Archive for Eclipse Awards

Is It Time For an International End of the Year Award???

This week’s LET IT RIDE.COM HOT TOPIC comes from Andrew Hawkins of South China Morning Post…take a read and VOICE AN OPINION!

World racing deserves its own Oscars, similar to America’s Eclipse Awards

The world racing year that was 2014 will be toasted in the next seven days with two separate awards functions on either side of the Atlantic – but what would happen if elements of both were combined to essentially create the Oscars of world racing?

In the United States, the annual Eclipse Awards will be held at Florida’s Gulfstream Park racecourse on Saturday night.

The awards are selected by a voting body of approximately 250 people, comprised of Daily Racing Form (DRF) columnists and writers, members of the National Turf Writers and Broadcasters (NTWAB) – effectively representing the rest of the American racing media – and racing secretaries belonging to the National Thoroughbred Racing Association (NTRA). The awards are completely subjective and at the hands of the voters, much like the Oscars.

There are 17 categories – 12 for horses, five for the human participants – but the jewel in the crown is the Horse of the Year.

In what has been an incredibly open season in American racing, there has been an immense debate about the merits of each of the Horse of the Year candidates – as well as some of those that missed the final cut.

There’s Kentucky Derby and Preakness Stakes winner California Chrome, who lost form in the middle of the year but returned to finish third in the Breeders’ Cup Classic before winning at Del Mar to close his season. Notably, he won on both dirt and turf, as well as winning on a synthetic surface right at the end of 2013.

Then there is his Breeders’ Cup Classic conqueror Bayern, an inconsistent front-runner who has been scintillating at his best but won the Classic in controversial circumstances and also flopped badly in two of the premier three-year-old races, the Preakness Stakes and the Travers Stakes.

Completing the trio is English import Main Sequence, who won four staying Grade One races on turf – far from a strong division in the US, although at his last start, he did hold off subsequent Hong Kong Vase winner Flintshire in the Breeders’ Cup Turf.

The debate between racing fans has made for some tense arguments and a fair bit of slagging, in particular both by and towards the California Chrome fans affectionately (or disparagingly) referred to as “Chromies”.

For the analyst, though, it has raised the question: what constitutes a worthy winner of Horse of the Year? Is it consistency across the course of a season? Is it raw ability? Is it the backstory or the ability to win the hearts of fans?

Each voter tends to have a different opinion, which makes the end result totally unpredictable. Speaking to three American fans on Thursday, all three were confident they knew who would win the Horse of the Year award – and all three nominated a different horse.

It’s dramatic and a fitting conclusion to a stellar year.

Then, on Tuesday night in London, the equine stars of 2014 will be honoured at the Longines World’s Best Racehorse Ceremony, celebrating the horses that finish atop the Longines World’s Best Racehorse Rankings.

Those rankings, compiled by handicappers representing each member jurisdiction of the International Federation of Horseracing Authorities (IFHA), are more of an objective exercise than the Eclipse Awards. Well, as objective as opinions can be in racing, an inherently subjective game.

Unlike the Eclipse Awards – where voters tend to look at a horse’s overall season – one spike performance can put a horse at the top of the rankings. While it is difficult to know whether Just A Way’s Dubai Duty Free romp was a spike, given he was tested at distances outside his comfort zone for the rest of the year – his win in the Yasuda Kinen over a mile was followed by three runs at a mile and a half – the six and a quarter length win at Meydan in course record time will be enough to see him claim the World’s Best Racehorse title.

The battle for second was made interesting by Epiphaneia’s four length Japan Cup win and Able Friend’s performance in the Hong Kong Mile. Able Friend is expected to be rated 127, and he is expected to be rated on par with Europe’s top three-year-olds Australia, Kingman and The Grey Gatsby, as well as his Champions Mile conqueror Variety Club. Where Epiphaneia rates among those is up for debate, with Japanese handicappers traditionally harsh on their own races, but he may take outright second on his own.

If the rankings were to be applied solely to American racing, then Bayern (125) would be Horse of the Year ahead of California Chrome and the now-retired Game On Dude (both on 124).

