Archive for Horse of the Year

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…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.


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.


Breeders Cup Reveals Reasons Why Horse Racing Should Be Excited About Future

This week’s LET IT RIDE.COM HOT TOPIC comes from Joe Drape of New York Times…take a read and VOICE AN OPINION!

Breeders’ Cup Over; Excitement May Not Be

The 28th running of the Breeders’ Cup is in the books, and there is a lot of things to like about the top end of the thoroughbred racing industry. There was hardly a dud among the 15 races contested — which should be expected when $26 million of purse money is at stake.

The Europeans took a strong contingent to Churchill Downs — a must if this is truly going to be a global championship — and they left here with ample loot. The trainer Aidan O’Brien won the Juvenile Turf with Wrote, then experienced a more priceless moment when his 18-year-old son, Joseph, rode St. Nicholas Abbey to victory in the Turf to become the youngest jockey to capture a Breeders’ Cup race.

There were a fair share of bombers that came in, but none bigger than Court Vision, who had not been in the winner’s circle in 13 months but found his way back there with a furious closing kick to win the $2 million Mile at odds of 69-1.

Dale Romans, who took over the training of the horse from Rick Dutrow in September, credited luck, rather than magical horsemanship, for the improbable victory.

“All we needed to do was get him back to his old form, and if they backed up at all, he would come running,” Romans said of Court Vision, who did have eight career victories in 30 career starts. “When you have the best milers in the world running, they will go fast early. We were just hoping they would go too fast and he could run them down. And it all worked out perfectly for us.”

There also was a nice peek at some of the anticipated headliners for next year’s Triple Crown campaign. Usually the winner of the Juvenile is declared the early favorite for the Kentucky Derby, and from now until the first Saturday in May, he and his connections will be scrutinized as closely as art authenticators pore over found masterpieces looking for any hint of inauthenticity.

This year’s Juvenile champion was Hansen, and he has plenty of quirks to examine in the coming months. He came into the Juvenile undefeated after winning two races by a combined 26 lengths. Hansen flies out of the gate and never looks back. It’s not an ideal style for a colt who hopes to emerge from a full field of 20 at the Derby as the best 3-year-old in the land. His trainer, Mike Maker, knows that but confessed he had little choice but to let the big gray have his way.

“He’s a handful for us,” Maker said. “We don’t try to change him much, because if we do try, he gets mad and wants to fight. So we let him do his thing, make him believe he’s the boss.”

Hansen won Saturday by a short head over Union Rags, a colt that looks best suited to capture the Derby and beyond. He and his rider, Javier Castellano, broke from the No. 10 post and came no closer inside than the four path, turning a mile-and-a-sixteenth race into a mile-and-an-eighth one. Union Rags rolled down the stretch like he was something special, and he just missed reeling Hansen in. Union Rags is the true early Derby favorite.

Inevitably, the subject of championship voting comes up this time of year, and with it comes heated debate. It won’t be as hard to determine the award recipients this year as only a couple of horses lasted throughout 2011 and put up meaningful numbers. The New York Times does not allow its reporters to vote, but that does not mean there aren’t opinions.

Why not Animal Kingdom for the 3-year-old champion?

He had five starts this year, winning the Spiral Stakes on a synthetic track at Turfway Park and the Derby on dirt. He also finished second in an allowance race on turf and lost by a half-length in the Preakness Stakes. His Belmont Stakes effort was compromised when he was bumped at the start and his rider, John Velazquez, lost his stirrup. He finished sixth, and his season ended with a leg injury.

Neither the Preakness champion Shackleford nor the Belmont victor Ruler On Ice won another stakes race, though both are solid competitors. Shackleford made 10 starts this year, and Ruler On Ice nine. Stay Thirsty had nice wins in the Jim Dandy and the Travers, but his 11th-place finish in the Classic highlighted his up-and-down year.

Who is the Horse of the Year? The filly Havre de Grace remains the right choice. She finished fourth Saturday in the Classic after having trouble early, and her connections placed her against male horses in an effort to take away any doubts that she was a worthy recipient.

Drosselmeyer was the long-shot winner, and Game On Dude was a gritty second-place finisher, but neither can say they won 5 of 7, three of them in Grade I company. In fact, another filly and Havre de Grace’s rival, the since-retired Blind Luck, will probably collect the most second-place votes.

“She ran well and certainly didn’t tarnish herself,” Havre de Grace’s trainer, Larry Jones, said. “We have no regrets about running her here, and she’s still got another year ahead of her.”

So here’s to a very good year and raised hopes for an even better next year.