The Horse Of The Year Debate


Because Blame defeated Zenyatta the only time they ever met, does that mean Blame will be voted 2010 Horse of the Year? Not necessarily, as evidenced by what happened in 1980.

In 1980, Saron Stable's Bold 'n Determined met Diane and Bert Firestone's Genuine Risk in the Grade I Maskette at Belmont Park. Just as Blame narrowly defeated Zenyatta in their only encounter, Bold 'n Determined narrowly defeated Genuine Risk the only time they met. Not only did Bold 'n Determine win the Maskette by a nose, she carried four pounds more than Genuine Risk, who finished second.

Bold 'n Determined certainly had an outstanding 1980 campaign. The Maskette was one of her nine victories that year.

In 1980, Bold 'n Determined, in order, won:

--the Pasadena at Santa Anita.
--the Grade I Santa Susana (now Santa Anita Oaks) at Santa Anita.
--the Grade I Fantasy at Oaklawn Park.
--the Grade I Kentucky Oaks at Churchill Downs.
--the Grade I Acorn at Belmont Park.
--the Grade I Coaching Club American Oaks at Belmont Park.
--the Grade I Maskette at Belmont Park.
--an allowance race at Keeneland.
--the Grade I Spinster at Keeneland.

You would think that after Bold 'n Determined won eight stakes races in 1980, she would have been a slam-dunk to get the Eclipse Award as champion 3-year-old filly, right? Especially considering Bold 'n Determined beat Genuine Risk the only time they met, right?

Wrong. Genuine Risk was voted the Eclipse.

I was one of those who cast their vote for Genuine Risk. Without a doubt, it was one of the toughest decisions I have had to make since I first had the honor of participating in Eclipse Award balloting in 1976.

I really agonized over that particular vote. Did I think Bold 'n Determined presented a compelling case for the Eclipse Award in her division? Absolutely. Then why did I vote for Genuine Risk? The main reason Genuine Risk got my vote was she became the first filly to ever finish first or second in all three Triple Crown races.

The day after Bold 'n Determined won the Kentucky Oaks, Genuine Risk made history as only the second filly to win the Kentucky Derby. It had been 65 years since Regret became the first filly to win the roses.

After Genuine Risk collaborated with jockey Jacinto Vasquez to win the Kentucky Derby, she finished second in the both the Preakness and Belmont. In the Preakness, Genuine Risk had a rough trip and lost to Codex and Angel Cordero Jr.

'As Codex passed the point of the turn, entering the stretch, Cordero turned in the saddle and spotted Genuine Risk,' Daily Racing Form executive columnist Joe Hirsch wrote of the 1980 Preakness in the American Racing Manual. 'He then guided Codex out to a point just inside the filly and carried her even wider than she would have gone on her own momentum, while swinging his whip vigorously on the right side. There was light brushing, the filly's head seemed to nod sharply as though struck, and she lost her momentum for an instant. Gamely she recovered, pursued Codex to the wire, but the battle was lost by a margin of 4 3/4 lengths. Codex, who ran a big race, missed the Pimlico record for 1 3/16 miles by only a fifth of a second with his 1:54 1/5. Colonel Moran was third, 3 1/4 lengths behind Genuine Risk.

'Incredibly, the Pimlico stewards failed to post the ‘inquiry' sign, though many in the record crowd of 83,455, and millions of television viewers, were aware there had been an incident. Vasquez claimed foul, however, and the stewards deliberated at length before the Preakness result was declared official.'

After the Preakness, according to the book 'Genuine Risk,' written by Hallie McEvoy, Vasquez was quoted as saying in Newsday: 'I thought this was a racetrack not a rodeo. I think they should have taken [Codex's] number down. It is no different from any other race, no matter what the purse. It took the heart out of my filly when he brushed me. He sure brushed me hard. And Cordero hit my horse with his whip.'

Cordero said in Newsday: 'My horse was way on the outside before the filly got to him. I was already there. There was no contact. And I didn't hit him with my whip. When the filly came up to us, my horse took off again. If I had been second, I would have claimed foul. Everybody takes a shot in a big race. It's another chance to win, a part of the game. But I don't think I carried him out, and there was no contact, no nothing. If I do anything, my number would have come down.'

