When I first learned that Penny Chenery had created something called the Secretariat Vox Populi Award three years ago, I was thrilled. As a fan myself, I know that horse racing is a sport that can sometimes leave the fan feeling disconnected. I saw this as an excellent opportunity for true fans of the sport to have something tangible to be a part of, and feel pride knowing that they played a role in an important industry decision. Through the respect Chenery has earned in racing, and the power in the name Secretariat, I expected the Vox Populi Award to be an instant success, and it was.
Zenyatta was a popular and deserving winner of the inaugural Secretariat Vox Populi Award in 2010. Although she was also Horse of the Year that same year, there was little doubt that Zenyatta represented the ‘Horse of the People’. In recent years, though, the choice has not come so easy.
I am the first to admit that I was critical of the omissions of the names Paynter and Shackleford last year, and of Saginaw this year, from the original ballots for the award. I worried that the true voice of the constituency of racing fans was not being heard. To Ms. Chenery’s credit, she listened to the voice of the fans, and changes were made to the nomination system. Paynter and Shackleford were even quickly added to the 2012 ballot, and in fact, Paynter eventually won the award. True democracy at work.
In truth, the Vox Populi Award, like any subjective award, is not going to make everyone happy. There will always be fans out there who felt like another was more deserving than the winner, and that’s okay. Passion for our equine heroes is one of the strongest ties that bond fans of horse racing together, and therefore I believe whatever squabbles may persist from the time the nominations come out, until the winner is announced, we can all come together in the end to celebrate in the winner.
To some this all may seem a little silly, but not to me. I not only recognize the importance of the fan in horse racing, but I do relate. I truly take the mission statement of the Vox Populi Award, as so eloquently authored by Penny Chenery, to heart.
“Horse racing already has established avenues to award outstanding accomplishments, and we certainly should honor superior performance. But achievement can be measured in many ways, and fans occasionally feel a disconnect when the horses who most impacted the public are not recognized through the traditional equine awards. The industry is long overdue in annually acknowledging the star horse who brings the most excitement and attention to the sport. It is my hope that the Secretariat “Vox Populi” Award will be an honor that reflects the heart and soul of racing and will help build upon the devotion the public has for a horse they love.”
Going forward with the Award in 2014, I believe that certain tweaks to the process, such as bringing about a clearer definition of the characteristics of what the Vox Populi Award stands for, would be an improvement. For example, I know that Chenery does not want the award to be only about which horses passed away, or were ailing somehow, during the calendar year. While there is a place for the fallen hero, the award should be more than that, it should be a celebration of racing, whether it be the Horse of the Year, like Zenyatta, or a plucky gelding that just kept winning. To that end, I am thrilled to announce that Ms. Chenery has asked me to join the committee tasked with choosing the nominees in the future, starting in 2014.
I plan on continuing the young, but outstanding, tradition of the Secretariat Vox Populi, as envisioned by Penny Chenery. I also promise to bring a new voice to the committee, and one that is in tune with the voice of the fans 365 days a year.