Should Fans Have a Say in End of the Year Awards???

This week’s LET IT RIDE.COM HOT TOPIC comes from Steve Davidowitz of GradeOneRacing.com…take a read and VOICE AN OPINION!

ASTONISHING RESULTS IN MY HORSE OF THE YEAR FAN POLL

Beyond the increase in the pari mutuel takeout at Santa Anita and the decline in handles that can be directly attributed to the public outcry, I have been astonished by the results of my special fan poll for Horse of the Year.

As you may recall, I am pledged to honor the poll results for my actual Horse of the Year vote in the official Eclipse Award balloting. My reason for doing this is simple:

Fans of every level of interest deserve a voice in the Horse of the Year Process!

That the NTRA and the Eclipse Award Committee have yet to create a place on their web sites where fans can express their point of view and gain a representative percentage of the official vote count—-say a net 10 percent weight against the total votes by all the media and racing officials who own voting rights —is another perfect example how out of touch racing leaders are with the people who support this game with their wagering dollars.

I ask you: What would be the harm to set something up like that?

Actually, the issue is better framed by realizing the continuous harm being caused by NOT setting up such a logical public outlet!

As to the way the official Horse of the Year balloting is likely to go, numerous media and racing officials apparently feel strongly that Breeders’ Cup Classic winner Blame deserves the honor for having beaten Zenyatta in the $5 million Breeders’ Cup Classic.

Interestingly, the majority of those pro Blame voters are quartered in the East and/or are involved in racing at tracks where Blame and his fine trainer Albert Stall have raced regularly in recent years. Meanwhile, a somewhat smaller group of racing officials in the West are more inclined to vote for Zenyatta, where the 6 year old mare has done almost all of her racing, as has her respected trainer John Shirreffs.

In my poll, I found an amazing imbalance in favor of Zenyatta due to another bias, perhaps the most pronounced one sided expression since the people of the Soviet Union could only vote for Joseph Stalin in their single choice elections in the 1950’s.

My fan poll was a one-sided affair for the great race mare, Zenyatta.

Get this: The actual tally of 147 fans that sent me E-mails and posted comments on this website was an astonishing 132 for Zenyatta and only 15 for Blame!

That imbalance of opinion similarly was skewed by the presence of so many female voters in my poll, as only 24 men voted, while 123 women participated.

The male vote was split down the middle, 12 for Blame and 12 for Zenyatta.

Looking at this another way, only three of the 123 women in my poll voted for Blame!

The results lend themselves to these indisputable facts:

* No other horse in my lifetime has brought so many women into racing, or spiked their interest.

* No other horse in my lifetime has elicited as much fan passion to accompany a Horse of the Year opinion, not even the battle that was waged by supporters of Horse of the Year, Rachel Alexandra vs. Zenyatta in 2009.

In that situation, the vast majority of women were not clustered so strongly in one corner in opposition to male voters in the other. In 2009, there was a clear preference among Eastern voters for Rachel, as in the West, there was for Zenyatta, but this split was not as pronounced as the present gender gap.

Also, as many E-mailers stated— (more than two dozen have been published intact under my Horse of the Year columns)—the chief arguments expressed by Zenyatta’s supporters rest on four points that most of the voting media is discounting.

* Zenyatta has been a champion for three years—and given that she continued undefeated after her short-lived retirement— her overall lifetime performances should count for something in the voting for this year’s Horse of the Year Award.

*Zenyatta did not lose any stature when she was narrowly beaten by Blame in the BC Classic, because she had such a sluggish start and actually caught up to Blame 1-1/2 strides past the wire before Blame galloped out safely in front of her with energy in reserve.

*Blame won the race on his home track but did not really prove superiority over Zenyatta. In fact, many argued and I tended to agree, that if the two had the opportunity to race against each other again at Churchill Downs or any other track, she probably would win more races than Blame.

*Blame lost to Haynesfield in the Jockey Club Gold Cup when he could not handle that horse cruising along at a moderate pace on the lead. By contrast, Zenyatta never has been hampered by a slow pace in any of her races. She fired her strong rally in every start, without needing pace meltdowns or perfect trips.

Those who prefer Blame point to the higher quality of competition he faced winning four of his five starts this year. They also state clearly that he did defeat her in the singular race that mattered the most. Countering that argument is difficult, but Zenyatta’s supporters do point out that she won last year’s BC Classic, while Rachel Alexandra was kept on the sidelines and yet Rachel still was voted Horse of the Year. They also point to Curlin who lost the BC Classic in 2008 and still was judged to be 2008 Horse of the Year.

