10/08/2011 9:07PM

A Year in a Day


I realize it is in the interests of all concerned to frame the Breeders' Cup Classic at Churchill Downs on Nov. 5 as the race that will determine the 2011 Horse of the Year. Understandably, this is the talking point emanating from the informational wing of the Breeders' Cup, since such a theme cultivates energetic pre-event chatter and helps sell tickets. It also perpetuates the self-fulfilling mandate of the Breeders' Cup as THE year-end championship event. If winning the Classic does not confer the ultimate award, what does?

Well, it didn't work that way three years ago when Curlin lost without much of a fight in the Classic on synthetics at Santa Anita and was Horse of the Year anyway. It did not matter two years ago when Horse of the Year Rachel Alexandra was on the sidelines when the Classic went to Zenyatta. And winning it did not matter last year when Blame beat Zenyatta, although it can be argued that the mare may have picked up a few of those Horse of the Year votes with her brave losing performance.

More often than not, winning the Classic means nothing in terms of earning Horse of the Year. Wild Again, Proud Truth and Skywaker won the first three, and there was not even a divisional champ among them. In 1990 Unbridled won the two biggest races on the continent -- the Kentucky Derby and the Breeders' Cup Classic -- and still Criminal Type was Horse of the Year. Arcangues, Concern, Alphabet Soup, Skip Away, Awesome Again, Cat Thief, Tiznow (his second, in 2001), Volponi, Pleasantly Perfect -- all of them were good enough to get the money on the big day. Not one of them was Horse of That Year.

It must be pointed out that there were horses in some of those Classics who had a shot at Horse of the Year but failed. War Emblem in 2002, Lemon Drop Kid in 1999, Silver Charm and Skip Away in 1998, and Slew o' Gold way back in '84 come quickly to mind. Such is the scenario being crafted for mass consumption this year. When Havre de Grace, Flat Out, Uncle Mo and Stay Thirsty parade to the post under the Churchill Downs lights, the story line will be that if the winner comes from among them, Horse of the Year is settled.

Only problem is, Horse of the Year is already settled. Havre de Grace need not lift a finger and the trophy belongs to her. Her record in 2011 already compares favorably to those of Rachel Alexandra and Zenyatta. Her lone loss was by a nose to a reigning champion while giving weight. She defeated males at Saratoga -- as did Rachel Alexandra -- and toyed with one of the best 3-year-old fillies in the land in crushing the Beldame. Whatever she does in the Classic will not matter, although credit goes to her people for giving it a try.

In the last three Eclipse elections, 433 out of 710 votes for Horse of the Year have been cast for fillies and mares. Voters have grown comfortable with the idea, treating such outstanding females as Rachel Alexandra and Zenyatta them as equals in the mix with males and forgiving them their rare blind spots. Zenyatta lost narrowly to Blame in the Classic; Rachel Alexandra did not race past August. Neither mattered when the votes were tallied.

Anyway, I've got the winner of the Classic right here, and it will be none of the usual suspects. There are those who think this year's field will be ripe for an Arcanges or Volponi moment. I disagree. I see the 2011 Classic at Churchill Downs looking a lot like the 2000 Classic at Churchill Downs, with Europe's best 10-furlong horse, So You Think, playing the part of Giant's Causeway. Only this time around there will be no version of Tiznow to spoil the foreign fun. Unless it's Havre de Grace.


