Horse Of The Year Race
A WIDE-OPEN HORSE OF THE YEAR RACE
Who do you think would be voted 2011 Horse of the Year if the election were held today? My feeling is it probably would be Animal Kingdom based on his victories in the Kentucky Derby and Spiral Stakes and second in the Preakness. I believe that makes him the current front-runner for 2011 Horse of the Year, especially with the “handicap division in a continued state of disarray,” as Daily Racing Form’s Mike Watchmaker recently wrote.
In terms of the early Horse of the Year picture, this year sure is different from 2008, 2009 and 2010.
At the end of May 2008, Curlin was the clear front-runner for Horse of the Year. After being Horse of the Year in 2007, Curlin won the 2008 Dubai World Cup in March. He would go on to win such important 2008 races as the Stephen Foster Handicap at Churchill Downs, Woodward Stakes at Saratoga and Jockey Club Gold Cup at Belmont Park before finishing fourth as the favorite in the Breeders’ Cup Classic on Santa Anita’s synthetic track.
Also at the end of May 2008, Zenyatta was two for two in 2008 and four for four overall. She had won Oaklawn Park’s Apple Blossom Handicap by an emphatic 4 1/2 lengths in April over a group that included 2007 Eclipse Award winner Ginger Punch. By the end of 2008, Zenyatta was nine for nine, highlighted by a win in the Breeders’ Cup Ladies’ Classic, making her a strong Horse of the Year contender.
Curlin, the clear front-runner at the end of May, was voted 2008 Horse of the Year. Zenyatta finished second in the balloting.
At the end of May 2009, Rachel Alexandra and Zenyatta were far ahead of the pack in the race for Horse of the Year. Rachel Alexandra had just become the first filly in 85 years to win the Preakness Stakes as an encore to her record 20 1/4-length victory in the Kentucky Oaks. As for Zenyatta, by the end of May 2009, she was 10 for 10 after having won the Milady Handicap at Hollywood Park in her first start of the year.
Rachel Alexandra would go on to win the Mother Goose Stakes at Belmont Park by 19 1/4 lengths, Haskell Invitational at Monmouth Park and Woodward at Saratoga to complete one of the greatest campaigns by a 3-year-old filly in American racing history.
Zenyatta would go on to win the Vanity Handicap at Hollywood Park under 129 pounds, Clement L. Hirsch Stakes at Del Mar and Lady’s Secret at Oak Tree before becoming the first filly or mare to capture the Breeders’ Cup Classic. She won the Classic on Santa Anita’s synthetic track while extending her undefeated winning streak to 14.
In the final weeks of 2009, there was a heated debate as to whether Zenyatta or Rachel Alexandra should be 2009 Horse of the Year. Rachel Alexandra, one of the two front-runners at the end of May, was voted 2009 Horse of the Year. Zenyatta again finished second in the balloting.
At the end of May 2010, Zenyatta was a clear front-runner for Horse of the Year after winning the Santa Margarita Handicap at Santa Anita in March and another Apple Blossom at Oaklawn in April. Zenyatta subsequently extended her undefeated winning streak to 19 before losing the Breeders’ Cup Classic at Churchill by a head to Blame in November.
Blame won four of five starts in 2010, with his lone defeat coming when second to Haynesfield in the Jockey Club Gold Cup at Belmont. In addition to the Breeders’ Cup Classic, Blame won the William Donald Schaefer Memorial at Pimlico, Stephen Foster Handicap at Churchill and Whitney Handicap at Saratoga.
Zenyatta, the clear front-runner at the end of May, was voted 2010 Horse of the Year, with Blame the runner-up.
As for 2011 Horse of the Year, here are my current odds:
5-1 ANIMAL KINGDOM. If he wins the June 11 Belmont Stakes, Animal Kingdom certainly will solidify his position as the front-runner for Horse of the Year. If he wins the Belmont and the Breeders’ Cup Classic, there is a very good chance he would be voted Horse of the Year. But if Animal Kingdom does not even win the Belmont, his Horse of the Year candidacy will be weakened. So he has a lot at stake in the Belmont.
8-1 HAVRE DE GRACE. Havre de Grace was No. 1 in the most recent Thoroughbred Poll conducted by the National Thoroughred Racing Association (NTRA). She received seven first-place votes. Havre de Grace has been ranked No. 1 in that poll for six straight weeks. She is two for two this year, with her most significant victory coming in Oaklawn Park’s Grade I Apple Blossom Handicap on April 15. If Havre de Grace could run the table and conclude a perfect 2011 campaign with a win in the Breeders’ Cup Ladies’ Classic, Havre de Grace no doubt would be a strong Horse of the Year contender.
