01/23/2014 2:47PM

Dave Tuley: Money talks at the ROI Awards

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LAS VEGAS – Welcome to the 14th annual ROI Awards.

The Eclipse Awards were held at Gulfstream Park in Hallandale Beach, Fla., last Saturday to honor horse racing’s best from the 2013 calendar year. While we in Vegas politely applaud the athletic ability of the champion horses, we cheer loudest for our money, so this weekend we present the ROI Awards.

ROI stands for return on investment, and for our purposes it refers to the average payoff you would have received if you had wagered $2 to win on each of a horse’s races this past year. The fact is that the top horses usually get pounded at the windows and don’t offer the best bang for the buck, so that’s why we started the ROI Awards with the 2000 racing year to honor the top horses that paid off at the windows.

Now, most years we like to build to the end of the show with the ROI Horse of the Year, but this year we have a special case, with one horse taking two divisional honors as well as the ROI HOY.

And, no, the triple award winner is not Wise Dan, who took home three Eclipses last week as top male turf horse, top older male horse, and Horse of the Year. Wise Dan won 6 of 7 starts in his championship campaign, but his win payoffs were $2.80, $3.20, $2.40, $2.80, $2.50, and $3.60. That’s a total of $17.30, which we divide by his seven starts to get an ROI of $2.47.

Instead, the ROI HOY goes to Sahara Sky, whose ROI was $17.85 (more than Wise Dan’s combined winnings) from four starts. He started the year by winning the Grade 2 Palos Verdes at Santa Anita on Jan. 19 when he paid $45.20, then followed that by returning $14.60 for winning the Grade 2 San Carlos at Santa Anita on Feb. 23, and then won the Grade 1 Met Mile on May 27 at a relatively low $11.60. His only loss on the year was in the Grade 1 Carter Handicap on April 6 when he went off at 9-5 (it must not have seemed worth the effort).

Sahara Sky also wins the ROI Award in the older male category and the male sprinter category, where Sahara Sky also finished third in the Eclipse voting.

I hope this doesn’t feel anti-climactic now, but here are the rest of the 2013 ROI Award winners:

Female sprinter: In a lot of years, in a lot of divisions the ROIs of Funnys Approval ($7.63), Aubby K ($8.07), Lighthouse Bay ($9.72), and especially Last Full Measure ($12.53) would have been enough to win, but Madame Cactus takes the ROI thanks to her $25.40 win in the Grade 2 Raven Run at Keeneland on Oct. 19. She ran just two times for an ROI of $12.70.

Turf male: Magician was a distant second to Wise Dan in the Eclipse voting, but he blew him away for our award with his $27 score in the BC Turf. That’s obviously higher than our ROI HOY, but we reserve that honor for a horse showing consistency and not a one-hit wonder.

Turf female: Laughing was second in the Eclipse voting to Dank, but gets the ROI Award. She had four wins from five starts and only one as the favorite. Her ROI of $8.10 edged out Starformer ($7.72).

Older female: Royal Delta ran away with the Eclipse, but all her wins were as the chalk. Tiz Miz Sue won the Grade 3 Azeri at Oaklawn on March 16 at 8-1 and the Ogden Phillips Handicap at Belmont on May 27 at 4-1. Her ROI of $7.30 ended up being good enough for us.

2-year-old male: We try to not give ROI Awards to horses that make just one North American start, but sometimes there’s not another standout in the division. Such is the case for the second straight year in this category, as Outstrip won the Grade 1 BC Juvenile Turf and paid $14, which of course also is his ROI.

2-year-old female: The same thing happened in this division for the second straight year. Chriselliam upset the BC Juvenile Fillies Turf, also going off at 6-1, and paid $15.80.

3-year-old female: Princess of Sylmar was second in the Eclipse voting, but ran away with our title as her competition just had chalky wins. She returned $79.60 in winning the Kentucky Oaks on May 3 and also had five more wins. Her $101.50 in payoffs from 11 starts gave her an ROI of $9.23.

3-year-old male: Here is the exception to the rule that says an Eclipse winner is unlikely to win an ROI Award because the odds are usually too low. Will Take Charge started his campaign with a $26.20 win in the ungraded Smarty Jones at Oaklawn on Jan. 21 and added $58 in winning the Grade 2 Rebel at Oaklawn on March 16. After off-the-board finishes in the Triple Crown races, he won the Travers ($21.10), Pennsylvania Derby ($6.60), and the Clark Handicap at Churchill on ($6.80). His payoffs of $138.80 from 11 starts gave him an impressive ROI of $12.62. (I’ll Have Another pulled off the Eclipse/ROI double in this division last year when he also was the runaway winner of the ROI HOY at $35).

That’s it for this year’s honors. Try the veal and be sure to tip your waitress.