11/05/2012 4:41PM

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.

jttf More than 1 year ago
wise dan is the american horse of the year. wise dan is synthetic horse of the year. wise dan is older horse of the year. wise dan is turf horse of the year. if one mile is a sprint, then he is sprinter of the year. he only lost the foster because he carried more weight than ron the greek (4 Lbs). didnt he blow fort larned away in the foster ?
Andy Robinson More than 1 year ago
Wise Dan my favorite horse who I've been following since he won the Phoenix at Keeneland lost the foster because he went 4 wide around the 2nd turn got jostled around into the first turn then shifted 4 paths to the right in the lane and then back in to the left to try and see his rival. Yet after all that lost by a head it was a miraculous run after all the trouble. Anyone who reads this you can pull the head-on up on twinspires.com and watch the race again from that perspective. If after watching that you don't believe he should undefeated and we crush any of these horses on the dirt you'll never be satisfied.
Mine thatbird More than 1 year ago
I agree that Wise Dan should be HoY. I think it is safe to throw out Fort Larned's Stephan Foster, he obviously had a bad race. Fort Larned just wasn't consistent enough to be HoY imo. A win in the JCGC or Foster would have given him the edge. Not a fan of Wise Dan's campaign but 3 G1 wins and a narrow loss in another is tough to match. Plus he won impressively.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Although a longshot Little Mike's wins in the Turf Classic, Arlington Million and Breeders Cup Turf top any other horses top 3 wins this year. Wise Dan only won 1 mile turf races while Little Mike won better turf races at different distances.
Barbara Bowen More than 1 year ago
But most voters know that Wise Dan would smoke Little Mike from 5 feet to 5 miles;-) He also set highest BSF ever on a synthetic track in Ben Ali in first out this year, and had a rough 2nd by a head to RTG in Gr. 1 Foster on dirt giving weight. It does all feel unfair to Little Mike though. That said, I still think Point of Entry is best turf router and deserves the Eclipse as much as Little Mike. A vote for Dan eliminates that consternation for anyone who thinks the same.
Jordan More than 1 year ago
Only real debate is for 2 year old filly, 3 year old filly, and dividing 2 Eclipses between Wise Dan, Little Mike and Fort Larned. If Wise Dan is a shoe-in for either male turf or older male, and I believe he will definitely get one, then the debate is between Little Mike for male turf(Wise Dan would then be older male) and Fort Larned for older male(Wise Dan turf male).
Jordan More than 1 year ago
Trinni has the male sprinter Eclipse.
Barbara Bowen More than 1 year ago
That isn't a slam dunk. Depends on who goes in and who wins the Cigar Mile in inadequate years like this.
Jordan More than 1 year ago
Zagora has the female turf Eclipse.
Jordan More than 1 year ago
Shocked, and I mean shocked, that Jay failed to suggest I'll Have Another as even a Horse of the Year contender. I mean, even if you don't think I'll Have Another should be HoY, you have to at least mention him as one of the leading contenders. C'mon Jay! Heck, Charismatic won the 99' HoY and he had lost a handful of races before winning the Lexington, Derby, and Preakness. I'll Have Another owns 3 grade 1 wins and a grade 2, and he accomplished this all in only 4 races. Royal Delta and Fort Larned were superb in the BC, but they should not be serious HoY candidates. I'll Have Another won more grade 1s than either of them, and while he never lost they both lost a number of races. Little Mike owns 3 grade 1s, but also some less than stellar defeats. If I had a vote, it would be between Wise Dan and I'll Have Another. Wise Dan is a marvelous racehorse and he showed up bigtime in the BC; much props to him. But it would go against tradition for a turf miler to beat out a SA Derby-Kentucky Derby-Preakness winner. What really aids Wise Dan is that synth win. His Foster 2nd also speaks to his versatility, but he did lose that race. I never saw it, going into the Breeder's Cup, that if Wise Dan, Game on Dude, or Point of Entry won their respective BC races they would be HoY. No. A loss would knock them out of consideration, but a win would merely put them in the conversation with I'll Have Another for HoY. Even had Game on Dude won the Classic, I wouldn't have seen it as a slamdunk for him over IHA.