It also is fact that most of the media who has voted for Blame accepts the fractional splits and margins as published in the official result charts, but a more careful examination of where Zenyatta was at the first quarter mile call and the mid stretch call with only a furlong to go says the chart understates the degree of difficulty she faced.

After dozens of viewings of the race replays and use of various stop action technologies, my measurements say that Zenyatta was 20+ lengths behind at the first quarter mile call, not 16-3/4 as represented by the result chart.

Even more significant, Zenyatta was 3-1/2 lengths behind Blame at the furlong pole, not two lengths behind as represented by the chart.

The difference is important because many voters for Blame discount her trip as being ‘good’ or at least the same stuff she has done in all of her races. Not true.

Zenyatta made three separate moves in this race and did more than any race she has ever run. And, while Mike Smith has chastised himself for a mistake he really did not make, he actually might have won the race had he switched his whip from his left hand to his right sooner than he did.

Watch the tape and you will see an extra late spurt as soon as Smith changed over from left to right handed whipping inside the final furlong.

There is at least one other publicly disseminated mistake that needs correcting.

According to virtually every published account of this race, Zenyatta never caught Blame in the gallop out.

Fact: Stop action and still photography definitely show that she actually put her nose in front of Blame 1-1/2 strides past the wire, before she shut down as is her custom, while Blame went on from there to gallop out clearly in front.

It also is interesting to me that the majority of media voters who have published their Horse of the Year opinions, have acknowledged that Zenyatta will go down in history as “one of the greatest race mares of all time”. Yet, they believe Blame’s narrow BC victory trumps her historic standing.

Oh really?

Let me be clear: A vote for Blame is credible and 100 percent defensible as an expression of one thought and one thought only: He had a very good year and won the BC Classic while Zenyatta finished second. If that is the defining notion, so be it. But please do not tell me that he proved his superiority in that race, on his home track while she finally woke up so many reluctant media to her extraordinary talent. This after so many of the same voters discounted her as “a mere synthetic track specialist” who would be exposed against a good field on a dirt track.

Exposed?

I think she proved her quality on numerous occasions and deserved to be in the conversation for Horse of the Year long before she ran so gallantly in this years’ Classic. As I recall, I think she defeated a bevy of Grade 1 winners with an electrifying rally in the 2009 BC Classic and did the same thing when all hope seemed lost in at least two of her spine tingling wins this year. In other words, Zenyatta never wavered from pure excellence in any start this year.

I am voting for Zenyatta because the fans have instructed me to do so. But, if I had a vote of my own, unencumbered by any other points of view, I still would vote for Zenyatta. Fact is the arguments made by those who shared their reasons turned me around. When I first wrote my column about who might be Horse of the Year, I said “Blame earned his claim to it in the BC Classic. ”

I looked a bit deeper and saw a lot more to appreciate.

While many have misstated Zenyatta’s Horse of the Year credential as based on her “popularity”, or her zealous fan base, the truth is that Zenyatta has a stronger claim to the award: She was nearly perfect in 2010 and was the single most significant horse of this year if not the entire decade. Significance is far different and more compelling than mere popularity, especially when coupled with plenty of great performances.

At the bottom line, as I have said in numerous public forums, Zenyatta is the most talented race mare I have ever seen. In every race she ran this year she proved that. Yet, only in defeat at Churchill Downs, did she earn some of the respect she deserves for her ability. So, despite my fan poll that governs my vote, her exceptionally brilliant, albeit narrow BC Classic loss probably will keep her from winning the Eclipse she richly deserves. That is not quite the tragedy that her most ardent female supporters believe.
No matter the outcome of the Horse of the Year voting, Zenyatta’s record for sustained excellence  will be remembered as long as races are run in this country.

What is a tragedy is that the NTRA and the Eclipse Award Committee continue to deny the fans the opportunity for their passionate voices to count.

WHAT’S YOUR TAKE?

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1 Comment»

  John wrote @

Steve,

Thanks for your vote for Zenyatta. However, I believe that she will win the HOY. As I calculate regarding the three groups voting Blame will take the DRF group by a few votes. In the NTRA group I think it will go either way and way too close to call. But in the NTWA group I believe Zenyatta will have the most votes and come out on top. All she has to do is hold on to the 99 votes she received last year and add just 21 more for a simple majority.


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