10/16/2014 12:14PM

Crist: Top 3-year-olds first in line for Horse of the Year

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Shigeki Kikkawa
A win in the Breeders' Cup Classic would be Shared Belief's third straight Grade 1 victory over older horses.

A day before Wise Dan was declared out of the Breeders’ Cup last Tuesday, he was 6-1 in William Hill’s future-book wagering to win his third straight Horse of the Year title, the third choice behind Shared Belief at 8-5 and California Chrome at 5-2.

His defection has not removed him from consideration, as he is still 4 for 4 this year, with three Grade 1 wins. Now, however, his candidacy would require losses by all four 3-year-olds who will be the top choices in the Breeders’ Cup Classic on Nov. 1 – not only Shared Belief and California Chrome but also Bayern and Tonalist.

That makes this an extraordinary Breeders’ Cup, the first in memory where four 3-year-olds could win both the champion 3-year-old male and Horse of the Year Eclipse Awards with a Classic victory. There hasn’t been this much year-end drama among the sophomores since the 2007 Classic, when Curlin and Street Sense squared off for both of those titles.

The Horse of the Year case for Shared Belief or California Chrome would be airtight if they could add a Classic win to their shiny records. A Classic victory would keep Shared Belief undefeated and would be his third straight Grade 1 triumph over older horses, following his Pacific Classic and Awesome Again Stakes scores. California Chrome already has a Santa Anita Derby, Kentucky Derby, and Preakness in his pocket, and it has been 45 years since a Derby-Preakness winner was not the 3-year-old champion, even without any other triumphs.

Both are more accomplished than Tonalist and Bayern, but not by much, and it would be hard to argue against either of those two after a Classic victory.

Tonalist has a Belmont Stakes and a Jockey Club Gold Cup to his credit, and a Classic would give him the strongest r é sum é in the division, three major triumphs in races at 10 or 12 furlongs, and a winning record against each of the other three 3-year-old contenders.

Bayern may seem like the least accomplished of the quartet since he has only stretched his speed nine furlongs so far in winning the Haskell Invitational and the Pennsylvania Derby, with the former being his lone Grade 1 win. His victories, however – not only at Monmouth Park and Parx Racing but also in the Woody Stephens Stakes at Belmont – have been the most explosive in the division. Add a Classic to those huge performances, and he deserves the title.

The Classic will, of course, draw more than four starters – as many as 16 are likely to be pre-entered Monday – but it is hard to see how a victory by anyone else would complete a Horse of the Year campaign. This has not been a vintage year for older dirt males, and the sidelined Palace Malice would deserve and probably receive the older-male Eclipse even if Itsmyluckyday, Majestic Harbor, Moreno, or Zivo were to spring a Classic upset.

If the Classic is won by someone with such shaky credentials for the top Eclipse, thought will turn to the leading females, three of whom will run in the Breeders’ Cup Distaff and are among the 12 shortest prices in the William Hill wagering – Beholder, Close Hatches, and Untapable. It would, however, be hard to construct a compelling case for any of them even after a Distaff victory. They’re all very talented, but with no success against males or sensational records, they fall short of the standards that recently made three straight fillies the Horse of the Year – Rachel Alexandra in 2009, Zenyatta in 2010, and Havre de Grace in 2011.

What if there’s chaos, and Prayer for Relief noses out Big Cazanova in the Classic, with all the star 3-year-olds up the track? California Chrome’s spring achievements might seem like the standout achievement of the year, and some voters would start trying to convince themselves to overlook subsequent defeats in the Belmont Stakes, Pennsylvania Derby, and Classic.

At that point, however, the reigning champion would re-enter the picture, and Wise Dan’s record of 4 for 4, with three Grade 1 wins, might start looking pretty good again.

