12/04/2014 2:33PM

Crist: Voters often change after Breeders' Cup hangover

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On the day after this year’s Breeders’ Cup, 48 of the 240 or so Eclipse Award voters cast ballots in the NTRA’s final weekly Horse of the Year poll, and it looked like a two-horse race. Main Sequence got 20 votes to Bayern’s 13, a combined 68 percent of the vote, with California Chrome and Wise Dan dead-heating for a distant third with five votes each.

We seemed to be in for a lively debate about whether to honor the Breeders’ Cup Turf or the Breeders’ Cup Classic winner. There appeared to be little question that Bayern, having beaten California Chrome, Shared Belief, and Tonalist in the Classic, was going to be the champion 3-year-old.

Here we are just a little more than a month later, and those assumptions have been replaced by a new narrative in which California Chrome seems to have become the favorite for both the 3-year-old and Horse of the Year trophies. In the last week, at least five experienced turf writers with Eclipse votes have penned opinion columns in DRF and elsewhere saying that they are switching their allegiance from either Bayern or Main Sequence to California Chrome.

His victory in the Hollywood Derby last Saturday was hardly the highlight of California Chrome’s season, but it seems to have tipped the scales his way. The Hollywood Derby was far from a championship-caliber race but it put a different kind of cherry on top of California Chrome’s season. A victory in a (nominally) Grade 1 race in his grass debut gave California Chrome a little something extra, but more important it allowed people who were warm and fuzzy about him in the spring to embrace him again. They were having trouble justifying year-end accolades for a horse who had appeared to end his year with consecutive losses in the Belmont, Pennsylvania Derby, and Classic, but the Hollywood score took that curse off.

It is almost impossible to deny a Derby-Preakness winner the 3-year-old championship. It hasn’t happened since Arts and Letters and Majestic Prince back in 1969, and the 16 Derby-Preakness winners since then have all won the Eclipse. That is some powerful history, and perhaps we were too quick to think this was the year to break with tradition.

Every few years, someone proposes moving up Eclipse voting to the week after the Breeders’ Cup, saying that we should crown our champions right after our so-called championship races. This is a terrible idea, not only because there is possibly relevant Grade 1 racing through the last week of December, but because time for reflection allows the heated emotions of Breeders’ Cup Day to pass and encourages voters to look back dispassionately at an entire season instead of a day.

If California Chrome indeed prevails at the polls, it would be the third time in recent years that the Horse of the Year outcome is different from what it would have been a day after the Cup.

Zenyatta’s enormously popular victory in the 2009 Classic made her such a heavy early favorite for Horse of the Year that a Las Vegas sports book offered her at 2-5 for that honor the next day. The excitement died down, voters looked back at the entirety of Rachel Alexandra’s season, and ultimately gave her the award over Zenyatta.

A year later, things swung the other way. When Blame beat Zenyatta in the 2010 Classic, he appeared to have wrapped up the title. He had won the definitive showdown and amassed a better portfolio of victories in open races. By the night the envelope was opened, though, a majority of voters had convinced themselves that Zenyatta deserved the award as a sort of lifetime-achievement honor, not because she had a better year. It might not have been entirely logical, but it was an understandable triumph of sentimentality.

For the record, at the moment I’m still in Bayern’s corner for this year: I think he was the more brilliant horse, and he won two of his three face-offs with California Chrome including the one with the best field and the richest purse of the year. Even if you think Bayern should have come down, California Chrome ran well but had no excuses in defeat.

Since my ballot is not due until Jan. 3, however, I’ll continue mulling. As we’ve seen again this year, a month of reflection can make a world of difference.

