12/05/2011 1:00PM

Horse of the Year? Not Rapid Redux

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Eclipse Award voters will soon be receiving their ballots, and that might re-kindle the discussion that surfaced right after the Breeders’ Cup concerning Rapid Redux and Horse of the Year.

At its best, the notion of Rapid Redux being a candidate for Horse of the Year is a heart-in-the-right-place sort of thing. It is also totally misguided. If you want to give Rapid Redux a special award for winning 20 races in a row, 18 of them this year, then fine. If you want to talk about maybe creating some type of annual award for the winningest horse in the calendar year, that might be cool, too. But to even for one second consider Horse of the Year for Rapid Redux, who has 14 victories this year at the $5,000 starter allowance level, is ridiculous.

One reason why there is any talk about this at all is, after two straight years when we had two thoroughly worthy choices for Horse of the Year, we are now at the end of a season where we don’t have even one. The results of the Breeders’ Cup left us without any completely satisfying candidates for our top annual racing award.

Another reason why this has been discussed is there are no parameters to constrain Eclipse Award voters from voting for whomever they choose. This is how it should be. There is no necessarily correct definition of what constitutes a champion. Eclipse Award voters should be free to vote as they wish, just as long as they demonstrate respect for the process. And a way to do that is to exhibit professional responsibility in filling out your ballot, and by being ready to reasonably defend the choices you make on the chance you are asked to do so.

If you asked for my criteria for Horse of the Year, I would say a potential candidate would either have to dominate his or her division, or be clearly best in an extraordinarily strong division. But in a general sense, being a divisional winner is how you arrive at being a Horse of the Year finalist.

More to the point, I know that this year’s older male division was unsatisfying, punctuated by mediocrity and prematurely concluded campaigns. But Rapid Redux’s accomplishments, as admirable as they are, shouldn’t be mentioned in the same breath with those handicap horses who competed and won this year at the highest levels of the sport, even if they were uninspiring as a group. The Eclipse Awards are, after all, about excellence first. Rapid Redux, as a race horse, simply isn’t in the same hemisphere as Tizway, Game On Dude, Acclamation, Drosselmeyer, and Flat Out. I can’t see how anyone could reasonably defend voting for Rapid Redux for champion older male, which you would have to do first before you could consider him for Horse of the Year.

For me, there were three horses who either dominated, or were decidedly best in good divisions this year, and they are all females (Cape Blanco, with his three Grade 1 victories, might have been the clearly most accomplished turf male, but the U.S. male turf division this year was very weak). My Miss Aurelia dominated the 2-year-old filly division, Royal Delta was clearly the best in a strong 3-year-old filly division, and Havre de Grace, especially by virtue of her Grade 1 win over males in the Woodward, was clearly the best in a solid older female division (sorry Blind Luck fans, but she was). And I can’t vote for My Miss Aurelia or Royal Delta for Horse of the Year. My Miss Aurelia won races only restricted to juvenile fillies. Royal Delta never raced against or beat males, and even if she was only prepping for the Breeders’ Cup, she was beaten by more than eight lengths by Have de Grace in the Beldame.

So I’m left with Havre de Grace for Horse of the Year, which is okay. As noted, Havre de Grace ventured outside her division and beat males, and she crushed a sure-fire divisional champion in Royal Delta. Havre de Grace was the pro-tem leader for Horse of the Year going into the Breeders’ Cup, and though she lost in the Classic, she at least went for the gusto by facing males in the Classic, and it’s not like she was disgraced. She did finish fourth, beaten three lengths for it all. Most importantly to Havre de Grace, no one else emerged from the Breeders’ Cup a strong enough Horse of the Year candidate to unseat her from the top ranking she held beforehand.

What follows are 2011 past performances for Havre de Grace and Rapid Redux. One is a true Horse of the Year candidate:

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