Updated on 09/16/2011 9:34AM

Questions abound about top honors

Jockey Mike Smith enjoys his moment of triumph after Azeri's victory in the Distaff.

ARLINGTON HEIGHTS, Ill. - Laura de Seroux, the trainer of Azeri, asked the same question everyone else pondered in light of Saturday's results on the Breeders' Cup card at Arlington Park. When deciding on whom to vote for Horse of the Year, "Who else would you give it to?" de Seroux asked.

Who else, indeed. While horses such as Came Home, Medaglia d'Oro, and War Emblem could get a smattering of votes for Horse of the Year, their failures in the Breeders' Cup Classic will hurt their chances. Cases also could be made for the 2-year-old colt Vindication and the 2-year-old filly Storm Flag Flying, both of whom capped undefeated seasons with Breeders' Cup victories. Breeders' Cup winners Orientate and High Chaparral may even get a nod here or there. Those with longer memories may reach out for Left Bank or Street Cry, who had brilliant, though abbreviated, seasons.

But Azeri is clearly the front-runner for year-end voting, because of her brilliant season and the lack of any significant alternative.

"I think the filly will be Horse of the Year," Bobby Frankel, the trainer of Medaglia d'Oro, said Monday.

"Wouldn't she deserve it?" de Seroux said. "She didn't let anyone down, and she did it in great style. She's simply the fastest filly in the world now. You can't catch her early, and you can't catch her late."

Azeri was a runaway winner of the Distaff, her eighth victory in nine starts this year. She emerged from the race in good order, was scheduled to ship home to California on Tuesday, and will race again next year, de Seroux said.

De Seroux said she watched the Classic with rapt interest, knowing a victory by an outsider would enhance Azeri's chances of being named Horse of the Year.

"I didn't concentrate on wanting someone to lose, just on which horses I wanted to win, and Volponi was one of them," de Seroux said with a smile.

The main hurdle Azeri will have to overcome with voters is that she never stepped outside her division. If Azeri is named Horse of the Year, she would be the third female to get that honor since Eclipse Awards voting began in 1971, joining Lady's Secret (1986) and All Along (1983). But both Lady's Secret and All Along ran against, and defeated, males, during their Horse of the Year campaigns.

De Seroux was reluctant to race Azeri against males this year, but she has entertained the thought of doing it next year. De Seroux said Azeri might have to step out of her division because "she might be weighted out" of handicap races exclusively for females.

De Seroux did a marvelous job spacing Azeri's races all year, and having her in peak condition for the Distaff, which was her fifth Grade 1 victory of the year. But she refused to take credit for the filly's development.

"She's marvelously uncomplicated," de Seroux said. "I feel blessed she landed in my lap. I have confidence that she can produce the same kind of race every time."

Most of the Breeders' Cup race winners, like Azeri, are scheduled to remain in training next year, including Domedriver, who won the Mile at the expense of the troubled Rock of Gibraltar, and High Chaparral, who won the Turf.

High Chaparral likely will get plenty of support for male turf champion, and might even get a smattering of votes for champion 3-year-old, but he faces a formidable challenge for the turf championship from With Anticipation, who had an outstanding overall season while based in this country. There might even be sentiment for Rock of Gibraltar, though it seems a reach to vote a North American championship for an admittedly brilliant horse who lost, even with excuses, his lone start in this country.

Vindication and Storm Flag Flying, both of whom locked up Eclipse Awards with their victories, will resurface next spring and point for the major races for 3-year-olds. Orientate, who secured the sprint championship with his Breeders' Cup victory, might race again this year, in the Cigar Mile at Aqueduct on Nov. 30.

Starine, the Breeders' Cup Filly and Mare Turf winner, will race once more, in Hollywood Park's Matriarch Stakes on Dec. 1, then will be retired to become a broodmare.

Volponi, the upset winner of the Classic, will not race again this year, but will remain in training next year at age 5.

Medaglia d'Oro, a distant second to Volponi, also will be back next year, Frankel said.

Came Home and War Emblem, however, were scheduled to race for the final time on Saturday and will now go to stud.

Came Home, who finished 10th in the Classic, injured his left knee during the race, according to trainer Paco Gonzalez. He will take up residence this week at Lane's End Farm in Versailles, Ky.

War Emblem, who finished eighth, is heading to stud in Japan. He still could get the Eclipse Award as champion 3-year-old, because he won such high-profile races as the Kentucky Derby and Preakness Stakes. Came Home split his two decisions with War Emblem, and in the Pacific Classic defeated older horses, something neither War Emblem nor Medaglia d'Oro accomplished. Medaglia d'Oro won the Travers Stakes, but never won a race in which he faced Came Home or War Emblem.