 

Mary Simon More than 1 year ago
As always, Steve makes an articulate, compelling argument. I beg to disagree. Yes, Bayern won two of three versus Chrome, the last by a diminishing neck. While victories are clearly important, those wins--and an entire season--should be thoroughly dissected before HOY honors are dispensed. Bayern orchestrated the Classic like a maestro, eliminating rival speed early and thus scripting the race perfectly to suit a one-dimensional front-running freak. He barely hung on to win, and it's debatable whether his number should even have remained on top. Admittedly, Bayern's Haskell and Pennsylvania Derby were impressive victories in which he went virtually unchallenged. Not gut-check or heart-test in either race. Earlier in the season, he'd spit it out shamefully in both the Preakness (9th of 10) and Travers (dead last, beaten 20 lengths), and was passed in the Arkansas Derby by a 40-1 shot. Sound like a HOY to you? Not to me. ... Chrome, on the other hand, ran only one bad race from January through November (beaten 7 lengths in the PA Derby). He won four bi-coastal Grade 1s on dirt and grass, including two classics, and came within 2 lengths of the first Triple Crown sweep in 36 years--on an injured foot. And he beat every good rival in his division--emphatically--at one time or another, including Bayern by 21 lengths in the Preakness. His only bad race the entire year came in the Pennsylvania Derby. I rest my case. ;)
Hail No More than 1 year ago
This put's an exclamation on my previous post, about "it wouldn't even be a debate, if the BC were held elsewhere" Doctors Palmer and Verdossa, in David Grenings' fine column he just penned regarding recent fatalities at Aqueduct, said, (and this applies to horses adapting on any "new" surface, especially a rock-hard "fast" surface, as was Santa Anita's for the Breeder's Cup) QUOTE:."One area where Verderosa and Palmer agreed was perhaps opening up tracks, such as Aqueduct’s inner track, earlier than had been previously done to let horses adapt to the new surface before racing starts. “If a horse’s skeleton does not adapt to the surface it runs over, little things that are there that can’t be seen or felt even to the trainer – in their defense – they will sometimes turn into big things like catastrophic injuries,” Verderosa said.
John Oberzut More than 1 year ago
Hope you are doing well, Steve. Glad to see you are still creating controversy....as I see in the comments below! I'll throw my 2 cents in - I think "what have you done for me lately" enters into the fray...that's why with time, opinions change...including mine. I'm holding the Traver's disgrace (sent out a search party to find him) as a big negative for Bayern. The five races I value over all others for 3 year olds are the Triple Crown, the Travers and the BC Classic. Everything else is "noise".
Hail No More than 1 year ago
I give up, if this doubles or triples, just delete them, it's a drag having to wait 2,3 or 4 hours to see replies, why moderate? haven't read anything obscene, Except this: Your comment is awaiting moderation I don't "begrudge" Bayern and I give him his props, he had an excellent 3yo campaign.., I bet him in the Classic, although I am a proud fan of the wonderfully talented CC. The ONLY reason I bet Bayern, was because how SA's track is manipulated, rock-hard-"fast". A handicapper can literally pick out the top four pace horses, (speed figs or projected figs) and come up with almost every winner and exactas in a box just about every race. Same as last year. I don't hold Bayern's' win against him, he is a gorgeous guy and literally matured into a fine runner right in front of our eyes and he runs his eyeballs out.., but the start, of the BCC? Although, by rule, the stewards made the "correct" call, that race should have an asterisk, and initially I thought he'd be taken down, and reading the CHRB rule, still muddled things...Does anyone honestly think Bayern would go gate to wire at CD, Arl, Bel, Keen, Woodbine, Toga (well, ok, maybe Keen), etc? His 7F Woody race I thought was his most impressive, but the Haskell, and PA Derby were both rock-hard tracks(and in PA, they even announced that it would be "manicured"), as was SA (same as last year) It's not that I don't think Bayern is worthy, I just don't think Championships should be decided by one race, especially at Santa Anita, where the track, once again, rock-hard-"fast" dictated how the races had to be run, to win, if you were more than 5 lengths off the early pack leaders, you had zero chance of winning. That is not a fair track, Lit de Justice, Concern, Point Given and other great closers would have no shot at making up any serious ground to get the win on that track. It's not technically a "speed bias", where the rail can be golden and fast, or 4 or 5 paths out in the track can be golden, that is what a "bias" is supposed to be, but the way SA plays, (just as Monmouth's did for the Haskell, and Parx for the PA Derby) is not a fair track to have for the BC, again, the track should not dictate how the races are run, the horses should decide who's best, not what horse is best on a rock-hard-"fast" track.... .Please, rotate the Breeder's Cup