8-1 TWIRLING CANDY. Twirling Candy is the 10-1 future book favorite for the Breeders’ Cup Classic at the Wynn Las Vegas Race and Sports Book. However, in terms of his 2011 Horse of the Year candidacy, it does not help that Twirling Candy’s biggest career win so far came late in 2010 (the Grade I Malibu Stakes) rather than in 2011. Twirling Candy’s 2011 Horse of the Year case also was not helped when he ran fifth as the 2-1 favorite in the Grade I Santa Anita Handicap this past March 5. Twirling Candy needs to prove he can win a race when running against older horses, something he has yet to do. But if he were to win the Breeders’ Cup Classic along with one or two other Grade I races during the remainder of 2011, he would have a good chance to be voted Horse of the Year.
12-1 GOLDIKOVA. Goldikova won her 2011 debut in France. She made history last year by becoming the first horse to win three Breeders’ Cup races. Goldikova is scheduled to go for a four-peat in the Breeders’ Cup Mile later this year at Churchill. Goldikova’s main problem in terms of her 2011 Horse of the Year candidacy is that even if she wins a fourth Mile, she will likely have run in America only that one time this year. That would be a negative for a lot of Eclipse Award voters, including this one. Nevertheless, if the race for Horse of the Year would happen to remain wide open for the rest of the year, perhaps a fourth Breeders’ Cup Mile triumph would sway enough voters for Goldikova to become 2011 Horse of the Year. That is not a far-fetched scenario considering Goldikova did receive six first-place votes in the most recent NTRA Thoroughbred Poll, second only to No. 1 Havre de Grace’s seven votes.
12-1 GET STORMY. Get Stormy has won a pair of Grade I grass races -- the Makers Mark Mile at Keeneland and Woodford Reserve Turf Classic at Churchill Downs. Two Grade I victories this year really looks good on a resume right now for a 2011 Horse of the Year candidate.
15-1 SHACKLEFORD. It’s a statement on how wide open the race for Horse of the Year is when Shackleford, who has won only one stakes race in his life, has this good of a chance at the title. His one stakes victory did come in one of the nation’s most prestigious races, the Preakness, in which he defeated the Kentucky Derby winner. Shackleford, like Animal Kingdom, could enhance his Horse of the Year credentials considerably with a win in the Belmont.
15-1 TIZWAY. The 2011 Horse of the Year picture is so unsettled that one win in an important race like the Grade I Met Mile puts Tizway into the mix. He won the Met Mile in a rapid 1:32.90, not far off the stakes record of 1:32.81 set by Honour and Glory in 1996. Tizway was assigned a 113 Beyer Speed Figure for his Met Mile victory. Trainer James Bond has the Grade I Whitney Handicap at Saratoga on Aug. 6 in mind for Tizway. Wins in the Met Mile and Whitney would go a long way toward a potential 2011 Horse of the Year title.
20-1 BIG DRAMA. In his only start this year, 2010 Breeders’ Cup Sprint winner Big Drama took the Grade III Mr. Prospector Stakes at Gulfstream Park last Jan. 15 by four emphatic lengths for trainer David Fawkes. Big Drama broke Gulfstream’s six-furlong track record with a 1:08.12 clocking while earning a huge 120 Beyer Speed Figure. Maclean’s Music and M One Rifle are tied for the second-highest Beyer of the year so far at 114. Trainer David Fawkes recently told Daily Racing Form’s Mike Welsch that Big Drama is on owner-breeder Harold Queen’s farm in Ocala, Fla., and pointing for a late summer and fall campaign, culminating with an attempt to defend his title in the Breeders’ Cup Sprint. Big Drama is expected to return to the races at the Saratoga meet.
20-1 BLIND LUCK. After finishing second in her first three starts of the year, Blind Luck gained revenge by winning the Grade II La Troienne at Churchill on May 6 over Unrivaled Belle. Blind Luck had finished second to Unrivaled Belle in the 2010 Breeders’ Cup Ladies’ Classic. Blind Luck merits consideration as a 2011 Horse of the Year candidate due to her wonderful consistency. Blind Luck has finished first or second in 11 consecutive starts since she ran third in the 2010 Santa Anita Oaks.