Qev More than 1 year ago
OH BTW Sidney.. ..so-called "open" graded stakes RESTRICTED to female horses do not count....by "open" I mean TRULY open. You know, the kind that are open to any and all worthy challengers...all of "horsedom". tNOT the kind that restrict one whole half of the entire global horse population from entering and competing.
Qev More than 1 year ago
Sidney Come on...THIS again? Why is it that Z-fans STILL feel the need to defend her HOY? Where is this insecurity coming from? R.A. fans don't; during her HOY award year, the " right-ready" Rachel had accomplished more before September than most horses accomplished that entire year, and was justly awarded for doing so. End of story, for us. The mighty Zenyatta probably was the most talented horse in training during the racing year, 2009, however, she was campaigned in too conservative a manor in order to build up the requisite "body of work" to prove it. As one of her most ardent supporters wrote: "...she woke up on Breeders' Cup morning with absolutely zero chance of winning HOY, and that's a lot of ground to make up in the course of a single afternoon"...or something like that. Also, Sidney, why is it that Z-fans seem to think that the only way to highlight that horse's merits is by denigrating the accomplishments of other horses...can't the horse stand on her own merits? Oh well, when on the West Coast, do as the West Coast does...I guess. So, here goes...only, instead of building up my case by tearing down other horses, I'll highlight the merits of the horse that I thought had rightfully "earned" the HOY award in 2010...call it an East Coast "spin". You, Sidney, state that winning one, or more, open grade 1 stakes at 10 furlongs, or more, is/should be a requirement for a HOY winner. Well, there was this other horse--Blame--who won three open grade 1 stakes, in 2010, including one at the "classic distance"...in the "championship race"....while beating the horse that was eventually "given" the HOY award over him--a horse that had did NONE of the above during the racing year in question...zilch. Explain THAT. How does THAT work? Fact is, these awards are not for the horses that earn them (who really thinks that a horse could feel "awarded" by or "cheated out of" some shiny weird shaped feed tub?...with NO feed in it) These awards are for the human handlers of horses; the horses couldn't care less...much less grasp the concept. Zenyatta's human handlers had the best horse in training of 2009 and 2010 in their stable...ran her too conservatively (for a HOY aspirant, that is) in 2009 and paid the price...ran her too conservatively in 2010 (again)...missed...but got the prize, anyway. One out of two aint bad...why the whining...still? Finally, the one group of human handlers who got "cheated" in all of this, in my opinion, is Blame's. While trainer Al Stall remained remarkably poised and incredibly gracious, given the results, the fact is, having a HOY winner in your barn is, for most, a once in a lifetime occurrence, and he may never have another. That he did, indeed, campaign the rightful HOY of 2010, but was denied the award, due to industry politics, may come to haunt him later in life. Okay, I'm done "spinning."
Sidney More than 1 year ago
OH BTW Qev.. .. Favorite Trick does not count....he is a 2 year old and there is no 10 furlongs races for 2 year old.... lol Other than that Rachel is the only HOY who cannot run 10 furlongs....no surprise there, most if not all of these 9 furlongs speed horses cannot do it either. Just watch the last furlong of the Travers. They were so tired they look like a bunch of drunks going all over the place trying to find the finish line. I probaby won't see this comment on Jay's blog. But that's OK, fans today don't want to admit they are watching inferior horses and getting shortchanged or is it "ignorance is bliss" lol
sidney More than 1 year ago
QEV....You don't have to bite into anything because it is fact. The key fact is the classic distance of 10 furlongs. I guess I did not write that sentence correctly but I am sure you knoww exactly what I was saying: Here let me clarify and let you spin it. RACHEL ALEXANDRA IS THE ONLY HOY THAT: 1. DID NOT WIN ANY RACE AT 10 furlongs AND 2. NEVER EVER ENTERED ANY OPEN GRADE ONE RACE AT 10 FURLONGS.....in her entire career. yes, I know the Woodward was an open grade 1 race but not 10 furlongs....as a matter of fact if the Woodward was still 10 furlongs, she wouldn't even run there because she cannot go 10 furlongs. Truth is the last great race they shortened is the Suburban Handicap. Another great race in the east that is now watered down to 9 furlongs. What is so ironic the west has more open grade 1 race at 10 furlongs.
robby More than 1 year ago
Wow Blind Luck will be sold at auction. For the last couple years Hollendorfer and company have been dancing every dance with her all over the country then this summer suddenly decided to keep her at home. Then she runs dead last, after which it is announced she will be offered for sale as racing or breeding prospect. Does anyone think this horse has been right the last few months, depite the assertion that they could find nothing wrong. If you believe that I have a really nice bridge in Brooklyn for sale.
Qev More than 1 year ago
Don't worry Jay...I won't bite into Sidney's East Coast bashing (and here, I thought we were through with all of that.) save to express my profound embarrassment in thinking that the Woodward was an OPEN Grade 1 Stakes, all these years...maybe it just wasn't on the day that Rachel Alexander won it. In any case, I guess [ignorance] really IS bliss.
Sidney More than 1 year ago
I don't know where to begin? During thoroughbred's racing heydays, the definition of a great thoroughbred is how they perform at the classic distance of 10 furlongs or longer. With the breeding of speed horses, the era of the great routers has long been forgotten. Horses like Rachel Alexandra, Quality Road, The Factor, Uncle Mo are now the norm. A friend of mine has just pointed out that Rachel is the only HOY winner that never won any race @ 10 furlongs and never even run in an open grade 1 race career wise. Zenyatta at least has proven she is a solid grade 1 horse at the Classic distance even on dirt. Now, we have Havre de Grace as winner of HOY even if she does not run anymore. If that was the case, she will be just be like Rachel who has never won @ 10 furlongs and never entered an open Grade 1 race. Some even opined that Uncle Mo should win HOY if he wins the classic with ONE grade 1 win. What a sad state of affairs. The breed has regressed. Not only can they not run 10 furlongs plenty are so frail that they are lucky to survive their 3 year old season. The females can now run with the males not because they have gotten better but because the breeding for speed has equalized both gender to the new standard of 9 furlongs. They have shortened the great races that the east has but one open grade 1 at the classic distance, the once great Jockey Club Gold Cup. This 2011 edition of JCGC did not even have one open grade 1 winner. How sad is that. Today sprinters and milers get a lot of ink, hardly anybody noticed then when the great Foregos and John Henry ran. The biggest irony I see in all of this is the eastern disdain for synthetic track. They cry for dirt's tradition. I don't understand why they protest synthetic? If tradition is their rallying cry, they should look at the great races in the east that has been shortened to accomodate these inferior speed horses. Maybe the Triple Crown races will all be eventually be shortened and the fans today will again cheer a TC winner. I guess ignorant is bliss.
Qev More than 1 year ago
Wow...So You Think? Didn't see that coming...at all. He IS an awfully good horse. Still, a New Zealand bred (do they run on dirt over there?) by a European turf champion...getting it done on Churchill Downs dirt? I guess price should be one's guide. In regards to females competing against males (especially on turf), any owners still having qualms about that need only look at the 1-2-3 finishers of this year's Arc.
Astros11 More than 1 year ago
Hi Jay. Very interesting article, but.... What have you against William Broad? Aside from musical preference? He happens to be a patron of the arts and an animal lover ( Not just cooked ones! ).
MH More than 1 year ago
HELLO. Acclamation.