colt triumphed. They’ll cite Blame’s near perfect record against horses in first-level competition on several different racetracks as credentials that are representative of supremacy. To them, the short head by which Blame beat the 2009 Classic winner to the finish line at Churchill Downs is decisive.

Voters for Zenyatta will contend that in falling short of Blame, despite a slow start, foreign soil and an untimely ride, the mare lost none of her luster. They believe that her body of work deserves recognition, especially in light of the circumstances. It’s unarguable that Zenyatta has done more for the sport than any horse since Barbaro and that the light shed by her was 100 percent positive. It seems inconceivable to them that history would deny the game’s biggest star with the game’s ultimate accolade.

One set of Eclipse Award voters sees duty in black and white options while the other chooses grey. One set is leading with the head while the other with the heart. The one time that Zenyatta and Blame met, Blame won – that’s what it basically comes down to for some people. To others, the sum of Zenyatta’s achievements is greater than its parts; one race does not define a year – a campaign and the fallout created from the campaign should count.

As long as no hard criteria exist for electing a Horse of the Year, there will be a question about what Horse of the Year means. Is the Horse of the Year the Horse with the Best Statistics or the Most Valuable Horse?

In 1947, Boston's Ted Williams won baseball’s Triple Crown and finished first in slugging, OBP, doubles and runs scored. Yet, the voters determined that Joe DiMaggio provided more intangibles to his pennant-winning Yankees and deserved to be MVP instead. Rabid “Dancing with the Stars” followers can’t comprehend that Sabrina Bryan, one of “The Cheetah Girls,” was eliminated in 2007 and that Shawn Johnson, a 17-year-old gymnast, won the glitter ball trophy in 2009. But that’s what happens when things are left to interpretation. We should be happy for that.

You can contact Vic Zast on Facebook and Twitter. He votes for Horse of the Year but keeps his ballot private.

Written by Vic Zast

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