01/10/2011 2:46PM

Zenyatta vs. Blame: Mike Beer's vote for Horse of the Year

DRF illustration

Another year of Zenyatta, another debate over Horse of the Year. What else is new? I get that there isn’t a set criteria that a voter has to abide by. I also get that with our horses making fewer and fewer starts throughout the year that some amount of thinking may have to occur "outside the box." I guess that accounts for the extra credit I keep hearing about, which can be earned for getting spots on mainstream TV channels. Yet I still don’t understand what all the fuss is about. Didn’t get it last year; don’t get it this year.

Zenyatta certainly did draw the attention of every racing fan over the span of a 20-race career, and even managed to create a few new ones, it would seem. But as with all things Zenyatta, there has always been more heat than light in any conversation concerning this horse. She just kept winning, and this fact seemed to stir the imagination of horseplayers everywhere. What couldn't she do? What field of horses couldn't she beat? Was she the best mare ever? Was she the best racehorse ever? Speculation was taken to new heights where Zenyatta was concerned, and it had very little to do with the realities of the racetrack. You either saw what her myriad supporters saw and were with her, or you were against her and really missing out, it seemed. But in the wake of Rachel Alexandra's whirlwind 3-year-old campaign, which truly brought ambition and accomplishment into the frame, the 2009 Horse of the Year debate raged, and Zenyatta's Breeders' Cup Classic win to close out that season was, if not too little, then certainly too late.

This year was supposed to be different. Except that it wasn't. And therein lies the problem I have with supporting Zenyatta for Horse of the Year. Her connections were simply too content to let her toy with inferior fillies and mares all year, leaving her, as far as I’m concerned, in a must-win situation come Breeders’ Cup Day.

HORSE OF THE YEAR DEBATE: Vote on Facebook for a chance to win free PPs for a year

As for Blame, he sure is a really nice horse, although an imperfect one as far as Horse of the Year is concerned after making only five starts in 2010. He does have the advantage, in my eyes, of making the most of those five starts, though: in midsummer, I think most would agree that Quality Road was the top older male in training and a legitimate candidate for HOY – until Blame beat him, fair and square, in the Whitney at Saratoga. The fact that Blame was carefully handled both before and, especially, after that race bothers me as much as it bothers me that Zenyatta took on zero challenges until November. So, at the end of the day, Horse of the Year was always going to come down to the Classic, if only because no horse had done enough prior to Nov. 6 to lock up the award. Blame beat Zenyatta, fair and square, at Churchill Downs that night, and there the debate ended in my mind.

I can certainly understand why voters may want to reward Zenyatta for the great career and for all of the extra joy she seemed to bring into play that had nothing to do with racing horses. It all counts for something, after all. But her 2010 campaign was apparently laid out to send her off to retirement with a final victory, a repeat in the Breeder’s Cup Classic, this time on dirt, which would finally end the debate and prove her greatness. It was supposed to show those of us who weren't quite convinced that we were always wrong about Zenyatta. The only problem is, Zenyatta didn't win; she came up just short - both in the Classic and, for me, in the race for Horse of the Year.

Next on Wednesday, Jan. 12: Steve Andersen

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