Shifman: Why the 3-year-olds are line for 2020 Horse of the Year

Shifman: Why the 3-year-olds are line for 2020 Horse of the Year
Photo: Ryan Thompson/Gulfstream Park

What can we garner about the next Horse of the Year from the latest NTRA Top Thoroughbred Poll?

Since 2010, that title has gone to an older male turf horse or a 3-year-old male three times apiece. Twice a horse from the older dirt male division or the older female dirt division was named champion.

At this point of the year I don’t feel comfortable picking a particular horse to be Horse of the Year, although I am going to rank those four divisions in terms of their likelihood to produce the top Eclipse Award winner.

1) Three-Year-Old Male

The 3-year-old male division is always in the spotlight, and this year the sophomores will shine far longer than usual with the Kentucky Derby moved to the first Saturday in September and the Preakness a month later.

Winning the Triple Crown basically guarantees a Horse of the Year award as was the case with American Pharoah in 2015 and Justify in 2018 and. California Chrome was able to win that title in 2014 with a record of 9: 6-0-1 that included four Grade 1 victories and a third in the Breeders’ Cup Classic in his only start against older horses.

Heading into June, which this year includes the Belmont Stakes, any of the top five sophomores from this week’s 3-year-old poll – Nadal, Tiz the Law, Charlatan, Maxfield, or Authentic – appear capable of putting together a campaign worthy of the Horse of the Year title, with or without winning the Triple Crown. Those five have a combined record of 12 wins in 12 starts in 2020.

Tiz the Law is the only 3-year-old male with votes in the current poll. As is usual, expect that to change once the classics begin.

2) Older Dirt Female

Havre de Grace was the Horse of the Year in 2011 as a 4-year-old when she compiled a 7: 5-1-0 record which included three Grade 1 victories with one against males in the Woodward at Saratoga.

The year before, the 6-year-old Zenyatta was the top thoroughbred with a record of 6: 5-1-0 including five Grade 1 wins and then the loss to Blame by a head in the Breeders’ Cup Classic.

Racing against the guys seems to be a requirement for a filly or mare to win the Horse of the Year title, although they don’t necessarily have to win as was the case with Zenyatta in 2010.

This year Midnight Bisou already ran second against a star-studded international field in the $20 million Saudi Cup. Ce Ce, with consecutive Grade 1 wins, and comeback allowance winner Monomoy Girl are also in the current Top Thoroughbred poll.

3) Older Dirt Male

In the past few years, the older male division has received a head start on the rest with the lucrative Pegasus World Cup (G1) running in January. This year, it was followed by the inaugural Saudi Cup. Even so, only two older males have been crowned Horse of the Year since 2010.

Gun Runner was named Horse of the Year in 2017 based on five Grade 1 victories in six starts, including the Breeders’ Cup Classic. His Pegasus win came in his final start days after receiving the championship.

In 2016, California Chrome lost only once in eight races. He won three Grade 1s before the fan favorite was second in the Breeders' Cup Classic.

This division has four horses in the current Top 10: the Pegasus winner Mucho Gusto; By My Standards, who's 3-for-3 with two graded wins; the controversial Maximum Security, winner of the Saudi Cup whose trainer has since been indicted; and Tom’s d’Etat, who impressively won the Oaklawn Mile in his first start of the year.

4) Older Turf Male

Wise Dan
was named Horse of the Year in both 2012 and 2013. He won six out of seven starts in 2013 with three Grade 1 wins that include the Breeders’ Cup Mile. The year before he had a very similar record with the Breeders' Cup among another trio of Grade 1 scores.

It was Bricks and Mortar last year who put together a Horse of the Year-winning campaign by going 6-for-6 and concluding his career when stretching out in the Breeders' Cup Turf. From January to November, he won five Grade 1 races.

Raging Bull, winner of his season debut Monday in the Shoemaker Mile (G1), and Zulu Alpha, the Pegasus World Cup Turf (G1) hero in January, represent this division in the latest Top 10.

 Consensus NTRA Top 10

 Matt Shifman's Top 10

 1. Midnight Bisou (23)

 1. Midnight Bisou

 2. Mucho Gusto

 2. Mucho Gusto

 3. By My Standards (1)

 3. By My Standards

 4. Zulu Alpha (1)

 4. Tom’s d’Etat

 5. Ce Ce

 5. Nadal

 6. Maximum Security (7)

 6. Tiz the Law

 7. Tom’s d’Etat (1)

 7. Raging Bull

 8. Monomoy Girl

 8. Owendale

 9. Whitmore

 9. Zulu Alpha

 10. Raging Bull

 10. Ce Ce

Meet Matt Shifman

Matt Shifman has been on the Horse Racing Nation staff since 2011 and currently serves as Assistant Editor. Matt covers Aqueduct, Belmont Park, Monmouth Park, and Saratoga in his two HRN blogs, Racing at the Jersey Shore and New York State of Racing.

Since 2012, Matt has been a voter in the NTRA weekly polls for the Top Thoroughbred and Top Three-Year-Old.

Recently, Matt helped launch Derby Day Racing, a new 2-year-old racing partnership, that just purchased a promising Lookin At Lucky filly named Sooner Schooner.

You may also know Matt by his Twitter, Facebook, and HRN screen nameAndyScoggin.

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