With another dazzling display on Saturday, Wise Dan has done something than no horse could do in the past five months … he has supplanted Kentucky Derby-Preakness winner, I’ll Have Another from the top spot on the ballot I send in every week for the NTRA national poll. The Lord of Versatility, as I like to call him, has proven himself a topnotch racehorse over every possible racing surface throughout his career, but now as a mature and robust five-year-old, the son of Wiseman’s Ferry has taken things to a spectacular level. His strikingly easy win in the $750,000, Grade 1 Shadwell Turf Mile was just more of the same for the horse I now consider the leader of the 2012 Horse of the Year race. This race is far from over, however; and with the World Championships less than four weeks away, it looks like everything will come down to the Breeders’ Cup. Let’s take a look at the HOTY frontrunners. Wise Dan has run 5 races this year with 4 wins. He began the year in April by winning the Grade 3 Ben Ali Stakes on a synthetic surface at Keeneland by 10 ½ lengths, while earning a 117 Beyer in the process. His lone defeat of the season came in the Grade 1 Stephen Foster on the dirt when he was beaten by a short head to Ron the Greek. In the grand scheme of things a loss is a loss, but I believe he was best that day as he gave the winner weight and suffered a horrid trip into the first turn, while only losing the race in the final few yards. Since then he has dominated the middle distance turf races like no American horse has done in many a year with sublime performances in the Grade 2 Fourstardave, Grade 1 Woodbine Mile, and Saturday’s Shadwell Turf Mile. The names of some of these races may not hold as much romance as a few other horses on this list, but his body of work is now strong enough where his brilliance can no longer be denied. It is yet to be determined whether he runs in the BC Mile or Classic, but either way, I believe a win will earn him the big prize. I’ll Have Another only ran 4 races this year and won them all. He’s won the Grade 2 Robert Lewis Stakes, the Grade 1 Santa Anita Derby, and of course the pair of American Classics in the Kentucky Derby and Preakness. While his margins of victory were not comparable to some on this list, his courage and tenacity to snatch victory from the jaws of defeat in successive Triple Crown races against a most stubborn foe in Bodemeister, was simply extraordinary. You cannot do any better in importance than the string of four wins he put together, and the fact that he did not lose this year helps, but the fact that all of his races came within the first 4 ½ months of the year is a negative. When he was retired, we all knew that his HOTY chances would only last as long as it took for another horse to piece together a really strong full-year campaign. It looks like that is now happening … although a few important defeats in the Breeders’ Cup and he could move right back to the top of this list. Game On Dude has run 6 races this year with 4 wins. He’s won a pair of grade 2’s, the San Antonio and Californian, and two grade one’s, the Hollywood Gold Cup and Awesome Again in dominating style. On his least favorite surface of Del Mar, he was passed late by Dullahan to finish a good second in the Grade 1 Pacific Classic. Unfortunately, a trip across the globe for the world’s richest race turned into a nightmare as a bad start and a tired finish saw him come home 12th in the Dubai World Cup. Despite that, the five races in California not only point him out as far and away the top handicap horse in the West, but also the horse to beat in the Breeders’ Cup Classic at Santa Anita. If he can better his runner-up finish in America’s richest race last year, he would become the HOTY favorite, and only another romping victory by Wise Dan would threaten him in the vote. Point of Entry has run 6 races this year, all on the grass, with 5 wins. He’s seemingly come from nowhere of late to thrust his name into the Horse of the Year race with five successive wins. After finishing fourth in a fast allowance race this February at Gulfstream, the son of Dynaformer changed his game to distance racing and the results have been devastating. A strong allowance win at Keeneland, has been followed by easy victories in the Grade 2 Elkhorn, Grade 1 Man O’ War, Grade 1 Sword Dancer, and Grade 1 Joe Hirsch Turf Classic. While he is undoubtedly the best distance grass horse in America, it remains to be seen whether he can handle the firmer footing at Santa Anita while facing a much stronger international cast in the Breeders’ Cup Turf. If he does, and Wise Dan and Game On Dude both lose on the same day, it would be hard to deny the horse with six straight wins, the last four being grade 1, even if he is not in America’s glamour division.
Of the rest, only a strong win in the Classic, by a horse with solid seasonal credentials, such as Mucho Macho Man, Ron the Greek, or Fort Larned, would be enough to overtake what I’ll Have Another has already done. As far as some of the sensational fillies out there like Royal Delta, Groupie Doll, Awesome Feather, Questing, My Miss Aurelia, and Executiveprivilge, I’m sorry to say even with a Breeders’ Cup win, their body of work would not be quite enough to become the 2012 Horse of the Year, or at least that is how I see it.