Horse of the Year – Eclipse Award

No matter who wins this year’s Horse of the Year honors, the results are guaranteed to set off a storm of second-guessing, bickering and accusations.  The primary reason – in a year of lackluster performances, the three at the top are remarkably difficult to separate.

The three year-olds were consistently inconsistent.  Lookin At Lucky had some moments of brilliance and tons of bad racing luck.  The Derby winner turned out to be a one-trick pony.  I suspect that if Afleet Express had made it to the Breeders’ Cup Classic he would be part of this discussion.  But he didn’t so he isn’t.

The three at the top are, of course, Zenyatta, Goldikova and Blame.

The folks in Zenyatta’s camp, I have to assume are pulling in the body of her work over her brilliant career.  They would have to be.  In fact, a good number of them may feel like she is due this recognition because she got the shaft last year when Rachel Alexandra got the nod over her.  And since that snub, Zenyatta has remained spectacular while Rachel Alexandra has become spectacularly beatable.  While, I’m not trashing Zenyatta’s performance in 2010, I think if you don’t at least take into consideration some of these factors, her dossier may not be strong enough to give her the nod this year.

I’ll also go on record as saying I was one of many that thought Zenyatta should have won HOY last year.  And I also admit that I’m one of those people that has a hard time not taking it into consideration for the honor this year.  Her performance in both Breeders’ Cup Classic races was breathtaking.  I don’t know anyone who does not agree with that statement.

But pity and payback make lousy cases for an Eclipse Award.  Right?  Well, what about pity and payback as a tie breaker?  Maybe I could go there, if all other things were relatively equal.

I don’t think things are relatively equal with respect to Blame.  I am definitely not in the Blame camp.  I acknowledge he had a very good year, and he’s a heck of a horse.  And he did beat Zenyatta in the Classic.  By a head.  But I would not call the year he had dominant.  It sure looks good because everyone else looked pretty shaky.  He was a tepid favorite in the Classic and turned in a good effort there.  Many of the Zenyatta deniers thought Blame was much better than her.  They were wrong.

The only thing that separated Blame and Zenyatta was a poor ride by Mike Smith.  Although this may come across as sour grapes, because everyone knows racing luck is part of the game, at least Mike Smith agreed the ride cost her the race.

Goldikova is much harder to dismiss than Blame.  Five wins in six G1 races with full, competitive fields, culminating in a three-peat in the BC Mile is a monster year.  Truly remarkable.  Turns out her 6:5 morning line odds in the Mile were not even close to estimating her dominance in that race.  Utterly amazing race and amazing year.

But the Mile is the Mile and the Classic is the Classic.  All other things being equal, if you ask me which is a more significant accomplishment, a three-peat in a BC race other than the Classic, or missing a repeat in the Classic by a head – as a female horse.  I’d have to say that those two are virtually tied.

From there I can, with a clear conscience, say that Zenyatta should be HOY based on the purely emotional, totally subjective, and irrelevant tie-breakers of her snub last year, the poorly timed ride by Mike Smith, and the fact that she retired having only been beaten once by a total of one head in 20 lifetime starts.

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