Just about a month ago Wise Dan was voted Horse of the Year. Although I am happy for him and his connections, was that truly in the best interest of the sport? Although Wise Dan did win his Breeders’ Cup race and did finish the season with an admirable 5 of 6 record, he never ran 10 furlongs, the actual length of time between his first race of the season and final race of the season wasn’t all too different from some of the other entrants, and in all honesty his resume wasn’t all that more impressive than the other grass superstars – Little Mike and Point of Entry. One might also argue that those two horses both won more prestigious races against better horses (they ran 1-2 in the Breeders’ Cup Turf, — Point of Entry just knocked off Animal Kingdom last weekend to open up his 2013 campaign). We shouldn’t forget Wise Dan didn’t win the all powerful ‘dirt race which was one of the knocks against other horses of the past, not to mention the fact that we had a three year old superstar this year.
For whatever reason I’ll Have Another’s loss in the balloting has really bugged me, he went 4 of 4 and won two of the greatest races in the world. The Breeders’ Cup Mile although prestigious in its own right, should not be held in such high esteem that its winner be given an auto-berth to the Horse of the Year award even with a 5 of 6 record. Let’s face it, does anyone have any doubt I’ll Have Another wasn’t the best horse to race this year? Or are we going to knock him because he only raced until May? If we are going to do that we should frown upon the fact that the other contenders had the entire year to muster up many more starts/wins and the eventual winner could only get a single win more out of an ‘entire season’. What that says about I’ll Have Another is that he was a truly gifted animal and did more in his few months on the track this year than the other horses did all year long.
The Kentucky Derby remains our nation’s signature event, we had a horse that won it and won the 2nd jewel before coming up an injury short of completing the Triple Crown yet he still went undefeated on the season. On the other hand we had an older male who was a supreme grass miler, but was proven mortal at longer distances and mortal on America’s premier surface – dirt. The fact that the majority of the voters came to this decision is truly baffling. One may also argue that given Animal Kingdom’s trip from heck, he may have been the best horse in the Breeders’ Cup Mile especially after coming back from his injury.
Basically, I saw this year’s Eclipse Awards as a way to make everyone happy instead of actually giving it to the best horse. I’ll Have Another, Little Mike, Point of Entry, and possibly even Animal Kingdom were all better horses than Wise Dan but he was given the award because of a single race. The other contenders won better races, beat better horses throughout the season, and ran at a greater variety of distances (aside from Animal Kingdom who was laid up most of the year). There is no arguing these facts. I can only hope that some of the voters will think about the actual credentials of the animal instead of one race before they go and vote next year. Maybe the oddest part of all is the fact that Wise Dan not only came home with the Horse of the Year award but Champion Older Male and Champion Grass Horse as well. Even before balloting happened, I was able to predict the minds of the voters and how bias and ill-conceived their decisions would be when trying to measure the rank of the animals in contention for the award(s). This quote is taken directly from my article a whole five and half weeks before the Eclipse Awards were announced: “Don’t get me wrong I will live when Wise Dan wins Horse of the Year (because he almost surely will), but by no accounts do I think he was the best horse to win consistently this year.”
Be that as it may, Wise Dan is a worthy horse he simply wasn’t the best horse to race in 2012. He wouldn’t have won at 10 panels on dirt and he wouldn’t have won at 12 furlongs on grass, the two signature distances for those surfaces. I will have to live with the decision of the voters but I won’t rest quietly – it’s not every day an undefeated three year old male who won 2/3 of the Triple Crown is overlooked by a grass miler…..that doesn’t sit well with me. I’m not trying to ruffle any feathers I just want the best horse(s) to be given their due. I wish every horse which is still in training for 2013 the best of luck, and may all of them run to their potential.