Hail No More than 1 year ago
I don't "begrudge" Bayern and I give him his props, he had an excellent 3yo campaign.., I bet him in the Classic, although I am a proud fan of the wonderfully talented CC. The ONLY reason I bet Bayern, was because how SA's track is manipulated, rock-hard-"fast". A handicapper can literally pick out the top four pace horses, (speed figs or projected figs) and come up with almost every winner and exactas in a box just about every race. Same as last year. I don't hold Bayern's' win against him, he is a gorgeous guy and literally matured into a fine runner right in front of our eyes and he runs his eyeballs out.., but the start, of the BCC? Although, by rule, the stewards made the "correct" call, that race should have an asterisk, and initially I thought he'd be taken down, and reading the CHRB rule, still muddled things...Does anyone honestly think Bayern would go gate to wire at CD, Arl, Bel, Keen, Woodbine, Toga (well, ok, maybe Keen), etc? His 7F Woody race I thought was his most impressive, but the Haskell, and PA Derby were both rock-hard tracks(and in PA, they even announced that it would be "manicured"), as was SA (same as last year) It's not that I don't think Bayern is worthy, I just don't think Championships should be decided by one race, especially at Santa Anita, where the track, once again, rock-hard-"fast" dictated how the races had to be run, to win, if you were more than 5 lengths off the early pack leaders, you had zero chance of winning. That is not a fair track, Lit de Justice, Concern, Point Given and other great closers would have no shot at making up any serious ground to get the win on that track. It's not technically a "speed bias", where the rail can be golden and fast, or 4 or 5 paths out in the track can be golden, that is what a "bias" is supposed to be, but the way SA plays, (just as Monmouth's did for the Haskell, and Parx for the PA Derby) is not a fair track to have for the BC, again, the track should not dictate how the races are run, the horses should decide who's best, not what horse is best on a rock-hard-"fast" track.... .Please, rotate the Breeder's Cup
George Sudduth More than 1 year ago
another writer idiot
George Sudduth More than 1 year ago
Another idiot
Hail No More than 1 year ago
If this doubles, please delete one, I don't know why posts are moderated, it's a real drag having to wait 1,2 or 3 hours to a reply.Thanks. Your comment is awaiting moderation I don't "begrudge" Bayern his props, and he is definitely in the top 3 or 4 for 3yo (not HotY), I bet him in the Classic, although I am a proud fan of the wonderfully talented CC. The ONLY reason I bet Bayern, was because how SA's track is manipulated. A handicapper can literally pick out the top four pace horses, (speed figs or projected figs) and come up with almost every winner and exactas in a box just about every race, on their rock-hard-"fast"-track. Same as last year. I don't hold Bayern's' win against him, he is a gorgeous guy and literally matured into a fine runner right in front of our eyes, and runs his eyeballs out and is game when loose on a rock-hard fast track.., but the start of the BCC? Although, by rule, the stewards made the "correct" call, that race should have an asterisk, and initially I thought he'd be taken down, and after reading the CHRB rule, it just muddled things all the more...Does anyone honestly think Bayern would go gate to wire at CD, Arl, Bel, Keen, Woodbine, Toga, etc? (well, maybe Keen) His 7F Woody race I thought was his most impressive, but the Haskell, and PA Derby were both rock-hard tracks(and in PA, they even announced that it would be "manicured"), as was SA (same as last year) It's not that I don't think Bayern is worthy, I just don't think Championships are decided by one race, especially at Santa Anita, where the track, once again, dictated how the races had to be run, to win, if you were more than 5 lengths off the early pack leaders, you had zero chance of winning. That is not a fair track, Lit de Justice, Concern, Point Given and other great closers would have no shot at making up any serious ground to get the win. Please, rotate the BC!!
Hail No More than 1 year ago
This wouldn't even be a debate if this years BC was at a different track!
Kathy Etling More than 1 year ago
California Chrome all the way. Hasn't he won over dirt, turf, and synthetic (the latter at Betfair Hollywood Park when he won the King Glorious Stakes)? Has Bayern done that? And his win percentage is higher than Bayern's, too: 67% for California Chrome vs. 60% for Bayern. He is worthy not only of 3 year old champ, but also HOTY.