20-1 CROWN OF THORNS. Seventh when making his 2011 debut in Santa Anita’s Grade II Potrero Grande Stakes on April 3, Crown of Thorns won Hollywood Park’s Grade II Mervyn LeRoy Handicap on May 7. He is expected to make his next start in the Grade I Stephen Foster Handicap at Churchill on June 18. Wins in the Mervyn LeRoy and Foster would put Crown of Thorns in the Horse of the Year hunt.
20-1 DUKE OF MISCHIEF. After a pair of losses during the Gulfstream meet, Duke of Mischief splashed his way to a 2 1/4-length triumph in the Grade III, $1 million Charles Town Classic on April 16. How strong was the field? The vanquished included Tizway, who then took the Met Mile.
20-1 FIRST DUDE. After winning just once in his first 14 lifetime starts, First Dude has put together back-to-back victories. He defeated a good field to win the Grade III Alsyheba Stakes at Churchill on May 6. First Dude received two first-place votes in the most recent NTRA Thoroughbed Poll. If he is able to continue winning, which looks like a possibility at this point, he will become a serious Horse of the Year contender.
20-1 GIO PONTI. Gio Ponti’s credentials for 2011 Horse of the Year stem mainly from the fact he is a three-time Eclipse Award winner. In 2009, he was voted both champion older male and male turf runner. In 2010, he again was voted champion male turf runner. In his only 2011 start, Gio Ponti finished fifth in the Group I, $10 million Dubai World Cup on March 26. But he lost by only 1 3/4 lengths. He can become a contender for 2011 Horse of the Year by putting together a productive campaign in America during the second half of the year.
20-1 MORNING LINE. Runner-up in Gulfstream’s Grade I Donn Handicap on Feb. 5, Morning Line won the Grade I Carter Handicap at Aqueduct on April 9. He is yet another who can garner Horse of the Year support by building on his Carter victory during the second half of 2011.
20-1 NEHRO. Yes, Nehro, a colt who has not ever won a stakes race, actually is a possibility for 2011 Horse of the Year, thanks to his seconds in the Louisiana Derby, Arkansas Derby and Kentucky Derby. What he needs to do is win the Belmont and follow that with victories in the Haskell Invitational, Travers and/or Breeders’ Cup Classic.
20-1 UNCLE MO. Remember him? The door is still open for the Eclipse Award-winning 2-year-old male champion of 2010 to get into the 2011 Horse of the Year race if he could somehow manage to put his problems behind him and go on a winning binge during the second half of the year in big races.
30-1 AWESOME GEM. Awesome Gem won last Monday’s Grade III Lone Star Park Handicap at 5-1. He took the Grade I Hollywood Gold Cup in 2010. He can help his Horse of the Year hopes by winning the Gold Cup again July 9.
30-1 DIALED IN. Winner of the Grade I Florida Derby, he finished eighth as the 5-1 favorite in the Kentucky Derby and fourth in the Preakness. He needs to build on his Florida Derby triumph by capturing races like the Travers and/or Breeders’ Cup Classic.
30-1 GAME ON DUDE. Game On Dude, who won the Grade I Santa Anita Handicap on March 5, was No. 1 for three straight weeks in the NTRA Thoroughbred Poll in late March and early April. However, finishing third as the 2-1 favorite in last Monday’s Grade III Lone Star Park Handicap certainly did not help Game On Dude’s cause vis-à-vis Horse of the Year. Game On Dude needs to do a lot more than just win the Big ’Cap to become 2011 Horse of the Year.
30-1 GIANT OAK. Twirling Candy held the No. 1 spot in the first NTRA Thoroughbred of 2011 on Feb. 28. But after Twirling Candy ran fifth in the March 5 Santa Anita Handicap, Giant Oak took over at No. 1 and held that position for three consecutive weeks. After Giant Oak finished third in the Grade II New Orleans Handicap at the Fair Grounds on March 26, Game On Dude moved into the top spot on the NTRA Thoroughbred Poll. After Giant Oak’s loss in New Orleans, he finished fifth in the Grade III Alysheba at Churchill on May 6. Giant Oak needs a victory in a race like the Foster to regain the respect of a lot of Horse of the Year voters.
6-1 ALL OTHERS. Considering the current state of affairs, this is an option with considerable appeal. It appears there is a golden opportunity for a horse not listed above to burst on the scene during the second half of the year and grab the sport’s Horse of the Year title.
by Jon White
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