Lucy Ohannessian More than 1 year ago
Sometimes you get unlucky, and IHA is that. What occurred with this three year old crop? What impact have they made on the older division, save for the sprinters? Dullahan, 3rd in Kentucky....who thinks he's a great dirt horse? Not even his trainer thinks he is, lol! Finishing close to Bodemesiter that day.....Went the Day Well did not run back well, and Creative Cause, who formed back in the Preakness, hasn't been heard from. Flash forward and the Belmont found Derby favorite Union Rags, with a very poor trip, coming back to hand, and two new faces in Paynter and Atigun. Really nothing has franked the form of the Derby and Preakness. They remain what "could have been" vs what had been franked. Charismatic, conversely, suffered a breakdown in the Belmont in which he looked a sure winner in the running of the race. Very few to have witnessed that race felt he would have failed to win the Belmont were it not for the calamity. People might imagine the same was true for IHA, but one will never know as he did not run, and for how he was schooling in NY, more than a few doubt that would have been the result. Equally few doubt that he was anything less than spectacular in the Derby and Preakness, but for him to be HOTY, he became reliant on Bodemeister to be spectacular in the aftermath, or if he beat somebody on the fair and square (Union Rags) to have franked his wins. But it didn't happen. That he was retired and is not even in this country anymore doesn't help his case. I wouldn't vote for him if I had the chance, and I adore the horse. But little was done past the Preakness to make how spectacular he was or was not more than a guess. Even Baffert himself was higher on Paynter from the start, and given that Paynter was life and death against the bad trip Derby favorite? And given that Paynter, who lost to that same horse, was the one in Triple Crown aftermath to qualify himself as divisional leader? It all adds up to be too much. I would think even the three year old ballot, when the results settle, will find IHA the winner, but not without opposition voting wise. Sometimes it doesn't work out. Majestic Prince entered as the Derby favorite, the most expensive auction purchase at the time, won the Derby, won the Preakness. And at the end of the year, didn't even win 3yo champion. That went to Arts and Letters, who beat Majestic Prince in the Belmont, when it was very publicly known both the trainer and jockey of the Derby/Preakness winner felt the horse was a mess, not sound and not right and needed a rest. The horse who failed to beat Majestic Prince in the two classics where he was right still won the title at the end of the year. What he did in the aftermath and in between was enough. It's just the way it goes.
Jordan More than 1 year ago
IHA slamdunk for 3 year old male. To me, it's real simple. This crop of 3 year olds was top heavy, with some very legit horses at the top. They all got injured in the Spring or early summer. What was left was the 2nd, 3rd, and 4th stringers. Attrition deprived this crop the chance of proving themselves against their elders and prevented the Triple Crown stars from adding later accomplishments. But IHA, Bode, Union Rags, and Paynter all did enough for most to recognize that they matched up very favorably with the best from other recent crops. Also keep in mind that by winning the Santa Anita Derby and Bob Lewis, IHA proved himself the best 3 year old from Cali, and it just so happened that Cali horses dominated the division most of the year, up to and including Handsome Mike winning the Penn Derby. Smarty Jones had a similar record to IHA, and Smarty was a HoY finalist and it took Ghostzapper and his 128 and 124 Beyers to deny him that award.
James More than 1 year ago
I agree with Wise Dan, he won 5 of 6 this year, no beyer under 100 either. You can't say that for any of the other top contenders. Although four of his 5 wins were on turf, the other win was on Synthetic and he recorded a 117 beyer number, a new record for highest beyer ever on that surface. His one dirt start was in a G1 at Churchill and he got caught by a head by Ron the Greek, who many had in HOY consideration earlier in the year. Even now, Ron the Greek ran a respectable fourth in the Classic. His win in the BC Mile was the most impressive win by any horse this year. Although he was the favorite, he was facing Excelebration, the greatest Euro miler besides Frankel, Animal Kingdom who was primed for this race after a long-layoff (not to mention he is a Kentucky Derby winner), and Moonlight Cloud, another Euro freak. Also he ran against the best Cali milers in Mr. Commons and Obviously. The field was anything but a "suspect bunch". He did all this while setting a track record! I think what it comes down to, is who would win if every HOY candidate raced against each other. There is not a doubt in my mind, that no matter the distance, or surface, Wise Dan would win going away.
jttf More than 1 year ago
hoy point system wise dan 84 points point of entry 72 points fort larned 70 pts i'll have another 64 pts groupie doll 59 pts little mike 58 pts royal delta 57 pts shanghai bobby 56 pts game on dude 54 pts
Ray Sousa More than 1 year ago
wise Dan deserves horse of the year,not only for this win but for his brilliant wins all year.so what if he's best as a turf miler.fort larned and company have spent all year taking turns at beating each other.and his win can be attributed to a heavily speed biased track and an easy lead courtesy of a non race by game on dude.
akhiym james More than 1 year ago
Wise Dan should be horse of the year. He had the best record this year 3 grade 1 wins and disposed of the best Europeans in 2 different races. Ran a very good second in the Stephen Foster. I know the races Fort Larned won are more prestigious but Wise Dan beat Fort Larned and dominated in his races. He should be hot IMO but you could make the same case for Point Of Entry and Little Mike. This will be a tough decision