12/12/2016 10:50AM

Zoccali: The Resolve vs. Obrigado dilemma for top older trotter

Derick Giwner
Will Resolve's medication overage disqualification in the John Cashman Memorial cost him Older Trotter of the Year honors?

Just last week it was announced that the Baseball Writers Association of America successfully voted (by an 80-9 margin) to pass a new measure which will make all Hall of Fame ballots public one week after the results are announced.

Despite the occasional odd-ball vote which causes a bit of a stir on social media, for the most part the United States Harness Writers are not opposed to disclosing any parts of their ballot for year-end honors.

This year, a curveball has been thrown at the voters.  Due to a positive post-race test for Dexamethasone, a Class C violation as recommended by the Association of Racing Commissioners International, Resolve, the leading candidate for Older Male Trotter of 2016, has been disqualified from his victory in the John Cashman Memorial. 

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Prior to the disqualification, Resolve’s 2016 résumé included victories in the John Cashman Memorial, International Trot, Maple Leaf Trot and Arthur Cutler Memorial.  He also finished first in the Mack Lobell Elitlopp Playoff, a field that he crushed, but was subsequently disqualified for a pylon infraction.  He finished second in the Breeders Crown and also second in the Elitlopp to Nuncio, who was arguably the best trotter in the world this year.  There was little doubt that he was the best older male trotter in the United States. 

The second-best older male trotter appeared to be Obrigado.  With a seven-win campaign that resulted in earnings north of $800,000, Obrigado had a very solid campaign that included several important victories.  He won the Maxie Lee, the Charlie Hill, the Cleveland Classic, the Dayton Derby and had two wins over Resolve in the TVG Free For All Championship and the Crawford Farms Trot.

Despite the numerous stakes wins that Obrigado racked up, the importance of Resolve’s wins as a whole out-weighed Obrigado’s victories.  After-all, going into the Breeders Crown, had Resolve won his last two starts of the year, he would have been a serious contender for Trotter of the Year.

Ironically, the disqualification of Resolve in the Cashman of course resulted in the second-place finisher being elevated to first.  That second-place finisher was Obrigado.  Therefore the Cashman Memorial is now moved from the win column of Resolve and put into the win column of Obrigado.

There are many different ways to analyze this.  First, the numbers.  After the disqualification, Resolve now sports just four wins on the year (six before two disqualifications) while Obrigado can lay claim to eight.  In addition, Obrigado’s earnings for the year elevate close to $875,000 while Resolve’s earnings drop to just over $1.03 Million.

Furthermore, now Resolve has three wins in stakes finals while Obrigado has seven.  Beyond those numbers, Obrigado now owns three victories over Resolve while Resolve has two official victories over Obrigado.

If you just look at the numbers, Obrigado is the Older Male Trotter of 2016.  To add to the argument is the fact that Resolve does have a positive test.  There will be plenty of debate as to the severity of the substance Resolve tested positive for and I will leave it to those with much more knowledge about drugs and medication to have that debate.  For the voters there is a simple notion that they must consider.  A vote for Resolve is a vote for a horse that came up positive for a medication violation.  Again, I will leave it to those smarter than me to debate the severity of the violation, but in any other sport, if a superstar is found to have a positive test, he is ultimately viewed as a cheater.  Of course, this is no fault of the horse (just like his driver going well-inside the pylons in the Mack Lobell was not the fault of the horse either).  It is a real shame to penalize the horse, but can we as voters reward the human connections that violated the rules?  Can we really cast a vote that effectively goes against the integrity within the sport that is trying to be achieved?

That is a notion that all voters have to battle with when sending in their ballots.  We can all see the positive test and we can see the numbers as they now stand.  But, we can also see what happens on the racetrack.  Being a voter, we should look well beyond the numbers in analyzing year-end honors.  It’s a privilege to vote for these awards and that privilege merits far more internal debate than reading numbers.  My feeling is that many of the voters, myself included, believe that of the two, Resolve is flat-out a better horse.  He beat the best competition he could have faced in many of the sport’s premier races and sometimes he did it emphatically.  It’s hard to ignore that.

So we are all left with a dilemma.  I was curious how others felt about the subject, so I put it to a poll on twitter.  Of course those voting in the poll are not the same people voting for the Dan Patch Awards, although there could be a few who are.  The results reflect what one would expect, struggle. 

I asked: How does the disqualification of Resolve in the Cashman impact your vote for Older Male Trotter of the Year?

Of 57 votes, 33-percent said they are still voting for Resolve.  Interestingly, 28-percent said they were never voting for him anyway.  Another 28-percent said they are now changing their vote.  An additional 11-percent said they are reconsidering their vote.

If the United States Harness Writers have similar beliefs as those in this poll, then Resolve’s chances appear slim as 56-percent stated they are not voting for Resolve and another 11-percent are undecided.

For me, it is one of the most interesting aspects of this year’s Dan Patch Awards.  Do the voters view Resolve as Barry Bonds or do they simply vote for who they think was the best horse this year?

Either way, I wouldn’t argue with someone who voted for Resolve or Obrigado as the best Older Male Trotter (remember, Hannelore Hanover is not eligible for this category).  I am guessing there will be a few votes for Breeders Crown winner Flanagan Memory as well.

Now, if anyone votes for a horse outside of those three, my next column could be that we need to implement a policy similar to what they just implemented in Major League Baseball. 

As for me, at this moment, I am undecided and I suspect many others are as well.

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