Updated on 09/15/2011 1:31PM

The Beyer horse of the year?

Email
Michael J. Marten/Horsephotos
Beyer Speed Figure Horse of the Year: Lido Palace

COLUMBIA, Md. - In 1998, it was the obvious horse, Skip Away. In 1999, it was a dark horse, Running Stag. In 2000, it was a horse of a completely different color - a sprinter, Kona Gold.

Who is the Beyer Speed Figure Horse of the Year for 2001?

Two names have to be eliminated right at the start: Tiznow and Point Given, the two logical candidates for the more traditional Horse of the Year.

Even after dropping their worst single race from the calculations (as we do with every candidate), both * fall far short.

Tiznow's average Beyer for 2001 was only 111.6. He was hampered throughout the year by erratic and unreliable performances - hardly the hallmarks of a great champion. Only two of his six races earned Beyers above 110. As for Point Given, he has a more positive excuse: as a 3-year- old, his early-season figures are naturally lower than those of his older, more mature competition. So his average of 110.5, while impressive, does not make him a serious contender. But his last four races averaged 112, and in his final run in the Travers he earned a career-high 117. Sadly, we will not see him as a 4-year-old.

How about Aptitude? He peaked in the pre-Breeders' Cup media spotlight, and his Beyer of 123 in the Jockey Club Gold Cup was clearly the best of the year. Unfortunately, he ran two subpar races at Hollywood Park back in June and July, and he raced sluggishly in the Breeders' Cup Classic, dragging his overall Beyers down substantially. His average figure for the year is 112.25 - good enough for only third place.

Among a number of other possible contenders, none even matched Aptitude's mediocre average:

* Skimming111.8

* Captain Steve111.75

* Left Bank:110.7

* Guided Tour110.1

* Include110.1

* Broken Vow109.4

* Dixie Dot Com109.4

Only two horses achieved any kind of genuine consistency in 2001. Albert the Great was one of them. Three principal qualities of his 2001 record stand out:

* His durability. He ran nine times this year, stretching from early February until late October, each at the highest level. Only one other major contender, Broken Vow, ran that many times in 2001. Not too many top horses these days survive very long as 4-year-olds.

* His consistency. He finished first or second in seven consecutive major stakes, and he earned Beyer figures of 111 or higher in six of those seven starts.

* His resilience. On Oct. 6 at Belmont Park, in the Jockey Club Gold Cup, Albert the Great ran up to the leaders at the top of the stretch and then went into reverse, fading back quickly and losing by nearly 20 lengths.

He looked like he was finished for the year. But three weeks later he showed up for the Breeders' Cup Classic and surprised everyone by running a strong third, rebounding to a Beyer of 114.

All these qualities make Albert the Great a clear sentimental choice for Beyer Horse of the Year. But the numbers say he has to settle for runner-up.

Only one handicap horse finished with a higher average Beyer than Albert the Great. This horse ran four strong races in America against top company and averaged a speed figure of 114.25 - clearly superior to his mainly inconsistent opposition. He finished second in the Hawthorne Gold Cup and second to Albert the Great in the Suburban. Then he put together impressive back-to-back victories in the Whitney at Saratoga and the Woodward at Belmont. Although he raced in this country only between May 19 and Sept. 8, his average Beyer is clearly the best. The winner: *.

Unfortunately, however, the endorsement of Lido Palace cannot be embraced with total enthusiasm.

While he was the undeniable winner on numbers, he doesn't match up well with previous winners. After all, Skip Away averaged Beyers in excess of 115, and Running Stag averaged 116. Clearly, Lido Palace outpointed a relatively weak and unreliable field of older horses.

But that's not the only reason for reservations. Lido Palace ran two other races in 2001. He started the year with a defeat in Dubai, then finished the year with his owners declining to supplement him to the Breeders' Cup Classic and instead sending him halfway around the world to run in the Japan Cup Dirt, where he was soundly trounced last Saturday.

Still, among an unremarkable, inconsistent group, Lido Palace was clearly the best.

*

*

*

* Requires Adobe Acrobat Reader.