12/19/2017 4:55PM

Bergman: Manchego gets my vote as Horse of the Year

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Derick Giwner
Manchego won all of her races in 2017.

With voting season upon us, the battle for overall Horse of the Year has taken shape and opinion polls have been finalized. While we respect all of those who have taken the time to compile a weekly summary of the top 10 horses in the sport, there’s a belief that such a group cannot possibly speak for all.

I look out at the candidates, all three trotters from different age groups and can’t help but see one with a perfect scorecard and others with impressive credentials that may or may not outweigh the competition.

In Hannelore Hanover it is hard not to recognize a conquest versus male competition that saw her easily put away the best the sport on these shores had to offer in the Maple Leaf Trot and Breeders Crown. Her late-season sizzle also accounted for a 1:49 2/5 season’s best world record performance that may mean something, but is hard to quantify when given the 53 and change half that set it up.

While Hannelore Hanover had 10 impressive victories this year, she also had seven losses and that’s where I find issue with her overall body of work. Most of Hannelore Hanover’s defeats came when she appeared poised for victory but just didn’t have it. On Hambletonian Day things worked out perfectly from a fraction standpoint but she did not finish. In the Spirit of Massachusetts at Plainridge, a contested pace appeared to set her up for a win but she again fell short. Hannelore probably did better versus male competition as a majority of her defeats came against mares.

There’s another factor in my mind that makes Hannelore Hanover’s accomplishments let’s say a little less sensational. That is that this year’s crop of aged performers left an awful lot to be desired. There were an abundance of “good” trotters racing under the guise of invitational performers, but the power of the 2016 Resolve was gone and the solid group that chased him then had been reduced by father time or other ailments that kept them on the sidelines or at sub-perfect condition.

The argument has been made for the standout filly Ariana G with her dominance against a solid sophomore trotting class. I feel the argument could have been punctuated had she been successful in vanquishing male competition this year. To me the tools were in place and the quality of the male side suggested vulnerability, but the day did not come for Ariana G to get over that hump. Bad draw aside in the Beal, she did not bring her “A” game and it cost her what I believe would have been a signature victory.

Going 12 for 15 as a sophomore as Ariana G did is impressive most certainly, but that’s hitting at 80 percent efficiency and a little below par when compared to her 2-year-old stablemate Manchego.

While some may look to aged performers and give them extra credit for their accomplishments, it’s hard for me to think it’s any easier to develop and race a juvenile trotter and go through an entire racing season without a blemish. So much can happen in the first year of racing with a young horse that could upon meeting certain elements and conditions for the first time be prone to some form of mishap. Dodging bullets is a major part of any 2-year-old campaign and Manchego’s appeared to have a few where she was hardly relaxed. Corrections came at the hands of Hall of Famer Jimmy Takter and Manchego remained perfect and by years end was able to draw away from her closest competitor at the time, Phaetosive, a filly with extraordinary credentials.

It was an incredible year for the female side of the trotting ledger and it is certainly possible that the collision of these three in year-end balloting could produce a Horse of the Year from the pacing side of the ledger. Of course, there would need to be a single pacer deserving and one would be hard to find.

For Manchego, named after a Spanish cheese, had no holes in her game this year quite unlike her namesake. She’s a Muscle Hill filly with an exceptional gait and a high cruising speed. She was the dominant 2-year-old trotter of either sex and may prove up to the task of meeting and defeating male competition if given the opportunity next year.

In 2017, Manchego gets my vote for Horse of the Year.