A Letter to the "Vox Populi" Committee

The social media world exploded after the "Vox Populi" Award finalists were released. Though the five finalists chosen are all stellar athletes, at least three of the five did not speak to the people in the same way as those that were not on the final ballot. Most agree that while Frankel and I'll Have Another certainly deserve to be on the ballot, Royal Delta, Wise Dan, and Shanghai Bobby could be replaced with more fitting candidates. I happen to belong to that group of people. Rather than keeping my opinion to myself, I took advantage of the "Contact Us" feature on secretariat.com in order to let the powers that be know that I, along with many others, did not agree with this year's finalists. Here is what I had to say:


To Whom It May Concern:


“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.”

With  Ms. Chenery's intent for the "Vox Populi" in mind, I am of the opinion that the 2012 nominees for the award fall short of the most important criteria for the award: being the horse that brought the most excitement and attention to the sport. I mean no disrespect toward Royal Delta, Wise Dan, or Shanghai Bobby. They certainly are stars in their own right; however, I do not believe that they, more than any other Grade 1 winner, brought attention or excitement to the sport. Frankel and I'll Have Another certainly fit the bill due to their respective accomplishments, retiring undefeated and making a run at Triple Crown history respectively. However, I would argue that Paynter, Shackleford, and Animal Kingdom would have been better selections than Royal Delta, Wise Dan, or Shanghai Bobby.
The Saga of Paynter was not played out in private. In today's world of social media, news is instantaneous. Once the news of Paynter's illness was released, prayers, well wishes, and concern poured out via Twitter and Facebook. Understanding how much people wanted to be kept informed about Paynter's battle to survive, the Zayats, Paynter's owners, graciously kept the public informed daily about Paynter's condition and progress. Each day brought a new wave of emotion as Paynter would make progress only to be faced with another seemingly insurmountable challenge. Paynter's and his connections' good days were our good days, and their bad days were our bad days, as well. Paynter's battle brought together the horse racing industry and many who were unfamiliar with our sport, and was an inspiration to us all. He faced impossible odds and yet pulled through, proving to the world that nothing is truly impossible.
Shackleford has been one of the most popular horses in America since his 2011 Preakness win. His front-running, hard knocking, never going to give up style of racing would be difficult not to admire. Along with his tenacity, Shackleford also brings with him a regal presence. He is special, and he knows it. Because of these things, he has attracted thousands of fans and even has his own fan club, the Shackettes. In an era where most Grade 1 caliber horses do not race more than five or six times a year, Shackleford went to the starting gate ten times in 2011 and eight times in 2012. Because his connections did not retire him, fans were able to develop a connection with him due to the longevity of his career that many other horses of his caliber do not have.
Animal Kingdom is also proof positive that any odds can be beaten. He has twice returned to the track after suffering a significant injury, but it is his second return that took him to the next level. With no prep race, the 2011 Kentucky Derby winner ran the race of his lifetime, falling just a length and a half short of winning the Grade 1 Breeders' Cup Mile after encountering traffic problems. With a clean trip, he very well may have snatched that victory away from Wise Dan. After the race, the crowd at Santa Anita gave him a standing ovation for his effort. Who other than the mighty Zenyatta can claim such accolades in defeat?
These three courageous colts have brought much more excitement and attention to the sport than the three I would have chosen to replace. These are the horses that truly speak to the people. They have inspired fans, and their achievements have come both on and off the track. If the "Vox Populi" is to truly be about more than a horse's achievements on the track, then the committee should look for horses like these. While Royal Delta, Wise Dan, and Shanghai Bobby no doubt have their own fans, it is my opinion that they have not brought the same attention to our sport that Shackleford, Animal Kingdom, and Paynter have. 
It is my hope that in the future, those responsible for choosing the finalists for this award will be more in tune with fans. Pay attention to social media for it is there that committee members will find which horses truly speak to the people. It is only fitting that the "Voice of the People" Award truly represent the voice of the people.
Ashley Tamulonis 


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Older Comments about A Letter to the "Vox Populi" Committee...

