As The Season Nears An End, I’ll Have Another Stands As Horse of the Year Favorite

This week’s LET IT RIDE.COM HOT TOPIC comes from Steven Crist of The Daily Racing Form…take a read and VOICE AN OPINION!

I’ll Have Another still out front in race for Horse of the Year

A week into October, the question of who will be America’s Horse of the Year remains exactly the same as it was four months ago: Can anyone unseat I’ll Have Another, who ran his last race in the middle of May?

Recent history suggests that someone will. Of the 11 previous 3-year-olds since 1978 who won the Kentucky Derby and Preakness, all 11 were voted an Eclipse Award as the champion 3-year-old colt or gelding, but only two were named Horse of the Year: Sunday Silence in 1989 and Charismatic in 1999. The other nine were overtaken by season’s end: Spectacular Bid by Affirmed in 1979, Pleasant Colony by John Henry in 1981, Alysheba by Ferdinand in 1987, Silver Charm by Favorite Trick in 1997, Real Quiet by Skip Away in 1998, War Emblem by Azeri in 2002, Funny Cide by Mineshaft in 2003, Smarty Jones by Ghostzapper in 2004, and Big Brown by Curlin in 2008.

If I’ll Have Another becomes just the third Derby-Preakness winner in this span to win the HOTY Eclipse, it will be in the mold of Charismatic rather than Sunday Silence, who won the Breeders’ Cup Classic over champions Easy Goer and Blushing John to clinch the award. Charismatic, on the other hand, did not race after breaking down while finishing third in the Belmont and survived a confusing summer and fall where no one else stepped up. Faced with Victory Gallop and Daylami (with only one U.S. Grade 1 victory apiece) as the best alternatives, the voters went back to Charismatic, despite his 4-for-10 record. (I’ll Have Another was 4 for 4 this year.).

I’ll Have Another’s three Grade 1 victories in April and May (the Santa Anita Derby, Kentucky Derby, and Preakness) remained the most in U.S. racing this year until last weekend, when Point of Entry added the Joe Hirsch Turf Classic to his prior Grade 1 scores in the Man o’ War and Sword Dancer. That stamped him as one of three horses who have the best chance to overtake I’ll Have Another with a victory at the Breeders’ Cup on Nov. 3: Triumphs by Point of Entry in the Turf, Game On Dude in the Classic, or Wise Dan in the Mile would give them legitimate claims to the title – but it’s not as if any of them is a cinch.

Game On Dude, the only one of three to win on dirt this year, would probably win the award if all three of them were to win on Breeders’ Cup Saturday. A victory would make him 5 for 7 this year (3 for 3 on dirt, 2 for 4 on synthetics), with Grade 1 victories in the Hollywood Gold Cup, Awesome Again (nee Goodwood), and Classic as well as impressive Grade 2 runaways in the Californian and San Antonio. He’s a legitimate Classic favorite, in career-best form, and racing on his home court, but always a shade questionable going more than nine furlongs, races in which he sports a career record of just 2 for 8. He has been caught in the 10th furlong two of the last three times he has tried the distance, falling to Dullahan in this year’s Pacific Classic and Drosselmeyer in last year’s BC Classic.

Wise Dan and Point of Entry are scheduled to run at what look like their best distances, but have a different challenge: They may face an entirely different level of competition in the form of European invaders, who often dominate the Mile and Turf. It’s going to be another week or two before it’s clear which Europeans are coming over for those races, but the average Grade 1-winning European at eight or 12 furlongs on the grass is usually a couple of lengths better than his American counterpart. There are of course exceptions, but while Point of Entry and Wise Dan are very nice horses, it’s unclear how truly exceptional they really are.

Finding out will be a big part of the appeal and intrigue at this year’s Cup, and more power to them and Game On Dude if they can finish their already strong seasons with victories at Santa Anita. If they all lose, however, it could be Charismatic in 1999 all over again, with the fleeting hero of spring still standing tallest months after his career was over.

WHAT’S YOUR TAKE?

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