11/03/2014 3:22PM

Horse of the Year still up for debate

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Nikki Sherman
From right: Bayern holds off Toast of New York in the Breeders' Cup Classic, with California Chrome third.

ARCADIA, Calif. – Now what?

That’s the question Eclipse Award voters will be asking over the next two months after a Breeders’ Cup Classic on Saturday at Santa Anita that had the promise of emphatically deciding both Horse of the Year and champion 3-year-old male, but ended in controversy.

Bayern won the Classic, but the rough start of the race and the decision by Santa Anita’s stewards to not disqualify him has sparked fierce debate that figures to rage right up until the Eclipse Award winners are announced on Jan. 17 at Gulfstream Park. Ballots are sent out in mid-December, and are due shortly after the new year.

Had Bayern won the Classic without dispute, he would be a slam dunk for both Horse of the Year and champion 3-year-old male, and he certainly still figures to be a strong factor for both, based on his overall body of work. His résumé includes victories in the Classic, the Haskell, and the Pennsylvania Derby, as well as the seven-furlong Woody Stephens, and he ran 10 times at eight different tracks while competing from Jan. 4 through Nov. 1.

California Chrome and Shared Belief also figure to get support for both Horse of the Year and champion 3-year-old male. California Chrome, the Kentucky Derby winner, won the biggest races for his division in the spring. But California Chrome lost 2 of 3 head-to-head matches against Bayern – in the Classic and the Pennsylvania Derby – and he did not win after the Preakness, a race in which he defeated Bayern.

Shared Belief was unbeaten prior to the Classic, but he finished behind Bayern and California Chrome in their only head-to-head meeting, albeit after being walloped at the start. He does, however, own three wins against older horses to Bayern’s one and California Chrome’s zero.

Bayern, California Chrome, and Shared Belief are the most likely finalists for champion 3-year-old male, but the candidates for Horse of the Year figure to widen because of the unsatisfying conclusion of the Classic.

The horse whose stock for Horse of the Year was boosted most by the Breeders’ Cup was Main Sequence, who won the Turf for his fourth win of the year, without defeat, all in Grade 1 company. Wise Dan is likely to get some sentimental votes, but not enough to defeat the other candidates.

Distaff winner Untapable also figures to garner support, but she was no match for Bayern in the Haskell in her only start outside restricted company. Some voters might circle back to Palace Malice, who was the best older horse in country the first half of the year but had his season curtailed by injury.

At the least, Main Sequence seems a cinch for champion male turf horse, even if there is a smattering of support for Wise Dan, and Untapable should win in a romp as champion 3-year-old filly.

Main Sequence also will get plenty of support for champion older male. Although he raced exclusively on turf, Eclipse Award voters in recent years have shown a propensity for rewarding a turf horse – such as Wise Dan – in this category if unsatisfied with the traditional main-track candidates. The best of the male dirt horses were Palace Malice and Goldencents, who completed his stellar career on Friday with a repeat victory in the Dirt Mile.

Three other Breeders’ Cup race winners also likely secured titles with their wins on Saturday.

Dayatthespa beat all the top candidates for champion female grass runner in the Filly and Mare Turf. Work All Week vanquished all the primary contenders for male sprinter, such as Secret Circle and Palace, in the Sprint. And Judy the Beauty nailed down the female sprint title with her victory in the Filly and Mare Sprint.

Dayatthespa also has likely put herself in the running for champion older female, even though she is strictly a turf horse, owing to the way the traditional main-track candidates finished off their years. Close Hatches was the divisional leader for most of the year, until she bombed in both the Spinster and Distaff. But her crucial head-to-head victory over Beholder and Princess of Sylmar in the Ogden Phipps likely will be viewed as a title decider by many voters.

Texas Red staked his claim to champion 2-year-old male with his runaway victory in the Juvenile, but his win certainly flattered American Pharoah, who missed the Juvenile with an injury after easily defeating Texas Red in the FrontRunner. American Pharoah also won the Del Mar Futurity, giving him two Grade 1 victories to one for Texas Red. Hootenanny, the Juvenile Turf winner, also might get a bit of support for an internationally ambitious campaign that encompassed April through October and included a stakes win at Royal Ascot and a runner-up finish in the Group 1 Prix Morny at Deauville.

The upset victory by the previously unheralded Take Charge Brandi in the Juvenile Fillies on Saturday likely will cause voters to strongly embrace turf specialist Lady Eli for champion 2-year-old filly. Lady Eli was a dazzling winner of the Juvenile Fillies Turf on Friday and won all three of her starts this year.