07/14/2011 5:58PM

Goldikova favored for U.S. HOTY? Seriously?


With 38 different winners in the first 41 Grade 1 races of the year, the first half of the 2011 U.S. racing season can fairly be called wide open, inconsistent and muddled. Even if the next 16 weeks until the Breeders' Cup are just as chaotic, though, I find it impossible to agree with the following assessment of Horse of the Year prospects by the British racing daily The Racing Post:

"The search for a US superstar drew another blank this weekend, making it increasingly likely that the American horse of the year award could be set to leave the continent for the first time in 2011," wrote the RP's Sam Walker earlier this week in the wake of the Hollywood Gold Cup. "At this stage the favourite for the award is probably the French mare Goldikova, who finished third [in the 2010 voting] after winning a record third consecutive Breeders' Cup Mile. If she could seal an unprecedented fourth win in the race she has made her own, she would surely be the one to beat for the coveted Eclipse prize."

Call me provincial, stodgy, and narrow-minded -- you wouldn't be the first -- but I just can't see it.

Don't get me wrong: Goldikova is a wonderful racehorse and a fourth BC Mile victory would be a magnificent and historic achievement. It would probably earn her a third straight Eclipse Award as the Champion Turf Female (she ran second in the voting to Forever Together in 2008). I still find it highly unlikely that Eclipse voters would give her the Horse of the Year award to her for a single 2011 start in the United States. There's a big difference between a divisional grass championship, which voters have given to several Europeans off a single U.S. start and Breeders' Cup victory, and the HOTY award. As for Goldikova's third-place finish in last year's voting, the tally was 128 for Zenyatta, 102 for Blame and 5 for Goldikova.

Could a foreign-based horse ever be the U.S. Horse of the Year off one American start? Hypothetically, if some horse were to win a series of Europe fixtures. romp in the Arc and then come here and wallop America's best by daylight in the Breeders' Cup Classic, maybe. That would be a far cry, however, from what Goldikova's 2011 resume would look like at year's end even if she does win the Mile for a fourth time. The whole proposition strikes me as more of a very remote longshot than a "favourite."


*I'm back from my pre-Saratoga -- just eight days till first post/first Hattie's fried-chicken sandwich --  freshening and still catching up. The first nine days of July saw 27 graded stakes, in the course of which Teaks North (Gulfstream Park Handicap, United Nations) and Sassy Image (Humana Distaff, Princess Rooney) joined Get Stormy (Makers Mark, WR Turf Classic) as the only dual Grade 1 winners so far this year. While 9 of the 27 races were won by favorites, there were a number of notable upsets of heavy favorites including losses by five of the seven odds-on choices during that span (Adios Charlie, Sum of the Parts, Hilda's Passion, Coil and May Day Rose):


The only Grade 1 before Del Mar and Saratoga open next week is Saturday's American Oaks at Hollywood, though the G2 Delaware Handicap that afternoon sure feels like a Grade 1 with a scheduled clash between Blind Luck and Havre de Grace.

In the meantime, I have a new favorite racing movie I can't believe I'd never seen before. It's only six and a half minutes long and you can watch it here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Rvnsy9HOOww . (Or search YouTube for "They're Off" if the link doesn't work.) Note the highly flattering depiction of railbirds at 2:30, of racing journalists at 4:00, and an eerily prescient forerunner to the Trakus system at 4:30. Enjoy.