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.