11/05/2012 3:41PM

Breeders' Cup: Wise Dan moves to top of many Horse of the Year ballots

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Tom Keyser
Wise Dan's victory in the Breeders' Cup Mile may have secured him a Horse of the Year title.

ARCADIA, Calif. – Americans were to go to the polls Tuesday to elect a president. Eclipse Award voters will have to wait a little longer to cast their ballots. But while there are still nearly two months remaining in the year, most of the campaigning for 2012 was completed last weekend at Santa Anita in the Breeders’ Cup, in which Mile winner Wise Dan emerged as the leading contender for Horse of the Year.

Wise Dan won 5 of 6 starts during the year and set records to bookend his campaign – he set a turf course record at Santa Anita on Saturday and began the year with a track-record performance for 1 1/8 miles on Polytrack at Keeneland in the Ben Ali.

Wise Dan’s path to the title was made easier by the losses suffered Saturday by Game On Dude in the Classic and Point of Entry in the Turf. There is bound to be legitimate sentiment for Horse of the Year for Classic winner Fort Larned and Ladies’ Classic winner Royal Delta, but Wise Dan’s overall record is superior. He won three Grade 1 races and just missed a fourth, on dirt, with a narrow loss in the Stephen Foster at Churchill Downs, in which he was beaten a head by Ron the Greek while conceding four pounds (123 to 119).

In addition, Wise Dan is the leading contender for the male turf championship, though it seems unjust that a horse who won the BC Turf, Arlington Million, and Turf Classic at Churchill Downs could be denied that title. But it appears Little Mike may have been born in the wrong year. And had Point of Entry won the Turf, the debate for Horse of the Year and male turf horse, would have been even more ferocious. Instead, Point of Entry, like Little Mike, may be an unfortunate runner-up in a year in which the American male turf division was exceptional as the European invaders found out Saturday.

Could Wise Dan also win the Eclipse Award for champion older male? It’s not impossible, though that award usually goes to the best dirt horse as long as there are worthy candidates, and Fort Larned qualifies. He won five times in nine starts, campaigned at seven different racetracks, and shipped West to beat a strong group of older runners in the Classic. Game On Dude was the division leader heading into the Classic, but finished seventh.

Fort Larned will undoubtedly get support for Horse of the Year. So, too, Royal Delta, who won the Ladies’ Classic for the second straight year against a star-studded field. All her wins, however, came in races restricted to fillies and mares. She was no factor in her only start against males, the Dubai World Cup. If Royal Delta were to somehow pull off an upset and be named Horse of the Year, she would be the fourth straight female to claim that title, following Rachel Alexandra, Zenyatta, and Havre de Grace.

Regardless, Royal Delta is a cinch to be named the champion older female. She was the champion 3-year-old filly last year.

A number of other divisional titles were secured last weekend, but several others remain open for debate.

The female sprint title was wrapped up by Groupie Doll, who was a breathtaking winner of the Filly and Mare Sprint. On a track that largely favored horses with speed and inside lanes, she came from off the pace and rallied wide, yet blew her rivals off the track while earning her fifth straight win. Groupie Doll may get a smattering of Horse of the Year votes, too.

Shanghai Bobby completed a perfect campaign with a tenacious victory in the Juvenile to claim the title as champion 2-year-old male. It would be hard to imagine any other horse getting a vote. He won all five of his starts, including the Champagne.

Also decided Saturday was the 3-year-old male title. The poor performances by Alpha in the Classic and Dullahan in the Turf removed the last-gasp efforts of the serious contenders to overtake I’ll Have Another, who built a sizeable lead in this division the first half of the year by winning all four of his starts, most notably the Kentucky Derby and Preakness.

Though Trinniberg, in the Sprint, was the only 3-year-old male to defeat his elders at the Breeders’ Cup, his body of work is too thin for best 3-year-old male. Trinniberg did, however, became a serious candidate for the male sprint title, one of several divisions whose outcomes are tricky to decipher even after the Breeders’ Cup.

Trinniberg won the championship race for male sprinters, which helps his cause immensely, especially since most of the major contenders for the title – Amazombie, Coil, Poseidon’s Warrior, and The Lumber Guy – were in the Sprint. But Trinniberg was pummeled in his two other races at the Grade 1 level. It will be interesting to see if voters circle back, perhaps, to horses like Emcee or Shackleford, who opted for the Dirt Mile, though both had sub-.500 win records for the year, whereas Trinniberg is 4 for 8.

Champion 3-year-old filly also is an interesting choice. Questing was the division leader after Saratoga, but she lost to My Miss Aurelia in the Cotillion and flopped in the Ladies’ Classic, in which My Miss Aurelia was second. So even though My Miss Aurelia only had a three-race campaign and owns just one Grade  1 win, her head-to-head victory over Questing and excellent effort against the older Royal Delta, might very well bring her a second title. She was the 2-year-old filly champ a year ago. Believe You Can (Kentucky Oaks) and Contested (Acorn, Test), neither of whom competed in the BC, are other top candidates in this division.

A spirited debate will take place for 2-year-old filly. Beholder won the championship race of the year, the Juvenile Fillies, but her primary rival, Executiveprivilege, beat Beholder in two prior meetings and owns one more Grade 1 victory. Will voters go off one race or the overall body of work?

No female turf runner emerged during the previous 10 months as the unquestioned division leader, so Zagora put herself in a great position to claim the Eclipse Award by winning the Filly and Mare Turf, which lured most of the top contenders for the title, with the exception of the retired Winter Memories. Zagora won five times in eight starts in 2012. However, she was just 1 for 4 in Grade 1 races, though the one she won counted for a lot. There is still time for a late-season bid to be made by a viable candidate in the Grade  1 Matriarch at Betfair Hollywood Park on Nov. 25.