Really, though, where is the drama? Where is the excitement? It’s all pretty sterile and predictable, and while it recognises excellence, it fails to recognise one of racing’s strengths – its uncertainty.
Instead of a tradesmanlike approach to comparing horses, races and performances, simply using ratings, how would experts from different countries measure up form from around the world?

So, The Griffin would like to propose a new showpiece racing event in January each year, which we humbly suggest should be named ‘The Griffins’.

Combining the best of the Longines World’s Best Racehorse Ceremony with the Eclipse Awards – international racing awards voted on by racing officials and journalists from around the world – it would be racing’s answer to the Oscars.

Instead of a tradesmanlike approach to comparing horses, races and performances, simply using ratings, how would experts from different countries measure up form from around the world?

How would an Australian assess California Chrome against Bayern? How would an Englishman decipher Able Friend against Designs On Rome?

And then, take it one step further. In voting for Horse of the Year, how does one assess California Chrome against the likes of Able Friend, Just A Way, Australia, Kingman, Variety Club, Treve and Lankan Rupee?

How would an Australian assess it? How would an American? An Englishman? A Hongkonger?

It would be hard to compile a voting body that would be totally fair to every jurisdiction, though.

One way is to give every IFHA member an equal vote.

That would mean the member countries of the IFHA – Algeria, Argentina, Australia, Austria, Bahrain, Belgium, Brazil, Bulgaria, Canada, Chad, Chile, Croatia, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Denmark, France, Germany, Great Britain, Greece, Hong Kong, Hungary, India, Ireland, Italy, Japan, Korea, Lebanon, Macau, Malaysia, Mauritius, Mexico, Morocco, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Oman, Pakistan, Panama, Peru, Poland, Qatar, Romania, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Serbia, Singapore, Slovakia, Slovenia, South Africa, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Thailand, Tunisia, Turkey, United Arab Emirates, United States of America, Uruguay and Venezuela – would each get, say, five votes, creating a voting body of 290.

The flaw in this is obvious, though.

Say the United States, where the vote would likely be split between Bayern, California Chrome and Main Sequence. In Hong Kong, it would probably be split between Able Friend and Designs On Rome. In Australia, it could go any way with horses like It’s A Dundeel, Fiorente, Protectionist, Lankan Rupee and Terravista all possibilities.

In smaller countries with one standout, though, their horses would be likely to garner more votes. Take Macau, where Wonder Mossman would likely receive the top points from all judges.

What’s not to say Macau’s five voters would all give him top points, while Hong Kong’s five voters are split between Able Friend and Designs On Rome. That would leave Wonder Mossman ahead of both of John Moore’s superstars.

While a 10-1 points scale like the Eclipse Stakes would even it out in the end, with horses from bigger jurisdictions likely to scrape more of the minor points, it still seems a bit skewed.

However, recognition deserves to be given to countries with stronger racing as determined by the IFHA. The IFHA publishes a list of the top 100 races each year based on a three-year rating average.

At the end of the 2013 season, the list had 26 races from Australia, 20 from the United States, 17 from England, 11 from France, nine from Japan, six from Hong Kong, four from the United Arab Emirates, two from Ireland and Germany and one each from Singapore, Canada and South Africa.

If votes were awarded proportionally, though, it would then be skewed towards horses from Australia, the United States and England, making it racing’s version of the Coalition of the Willing.

Instead, we suggest that every IFHA member gets a certain number of votes, while the countries represented on the top 100 list get a far greater representation.

However it would be decided, though, the simple question is: who would win the Horse of the Year award?

While this blog’s personal top three would be Just A Way, Able Friend and Bayern, with a slight leaning to Just A Way, it is unlikely that the Japanese galloper would win. His Dubai success seems a distant memory, replaced by his slightly dull efforts stepped up to 2,400m, and the performances of Epiphaneia and Gentildonna since would probably come to the fore of voters’ minds.

Instead, the winner would probably be a horse like Adelaide, who won in Ireland, the United States and Australia and was placed in England and France, or Variety Club, another who would get support from multiple countries. Or maybe the focus will be on the winners of those traditional big races – the likes of California Chrome, dual Derby winner Australia or Arc winner Treve.