Well said Ashley!!!
Some horses have an aura that others don't Ack Ack had it as did Slew. Right up close they gleamed physical competence to the hilt.
The moment I saw Shack run at Gulfstream, I fell in love with him. I am not the only fan that loves the Big Shack. BUT, the story of Paynter is one that has touched my heart and so many others. He has been in our minds and in our prayers of so many for months, his is an unusual story of courage, strength and faith. It is also a phenomenal showing from the Zayat family to keep his fans up to the moment on Paynters condition and thanking Pyanter's fans for our prayers. I still pray every day for Paynter's recovery as do all the 'prayer warriors for Paynter'.
Well Said Ashley.
It was a hard decision between Shack and Paynter. As much as I like Shack, I voted for Paynter. I followed all of illness and was hoping he would recover. As Floridaf put it his "story was truly inspirational." Indeed it was
Hansen is sure to garner quite a few votes via the write-in option. He's one of the popular horses that, like Royal Delta, etc., have legions of fans but don't necessarily have that extra spark that people relate to. That's just my opinion on Hansen. As it stands, I think Paynter will probably get the "Vox Populi" award. His story was truly inspirational.
It's virtually impossible to know how this HRN poll may correlate with the actual Vox Populi vote. I, personally, voted for IHA in the Vox Populi poll early yesterday based on the horses originally listed. However, I e-mailed the secretariat site about their omissions of Paynter and Shack. Today, with the new voting in place, I changed my vote to Paynter. IHA will undoubtedly be the Eclipse 3y/o champion.
No argument with your reasoning illhaveanothertriplecrown. I was a HUGE Bodemeister fan (Arkansas Derby winner), but was pulling hard for I'll Have Another to win the Crown. But, I think his following was more of a result of what he positioned himself to accomplish, and less of "The People's Horse" like Paynter and Shack. Just my two cents worth. I really liked I'll HAve Another's heart and grit.
It should be I'll have Another. He won the most popular and exciting race in the derby and did it in an incredible fashion. He then had another great battle with Bodemeister in the Preakness which left him primed to win the triple crown. Unfortunately injury struck on the final day before he could. That span of roughly 5 weeks was the most exciting time all for racing.
I've got to admit, I'm a little surprised at the HRN poll results thus far showing I'll Have Another getting more votes than Paynter and Shackleford, especially with all the comments about them. Really, no one on here is talking-up I'll Have Another, although he may be justified. Either someone is able to vote numerous times, or Mrs. Penny knew what she was talking about.
Hansen could still be in the mix. (And I'm not laughing about his inclusion.) The list was expanded to include Shack and Paynter, but also added was a "write-in" box. I didn't understand Dr. Hansen's promotional tactics for his horse, but he did care about and truly love him, I believe. The shameful, dangerous trick perpetrated upon Rick's Natural Star by his owner/trainer was far more egregious in my opinion.
the ridiculousness of the owner was a big drawback. That clown needs to be at a side show of a traveling circus and not Keemeland or Churchill Downs. He is right up there with Rick's Natural Star's trainer.
I agree Hansen should have been in the mix for the award. Since Penny Chenery started the award, obviously she can make the rules for its implementation. Give her credit, she listened to the fans and added Shack and Paynter. Probably next year you will see a more open fan participation in the nominating procedures for the slate.
Please hold your laughter, but what about HANSEN... remember him?! For the first 5 months in 2012 no other horse got more print, tweets, lip-service and facebook comments than The Great White Hope. The 3-ring circus that surrounded him certainly brought attention to the sport. EVERY horse racing fan either loved him or hated (i.e. didn't believe he could win the Derby) him. I happened to have fit in the latter. Bottom line, this award follows the Golden Rule. That is, "He (in this case she, Mrs. Chenery) who has the gold rules".
Great job
Excellent article, Ashley!
Ashley, no one on the planet could've articulated those sentiments any better. Well said young lady, and thank you.
Paynter and Shack have been added to the VOX POPULI list!
I do hope that our collective voices are heard by the committee. I cannot even imagine how many emails that must have received in the last 24 hours or so.
Oh my...you were nuch nicer than I was. My letter to the committee started out like this - I am not really sure what planet you live on, but the planet that I live on would have put forth a better nomination list than the one presented on secretariat.com. I cannot believe that Miss Penny would be happy with this list at all.

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