12/06/2010 7:09PM

Zenyatta vs. Blame: Michael Hammersly's vote for Horse of the Year

DRF illustration

In the run-up to the Eclipse Awards ceremony on Jan. 17, Daily Racing Form reporters and handicappers will reveal their votes for Horse of the Year and discuss the thinking behind their decision.

Dirt, Churchill, 1 1/4 miles . . . give me Zenyatta every time.

Well, almost every time.

I remain convinced that if Zenyatta and Blame raced under such conditions 10 times Zenyatta would win the vast majority. Maybe Blame would beat her just once. Trouble is, they only met once, when everything was on the line, and Blame prevailed.

I took considerable heat last year when I chose Zenyatta as my Horse of the Year, citing my belief that the Breeders' Cup World Championships, particularly the Classic, are our world championships indeed. Staying true to that conviction, Blame will get my vote for Horse of the Year.

HORSE OF THE YEAR DEBATE: Watch video highlights of Blame and Zenyatta's 2010 races

Believe me, in no way should this take anything away from Zenyatta. There is no doubt in my mind that she’s the superior horse in North America. The breadth of her career is mindboggling, and it’s no reach to consider her the greatest main-track distaffer of all time. But this particular award is not a lifetime achievement award. The scope of her monumental career really shouldn’t come into play – this is about 2010. Just 2010.

I know she had a dreadful time in the Classic, falling miles out of it before her Herculean effort fell just short. I know Blame was on his "home" track – but hey, last year Zenyatta got to play in her sandbox out West.

She did everything she was supposed to do and then some – and but for a few inches it would have been a story even Hollywood would have thrown back as too improbable.

But Blame beat everyone he had to beat. He beat Quality Road twice. He beat top 3-year-old Lookin at Lucky. He got his revenge on Haynesfield, who had beaten him in the Jockey Club Gold Cup. And, most importantly, he beat the best horse he or any of the others had ever faced: Zenyatta.

I know there is a huge sentiment to give her this award. But to me this award is not a popularity contest – if that had been the case you could have just given John Henry the bling every year he ran. She even transcended his popularity, bringing the mainstream into our game like no other in recent decades. She may well go down as the most important horse of the past quarter-century, along with Barbaro.

I fully expect years from now we’ll be saying "Remember when we saw Zenyatta," shaking our heads in wonder, that her name will be tossed around in any debate of the best.

We don’t take Secretariat’s greatness down a notch because he lost to good hoses like Onion and Prove Out, or Spectacular Bid’s because he lost to Coastal. Ditto Seattle Slew (J. O. Tobin, Dr. Patches), Affirmed (Little Reb, Radar Ahead), Native Dancer (Dark Star), Cigar (Dare and Go, Alphabet Soup) and, of course, Man o' War (Upset). We shouldn’t do it with Zenyatta, either. Blame may not be a great horse, but in 2010 he was awfully, awfully good. Good enough to be Horse of the Year.

Next on Thursday, Dec. 9: Marty McGee

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