2012 Horse of the Year

Horse of the Year and the Eclipse Awards


The Eclipse Awards pre-Breeders’ Cup era were not as easy to figure out what horse won the coveted title if there was a “tie” in horse racing. Now, in the current Breeders’ Cup era, champions are easier to find. The whole purpose of the Breeders’ Cup was to do exactly that, to gather all the horses from around the country, meet up at a track at the end of the year to decide the best horses. The biggest race the Breeders’ Cup Classic is supposed to crown Horse of the Year. It seems in recent years, that pendulum is swinging in a different direction.


Let’s start with the most controversial years where the Breeders’ Cup Classic winner did not win Horse of the Year. In 2009 we saw history made with Zenyatta winning the Breeders’ Cup Classic, the first filly and only filly to ever do so. Horse of the Year was given to Rachel Alexandra, who in her own right, won major races around the country including beating the males on 3 different occasions at 3 different tracks. The Preakness, The Haskell Invitations and beating older males in the Woodward stakes, but did not run in a Breeders’ Cup race, opting to rest out the year instead. Rachel Alexandra’s year long resume far out does what Zenyatta did up to the Breeders Cup Classic, and this is when you say, “but Josh, the whole purpose of the Breeders’ Cup is so when you get 2 horse like Zenyatta and Rachel Alexandra, whoever shows up and wins the Classic gets the prize”. No matter how much I agree with that statement, the exact opposite happened. Voters gave Rachel Alexandra the nod in Horse of the Year.


The following year Blame beat Zenyatta in the Breeders’ Cup Classic by a head. What happened during the race is subject to criticism, but what’s happened has happened and there is no going back. Blame was no slouch, winning the Stephen Foster (GI) and Whitney Handicap GI before getting beat easily by Haynesfield in the Jockey Club Gold Cup (GI) and went on to win the Breeders’ Cup Classic. Yet, Zenyatta won horse of the year. She had won 5 (GI) races in the calendar year albeit against vastly inferior competition, but that is not her fault no one showed to race against her. Rachel Alexandra had a chance in the Apple Blossom, but opted out after she was surprisingly defeated in a prep race. A couple more examples are Havre de Grace in 2011 taking home horse of the year, and she was soundly beaten 4th in the Breeders’ Cup Classic with no real excuse. 


To my point ... This year is a very unusual year, Fort Larned won the Breeders’ Cup Classic, and he is a solid older horse and should win in that division. However, he is questionable in horse of the year, including the Breeders’ Cup Classic win, he also won the Whitney (GI), finished a well beaten 3rd in the Jockey Club Gold Cup (GI) and off the board in the Stephen Foster (GI). Now we look elsewhere, the names that have come up are I’ll Have Another, winner of the Santa Anita Derby (GI), Kentucky Derby (GI), and Preakness (GI), but unfortunately was injured and forced to retire. He has compiled 4 straight wins in 4 starts with 1 (GII) and 3 (GI) races on his resume. Wise Dan the winner of 3 (GI) races and 2nd in a G.I Stephen Foster and a (GII) win. However, his (GI)wins all come over 1 mile on the turf. Their resumes are similar, both have 3 (GI) win and one (GII) win, but Wise Dan has a loss by a short head. Wise Dan opted to run in the Breeders’ Cup Mile, but was strongly considered for the Classic. We now have a conundrum, we have one horse who won 2 of the biggest races for 3 year olds, and another that won the biggest turf race at a mile. Turf races will NEVER carry the same weight as they do in other countries; the USA has been dirt first when it comes to voting if it is not for a turf award. So if I were to vote, mine would slightly go with I’ll Have Another.


If I had to give the 2 horses a number to share between 100, 55 for I’ll Have Another and 45 for Wise Dan. My only thing against Wise Dan is the wins on the Turf. So we are starting to see connections that are opting out of going into the Breeders’ Cup Classic and then hoping they win horse of the year, based on the body of work for the year. That logic just does not settle well with me. 


Written by Josh Atkison 



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