Nevertheless, these are all hypotheticals and they will never be answered. They can be debated and argued, but at this stage there is no definitive answer bar the view of world handicappers on individual performances.

It would be a win for the racing industry if one day, the world’s Horse of the Year is decided by the global racing community based on their efforts across the span of a season.

And besides, we haven’t even touched on the red carpet – John Moore in a safari suit would be all that is needed.

WHAT’S YOUR TAKE?

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Could A Turf Race In November at Del Mar Decide Horse of the Year????

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

Doug O’Neill’s suspension shows why little makes sense in horse racing

As odd as it may seem, Horse of the Year may ultimately be decided through a race at Del Mar … in November.

It’s been that kind of a year.

In a racing season filled with the likes of injuries, scandals, and a Triple Crown near-miss, just to name a few, the appearance of Kentucky Derby-Preakness winner California Chrome in a turf race just might be remedy for the bad taste lingering from the controversial and widely panned Breeders’ Cup Classic.

According to trainer Art Sherman, California Chrome will be given a workout on the turf on Nov. 23 and if all goes well, the California-bred will run in the Grade 1 Hollywood Derby at Del Mar on Nov. 29 at the track’s inaugural fall meet.

Considering the dilemma facing Eclipse Award voters, the ability of a dirt star like California Chrome to display a new dimension by adding a Grade 1 turf stakes to his resume could be enough to propel him to frontrunner status for racing’s most coveted prize.

At the very least, it would supply the kind of a satisfaction that the BC Classic was supposed to supply.

Instead, the decision by the Santa Anita stewards not to disqualify the victorious Bayern for bumping the favored Shared Belief at the start of the race has created a situation in which some voters seem intent on administering their own brand of justice by using their Eclipse Award ballots to offset the stewards’ verdict.

The Breeders’ Cup Classic was painted as the race that would settle the Horse of the Year debate, but in its aftermath turf star Main Sequence emerged from the Breeders’ Cup as the No. 1 choice in the final National Thoroughbred Racing Association poll. Bayern and California Chrome, who was third in the BC Classic, were second and third, respectively.

Main Sequence is a perfect 4-for-4 this year — all in Grade 1 stakes — and turned in an exceptional effort to beat Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe runner-up Flintshire in the Breeders’ Cup Turf. Yet, aside from the Breeders’ Cup, Main Sequence faced only modest competition in his turf victories.

In contrast, this year’s crop of 3-year-old males turned out to be a sensational group with runners like Bayern, California Chrome, Shared Belief, Tonalist and Toast of New York, who was second in the BC Classic. Given that level of depth and competition, it would only seem proper to honor the best member of that class as the year’s best horse.

The Breeders’ Cup Classic, though, may have pulled the plug on that notion.

Yet now, there may be a chance for redemption. The Hollywood Derby would give California Chrome a fourth Grade 1 win in 2014, two more than any of his 3-year-old rivals. His four-bagger, with the Santa Anita Derby, Kentucky Derby and Preakness, also carries more clout than Main Sequence’s quartet and has enough of a cushion to push his three 2014 losses into the background.

Plan B, in case California Chrome fizzles in his turf work, would be to run in the Native Diver, also on Nov. 29. It’s on the dirt, but is only a Grade 3 stakes and would lack the charisma that could come from a Grade 1 win on a new surface. Naming California Chrome Horse of the Year off a final push from a Grade 3 stakes seems a stretch.

So for now, the intrigue of finding out whether the grass will be greener for California Chrome has the Horse of the Year debate back on the right track. Instead of focusing on the actions of three stewards, there will be a race to ponder and an outcome that will be put under a microscope by discerning eyes.

It’s a dramatic improvement from the quagmire racing currently has on its hands … just as long as California Chrome doesn’t bump anyone.

WHAT’S YOUR TAKE?

Will the Derby and Preakness Wins Be Enough For “Chrome” To Hold Off Shared Belief for Three Year Old of the Year????

