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Steven Crist: There's one Eclipse Award where Wise Dan is not best choice
By Steven Crist
Secretariat. Forego. Affirmed. John Henry. Cigar. Curlin. Wise Dan?
Come January, the question mark will be gone and Wise Dan will join those six as the only horses to win more than one Horse of the Year title since the Eclipse Awards began in 1972.
(If you want to travel back to the pre-Eclipse days of Horse of the Year polls that began in 1936, you can add Challedon [1939-40], Whirlaway [1941-42], Native Dancer [1952 and 1954], and Kelso [1960-64] to the list.)
Wise Dan’s second such title is about the same price as the sun’s rising in the east tomorrow. Game On Dude would have wrested the trophy from the 2012 Horse of the Year with a Classic victory, and Princess of Sylmar would have made it a horse race had she won the Distaff. However, when those two finished ninth and sixth, respectively, at Santa Anita last weekend, while Wise Dan won his second straight Breeders’ Cup Mile, the voting for the sport’s top award became a formality.
Two days after the Cup, Wise Dan got 53 of the 56 (95 percent) votes in the National Thoroughbred Racing Association’s weekly poll, suggesting this year’s landslide may be even greater than the 2012 version, when he received 194 of the 250 (78 percent) actual ballots cast.
In some ways, Wise Dan fits right in with the other multiple winners. His 19 career victories are the same number as Cigar’s, and more than Curlin or Secretariat, and his $6.2 million in earnings put him fourth among the seven (behind Curlin’s $10.5 million, Cigar’s $9.99 million, and John Henry’s $6.59 million, but more than Secretariat, Forego, and Affirmed combined to win in the 1970s.) His seven Grade 1 victories in 2012 and 2013 are a smidge light but the same number that Curlin posted in 2007 and 2008.
The primary differences, and probably the ones that make some old-school types a tad reluctant to put him in such exalted company, relate to surface and distance. Wise Dan will be the first multiple Eclipse Horse of the Year who did not win a race at 10 furlongs or more during one of his championship seasons, or a dirt race of any kind.
He’s not the first to win the award twice with a predominantly grass campaign: John Henry won nine Grade 1 races during his 1981 and 1984 Horse of the Year campaigns, and seven of those nine were on the grass. (Curlin and Secretariat each tried grass only once, Cigar was 1 for 11 on it before he got good, and Affirmed and Forego never touched the stuff.)
I have no hesitation about voting for Wise Dan as Horse of the Year and champion turf male, but I will be looking elsewhere for champion older male. Those who take the name of that award too literally will argue that the Horse of the Year must by definition win any other category in which he is a contender, but to me that title really means best main-track older horse.
There is precedent for awarding the older male Eclipse to a horse other than a grass-based Horse of the Year who happens to be an older male. In fact, Wise Dan was the first such horse to win the older male award, largely because there were no dominant older dirt males last year. When John Henry won his second Horse of the Year in 1984 without a grass victory, the older male title went to Slew o’ Gold. When all-grass Kotashaan won the big prize in 1993, the Eclipse for older male went to Bertrando.
Last year there was a stronger case for Wise Dan as best older male on grounds of versatility – he had a runaway synthetic-track victory in the Ben Ali and a narrow defeat in the Grade 1 Stephen Foster on dirt to go along with his four grass triumphs. This year, he lost his only non-grass start when he finished second to Silver Max after the Shadwell Turf Mile was rained onto the main track.
So with eight weeks until ballots are due, I’m leaning towards voting for Wise Dan as Horse of the Year and top turf male, but for Game On Dude as champion older male. Before his Classic misfire, he was 3 for 3 on dirt and 2 for 2 on synthetics and swept California’s three biggest races for older males – the Santa Anita Handicap, Hollywood Gold Cup, and Pacific Classic, all at 1 1/4 miles. Wise Dan’s a worthy and inevitable Horse of the Year again, but there’s still an appropriate way to honor the horse who had the best season at classic distances on the main track.
You are incorrect with regard to Secretariat's turf record. Look it up!!
Why all the support for Will Take Charge? He won the Travers and Pennsylvania Derby he lost the Breeders Cup Classsic. I think Orbs Kentucky Derby and Florida Derby wins are more impressive. WTC was nowhere in the 3 triple crown races. It's what have you done lately that seems to influence voters.
What a controversial debate older male will be. If Baffert was as confident as you I don't believe he would be targetting Clarke at Churchill. You can't beat horses in your own back yard...lesser caliber at that...and choke when it counts in BC...again on own field...and win older male award. He didn't lose by a nose like WTC..who is IMO 3 year old winner even though Orb's early season hands down the best. Dude is NOT OLDER MALE ECLIPSE CHAMP... Wise Dan gets it or MMM. See you in Miami!
Secretariat's final 2 races were on turf! If Gio Ponti(2009) can win both, Wise Dan could, but I agree Game On Dude deserves the older male Eclipse for his outstanding year!
I don't see pletcher with an older horse. And haven't in a LONG time. At least Baffert has game on dude. You west coast haters can talk all you want about game on dude and Baffert. But I'd rather have Baffert than pletcher.
Having read many of the posts regarding this article, one thing comes mind. I am a fan of both the Dude and MMM but let's be real. None of the males this year have shown themselves to be "Great Horses". 3 year old and older, there are allot of good horses, some very good, but none that deserve to be called "Great". "Great" is overused. A truly "Great" horse would have eaten this division for lunch on either coast; Curlin, Ghostzapper, Sunday Silence, Mineshaft, Easy Goer, Spectacular Bid, Secretariat, Affirmed, Alydar, Seattle Slew, Forego, Kelso, even John Henry now those are great horses.
Some of the posters here need to try ambian.i love this sport but im not losing sleep worrying which gelding gets hoy trophy.both connections have had a great ride and many great moments.
Hey Steve Christ, I have a suggestion for you. Convince Baffert to send GOD to the Cigar Mile so you can watch a filly dust him next time. Then they can make Groupie Doll HOY.
I am so tired of everyone bashing GoD for who he faced. At the beginning of 2013 Baffert announced his schedule for the entire year with one possible audible. San Antonio (G2) Santa Anita Hdcp (G1) Charlestown Hdcp (G2 & $1,000,000 to the winner), & Hollywood Gold Cup (G1). The only ?? was the Pacific Classic (G1). If the horse wasn't handling the surface, the Whitney was a back up but he preferred not to ship twice. The Awesome Again was never in his plans so he wasn't ducking anyone. If anything, the east coast horses were ducking him. If he was so weak, why not come out and take these million dollar purses from him. Even when he shipped across the country only one quality horse had the guts to try him (RTG) whom he also beat in the S.A. Handicap. With a million dollars to the winner, where were all the east coast horses then. Yes, GoD lost HOTY when he lost the Classic. Yes MMM showed what a good horse he is. But GoD still had the best overall year for any classic distance horse and should be Older Horse champion. It's not his or Baffert's fault the other horses chose to avoid him (except for RTG and an over the top Dullahan). HOTY: Wise Dan Grass Champ: Wise Dan Older Horse: Game on Dude Older Filly & Mare: Royal Delta 3 yr old: WTC (unless GC wins Cigar Mile at which point his 3 G1 victories two over older horses passes WTC's resume) 3 yr old Filly: Beholder Sprinter: Points off the Bench (Sahara Sky is also worthy but sentiment will win out) 2yr old Male: New Years Day 2yr old Filly: Still wide open.
Funny how baffert/god passed on AA . Hmmmm I think a certain east coast horse shipped out for that one. Duck duck ..... fraud .
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