01/03/2011 2:06PM

Alan Shuback's vote for Horse of the Year

Barbara D. Livingston
Goldikova wins her third consecutive Breeders' Cup Mile at Churchill Downs on Nov. 6.

The argument between who is most deserving of the Eclipse Award as Horse of the Year is a parochial one when limited to Blame and Zenyatta. They did finish one-two in the year’s most important dirt race, and that carries a good deal of weight, but the year was a highly questionable one in terms of overall quality. All of the best races in 2010 were won by different animals: The Kentucky Derby, Preakness, Belmont Stakes, Santa Anita Handicap, Hollywood Gold Cup, Pacific Classic, Whitney Handicap, Woodward Stakes, and Jockey Club Gold Cup were all won by different horses, so the Breeders’ Cup Classic was hardly a decisive event. Thus the great debate rages.

Zenyatta fans will put the blame on Blame should the 6-year-old mare be denied the championship, but the ascension of Blame into the hallowed halls of a realm occupied by Curlin, Cigar, A.P. Indy, Alysheba, John Henry, Affirmed, Seattle Slew, etc., etc. would be undeserving. This is a horse that needed a five-pound break in the weights to get by the miler Quality Road in the 1 1/8-mile Whitney Handicap, beat inferior types in the Stephen Foster, and was beaten four lengths into second by Haynesfield in the Jockey Club Gold Cup. That he is the best older horse on dirt in America going longer than a mile there is little doubt, but let’s leave it at that.

Always something of a prima donna, Zenyatta might be compared to a highly talented but aging diva who lorded it over her inferiors throughout the year but came up short when the lady - fat or otherwise - was expected to sing.

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She was like an opera singer who spent the bulk of the year performing in provincial houses lording it over a modest bunch of chorus girls. She then moved to the big stage in the Classic, where she strutted about like a vainglorious superstar for the first two acts before finally reaching a peak of brilliance in her final aria, only to have her voice crack in an attempt at one last high C. Zenyatta’s Breeders’ Cup Classic was hardly a Horse of the Year performance, and neither were any of her five Grade 1 triumphs, all of which were had at the expense of vastly inferior fillies and mares.

In determining which horse one prefers for the top honor, one might give consideration to Quality Road, whose perfromances in the Donn Handicap and the Metropolitan Mile were at least as good as anything put up by either Blame or Zenyatta this year. Lookin At Lucky ultimately accomplished more than any other 3-year-old with victories in the Preakness and Haskell Invitational, but I cannot vote for a horse who dodged the Jockey Club Gold Cup in favor of the Indiana Derby. Eskendereya’s victories in the Wood Memorial and the Fountain of Youth were the best by any 3-year-old in the country, but he was unable to fulfill his potential when injury laid him low.

So my vote for Horse of the Year will go for the best horse to have run in North America this year. She is the same horse who put in the best performance of the year anywhere in North America. Goldikova was beating four winners of nine Group 1 miles when she won her third Breeders’ Cup Mile. By comparison, Blame and Zenyatta were beating in Haynesfield the only horse in the Classic that had ever won a Grade 1 race going 1 1/4 miles on dirt. If Horse of the Year voting is going to hinge on the outcome of a single race, let it go to the horse who won the best race of the year with the best performance of the year - Goldikova.

Next on Wednesday, Jan. 5: Byron King

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