Photo: Don August
The Champion Older Male of 2013 should either be Mucho Macho Man or Game On Dude, not Wise Dan. No offense intended to the excellent Morton Fink gelding, but I believe the award is simply not intended for him this time. Much like the great John Henry, who swept the Older Male, Turf Horse, and Horse of the Year in 1981, but was only awarded the latter two in 1984, Wise Dan should be rewarded for his turf dominance, which likely will also be good enough for his second Horse of the Year title, but that brilliance on turf is not what the Older Male division is all about.
While I personally question whether Wise Dan should have been Champion Older Male last year over Fort Larned, I could at least justify the decision in that he did have two excellent main track performances, in the Ben Ali and Stephen Foster. This year, however, all of his wins came on the turf. Wise Dan’s only start on another surface ended in defeat when the Shadwell Turf Mile was taken off grass due to weather. Therefore, Wise Dan never raced on the dirt in 2013, and in his only start on the main track (Keeneland’s Polytrack), he was defeated by Silver Max. Compare these two years with those of John Henry.
John Henry deserved a sweep of all three categories in 1981. His big wins in the Jockey Club Gold Cup, and Santa Anita Handicap (both on dirt), coupled with his strong turf form were enough to be the best candidate for all three awards. Things were different in 1984, though. Once again, his turf season was outstanding, good enough to not only to be named grass champ, but also Horse of the Year. 0-for-2 on dirt that year, though, was not going to get the nine-year-old Horse of the Year, the Older Male honor over Slew O’ Gold.
To me this boils down to having an award for both turf and dirt. Only horses that carry their brilliance to multiple disciplines, should be awarded more than one divisional award. Dr. Fager, in 1968, is the best example of this. The Horse of the Year then goes to the best of the divisional winners.
Further, and more recent, evidence of the delineation between Turf Male and Older Male can be found in 1993 when Kotashaan was a slam dunk for Champion Turf Male. In fact, his six graded stakes wins on the lawn that season were enough to earn the Horse of the Year award. The five-year-old horse, who didn't run on dirt at all that year, did not, however, win the older male award. The award went instead to the beaten favorite in the Breeders’ Cup Classic, Bertrando.
Now that I’ve outlined why Wise Dan should not be Champion Older Male, let’s get back to the two horses that the award should come down to, Mucho Macho Man and Game On Dude. While I favor Mucho Macho Man, based on his dominating win in the Grade 1 Awesome Again Stakes, followed by defeating easily the best American field assembled in 2013, in the Breeders' Cup Classic, I have no problem with those who side with Game On Dude. He did after all have five impressive stakes victories, including huge wins in important races like the Santa Anita Handicap and the Pacific Classic, as well as, a full season of strong performances. So take your pick, Mucho Macho Man or Game On Dude. They were the top older dirt males of 2013, and make no mistake, Champion Older Male is a dirt award.