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

Double Crown title streak could end

As any schoolchild knows, every 3-year-old since 1978 who won both the Kentucky Derby and Preakness failed to win the Belmont Stakes and complete the Triple Crown. But did you know there’s an even longer streak regarding the winners of the first two legs of the Triple Crown?

Since the Eclipse Awards began in 1971 through last year, 16 horses have won the Derby and Preakness – and every single one of them won the Eclipse Award as champion 3-year-old: Canonero II (1971), Secretariat (1973), Seattle Slew (1977), Affirmed (1978), Spectacular Bid (1979), Pleasant Colony (1981), Alysheba (1987), Sunday Silence (1989), Silver Charm (1997), Real Quiet (1998), Charismatic (1999), War Emblem (2001), Funny Cide (2003), Smarty Jones (2004), Big Brown (2007), I’ll Have Another (2012) and … wait, not so fast on adding California Chrome (2014) to the list.

After Shared Belief’s impressive victory against his elders in the Pacific Classic last Sunday, he inched ahead of the idle California Chrome in the National Thoroughbred Racing Association’s weekly Horse of the Year poll. (Shared Belief and California Chrome are now ranked second and third behind the 7-year-old gelding Wise Dan.)

You have to go back 45 years, before the dawn of the Eclipses, to find a 3-year-old who won the Derby and Preakness but was not acknowledged as the division’s champion: That would be Majestic Prince in 1969. He beat Arts and Letters by a neck in the Derby and by a head in the Preakness, but Arts and Letters beat him by 5 1/2 lengths in the Belmont and then reeled off consecutive victories in the Jim Dandy, Travers, Woodward, and Jockey Club Gold Cup. (He also won the Blue Grass and, in between the Preakness and Belmont, the Met Mile.) Arts and Letters was understandably acclaimed as the champion 3-year-old and Horse of the Year.

It looked as if things might go the same way a couple of times since. Twenty years after Arts and Letters, Easy Goer had a very similar streak after falling short to Sunday Silence in the Derby and Preakness. He was heavily favored to complete the turnaround in the Breeders’ Cup Classic, but then Sunday Silence beat him for the third time in four meetings and was deservedly a nearly unanimous choice.

In 2003, it seemed that Empire Maker had edged ahead of Funny Cide when he beat him in the Belmont, giving him a 2-1 lead in head-to-head meetings and a 3-2 lead in Grade 1 victories. Neither one of them, however, won a race past June, and by the time ballots were due in December, Funny Cide’s Derby and Preakness made it seem to a majority of voters that he had been the more successful 3-year-old and deserved the nod.

The 2004 voting would have been interesting if Birdstone had won the Breeders’ Cup Classic. After denying Smarty Jones’s bid for the Triple Crown by beating him in the Belmont, Birdstone returned to win the Travers. Would a BC Classic victory have pushed him past the Derby-Preakness winner? We’ll never know since he finished seventh, and Smarty Jones was an easy Eclipse winner.

So, the question now is whether Shared Belief can catch up to a Derby-Preakness winner. Let’s say he makes his fourth and final start of an unbeaten 3-year-old season in the BC Classic and wins it, beating California Chrome in their only meeting. Would it be enough? California Chrome would still have a 3-2 lead in Grade 1 wins (Santa Anita Derby, Kentucky Derby, and Preakness vs. Pacific Classic and BC Classic), but Shared Belief’s two big victories would have been against older horses instead of the uninspiring 3-year-olds whom California Chrome was walloping last spring.

Still, winning the Derby and Preakness is a powerful double that tends to look even better in hindsight. The discussion then comes down to accomplishment vs. talent. It’s possible that one could simultaneously believe at season’s end that Shared Belief is the better horse but that California Chrome accomplished more this year.

It would be a fascinating debate if we get that far. Maybe the best part is that this could develop into more than a one-race rivalry: California Chrome is scheduled to race as a 4-year-old, and Shared Belief is a gelding with an unlimited future on the track. These things are always best settled on the racetrack, so here’s hoping.

WHAT’S YOUR TAKE?

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?