Ray Sousa More than 1 year ago
This horse of the year speculation is merely academic .every horseplayer has his own opinion and when an injustice is committed the people will anoint their own champion. personally i think its a 3 way battle WISE DAN who has nothing but win. But unfortunately has not been fully healthy this year. SHARED BELIEF as yet unbeaten and already a gr1 winner over older horses.should he win the b.c. the award will be his. The other contender is CALIFORNIA CHROME with the Santa Anita derby, Kentucky derby and preakness wins he has a strong foundation and a b.c win would seal the deal. any other horse other than those 3 would be in my opinion an illegitimate .regardless of whether he wins the b.c..
B More than 1 year ago
Are you kidding? If Tonalist wins the Classic after winning the Belmont & the JCGC beating CC for the second time the have met and becomes the first horse to beat SB, he will win HOY and he will deserve it. That's not the outcome I am hoping for, but it is a fact.
Thomas Cook More than 1 year ago
I agree....and should he win 3 year old Eclipse in that scenario having beaten CC twice n SB? Or does that go to CC for his early SA, KD, Preakness wins???
Ben Mcdougall More than 1 year ago
A win in the classic for either Chrome, Belief or Bayern may be a strong persuader for horse of the year, but this is really difficult whenyou have several strong candidates in the 3 yr old category. Is Horse of the year limited to only 3 yr olds? Benny M.
Matthew Hood More than 1 year ago
Man if CC becomes the first 3 yr old in 45 yrs to not with 3 yr old champion with his Derby-Preakness double, I would love to see Coburn's face right after that's announced. Priceless!
Paul G More than 1 year ago
I think if V.E. Day won by open lengths at a high Beyer over Zivo and then Moreno, V.E. Day would have a case. I don't think that is possible. But, even though such a scenario would be 100-to-1, this is racing afterall.
RandomNameMeToo More than 1 year ago
No way. He still wouldn't have done nearly enough.
nick More than 1 year ago
I think whoever of the 4 wins the classic deserves HOY. Shared Belief is on top of his game while CC looks like he has lost his step. It would be nice to see the CC owners with egg on their face again.
Forego137 More than 1 year ago
Nice write up. Too bad C.C.was only good for a few races and now seems to have lost his form, SHARED BELIEF. IMO is scary good and won't get the respect he deserves until he wins the Classic, Palace Malice older horse I don't see it, prefer Game On Dude, that Santa Anita Hcp win was IMO the best performance by any horse and any race so far this year. Just outstanding performance that day.
B More than 1 year ago
Not so sure CC is done, but I agree with you about how disappointing it would be for Palace Malice to win an Eclipse having done so little and I would love to see Dude finally win a Eclipse Award and yes, his SA Hdcp was the best performance by a horse this year, but he didn't do anything else, so I doubt it will happen. If he had won just one more race this year, it might've been possible, but he didn't.
mike More than 1 year ago
You must be a "fair weather fan", CC isn't close to being done.
Lawrence Vaccarelli More than 1 year ago
toast of new York is going to kick over the apple cart
B More than 1 year ago
I basically said pretty much the same thing in a previous post some days ago. Any of the 4 top three years olds (Sorry Mike Watchmaker, that does not include Wicked Strong & V.E. Day) will win HOY and the 3 year old male Eclipse. I'd like to say that Bayern is a bit questionable against a Derby/Preakness winner, but if he wins the Classic, he will have beaten CC 2 out of 3 times, so I guess he is as legitimate as the other three. Those who question Tonalist, forget it. If he transfers his Belmont form to SA and wins, he will be the first to beat Shared Belief and he will have beaten CC the 2 times they have met and that is that. This should be a great race and it better be as this is about the most lackluster BC I think I've ever seen. Other than the Distaff and the Turf, none of the other races really have any "stars" as we have so few. If it weren't for those above mentioned four 2 year olds, this would be one the worst years ever in thoroughbred racing in modern day history with all the defections for one reason or another. Crist has mentioned a scenario of how it's still possible for a horse who has only run 4 times this year to be named HOY and he is right. I think that says it all about the year 2014 in thoroughbred racing. This is a championship day of racing. Why are there races that have nothing to do with championships such as the 2 year old turf races and the Turf Sprint? Even the Dirt Mile has never had a winner with even the vaguest chance at a championship. I personally don't think there should be any race on Breeders' Cup Day, and it should only be one day, that doesn't offer the horses that are entered a chance at winning an Eclipse Award and be named champion in their particular division. They are just filler races that serve no point or purpose for this particular event other than to stretch it out to two days.
Héctor Lebrón More than 1 year ago
One mile turf specialists should not be HOY. They deserve at most turf HOY.
RandomNameMeToo More than 1 year ago
You don't appreciate a truly great horse. How sad.
mike More than 1 year ago
You're a major joke!
Daniel Alvarado More than 1 year ago
So basically whoever wins the Classic wins HOY...
B More than 1 year ago
That only applies to the top 4 three year olds. Horses like Zivo or Moreno or V.E. Day or Toast of NY or Prayer for Relief or Majestic Harbor or Imperative, etc., etc.,etc. are not going to win HOY no matter how big they might win.