01/14/2011 4:19PM

Zenyatta vs. Blame: David Grening's vote for Horse of the Year

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Going into the Breeders' Cup Classic, it was a widely held belief that if one of four horses won the race -- Blame, Lookin at Lucky, Quality Road, or Zenyatta -- he or she would clinch Horse of the Year. There was no caveat for margin of victory or defeat.

As gallant as Zenyatta was in her attempt to run down Blame in the long stretch of Churchill Downs, she ultimately came up a head short. Blame’s victory over Zenyatta in the Classic combined with his record over significantly superior competition than what Zenyatta faced should make Blame the 2010 Horse of the Year.

While Zenyatta has proven to be a far more popular horse than Blame, it does not mean she is more deserving of this honor. Her 2010 campaign virtually mirrored her 2009 campaign where she beat -- albeit in dramatic fashion, and often conceding significant weight -- less than stellar competition. The better older fillies and mares in 2010 were based on the East Coast.

Prior to Switch winning the Grade 1 La Brea on Dec. 26, the horses Zenyatta defeated in the Apple Blossom, Vanity, Clement Hirsch, and Lady’s Secret combined to win five Grade 2 stakes in 2010. In fact, none of the older fillies and mares Zenyatta defeated even ran in the Breeders’ Cup Ladies' Classic, though two -- Switch and Rinterval -- ran in the Filly and Mare Sprint.

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On the other hand, Blame’s victories in the Stephen Foster, Whitney, and ultimately the Breeders' Cup Classic came against most of the best horses in training during the year. The field Blame defeated in the Stephen Foster combined to win 10 stakes, eight of them graded, including two Grade 1 victories.

In the Whitney, Blame was able to outfinish and beat Quality Road, who going into the race was regarded by many as the best horse in training off dominant victories in the Hal’s Hope, Donn Handicap, and Met Mile. Also in that field was Haynesfield, who had won the Grade 2 Suburban and who would beat Blame in the Jockey Club Gold Cup. After losing the Jockey Club to Haynesfield, Blame earned his second victory against Haynesfield in the Classic.

I have a tremendous amount of respect for what Zenyatta accomplished in her career and have been amazed by how she’s captured the public’s imagination. And, I understand that it may seem odd if she retires with 19 wins from 20 starts and as the all-time leading money-earning filly without winning a Horse of the Year title. But in 2009, she had the misfortune of running into a horse, Rachel Alexandra, who had a historic campaign and who was a deserving winner of the award. In 2010, in the one race Zenyatta most needed to win -- and against the horse she most needed to beat -- she came up agonizingly short.

Next on Monday, Jan. 17: The 2010 Eclipse Awards ceremony

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