Retired Hall of Fame jockey Eddie Arcaro, a commentator at the time for ABC Sports, said: 'I am not a steward. But if I were, I'd have to take Codex's number down.'

In 2003, for the book 'Genuine Risk,' Vasquez again was asked about the 1980 Preakness. He said: 'Those blind stewards should have disqualified Codex. Cordero probably could have beaten us fair and square. He didn't have to do that.'

According to Hirsch, 'thousands of fans bombarded the Pimlico stewards with telegrams and phone calls, deploring Cordero's roughhouse tactics and the failure of the stewards to disqualify Codex. There was some sentiment that Codex was obviously best and that it is unfair to penalize the horse for the actions of his rider.'

Two days after the controversial 1980 Preakness, the Firestones appealed to the Maryland Racing Commission. (Keep in mind the Maryland Racing Commission was the same body that did not recognize Secretariat's track record clocking in the 1973 Preakness, a decision that I have always felt was incorrect.)

Sixteen days after the race, the Maryland Racing Commission held a hearing at Pimlico regarding the Firestones' appeal. The hearing lasted three days.

One of the points of contention at the hearing, according to McEvoy in her book, was the inferior quality of the official black and white videotape the stewards used to make their decision.

'Many people contended that Pimlico's [videotape] system was inadequate and that the ABC Sports tapes gave a clearer view of the alleged incident,' McEvoy wrote. 'The ABC tapes were in color, allowed a much closer view of the action, and included slow motion and an isolated view of Genuine Risk. The stewards' videotapes had none of these capabilities.'

The board, McEvoy wrote, heard testimony from many of the people involved. According to an account of the hearing in the Baltimore Sun, Vasquez testified that Cordero 'knocked my filly off her stride and I had to hold on with all my might to get her to turn. My filly was struck with the whip at least once.'

At the end of the hearing, the Maryland Racing Commission voted 3-1 to back the stewards and uphold the finish of the race.

These days, considering how often there is no disqualification when the stewards rule that an incident did not affect the order of finish (this year's Del Mar Derby immediately comes to mind), there probably would be much less chance of Codex being disqualified than in 1980 for what happened in the Preakness considering Codex beat Genuine Risk by 4 3/4 lengths.

After the Preakness, Genuine Risk competed in the Belmont Stakes, which was contested on a muddy track. She ran second in the Belmont to the mud-loving Temperence Hill, who earlier in the year had taken the Arkansas Derby. After the Belmont, Temperence Hill won the Travers, Jockey Club Gold Cup (over a field of older foes that included the great John Henry) and inaugural Super Derby en route to the Eclipse Award as champion 3-year-old male of 1980.

In 1978, Seattle Slew gained the respect of many when he lost the Jockey Club Gold Cup by a nose to Exceller. Zenyatta similarly gained the respect of many when she lost this year's Breeders' Cup Classic by a head to Blame. In 1980, because Genuine Risk showed so much heart in defeat, she likewise gained the respect of many when she lost the Maskette by a nose to Bold 'n Determined.

'At the top of the stretch, Genuine Risk had moved to the lead,' McEvoy wrote of the Maskette. 'Davona Dale had run out of steam, but Bold 'n Determined put in a late charge and went after the leader. At the eighth pole, Genuine Risk and Bold 'n Determined raced as one. But by the sixteenth pole, Bold 'n Determined had moved ahead by a half-length.

'Then, Genuine Risk did something that no one had seen her do before -- she began to come back on the leader. She was showing that she wasn't just a one-run filly. Genuine Risk ground down Bold 'n Determined's lead and would not give up. But at the wire, Bold 'n Determined stubbornly stuck her nose in front of Genuine Risk, leaving the Firestone filly with second place.'

Just as Bold 'n Determined would go on to defeat older rivals in the Spinster after the Maskette, Genuine Risk subsequently defeated her elders when victorious in the Grade I Ruffian Handicap at Belmont Park.

Even though Bold 'n Determined had narrowly defeated Genuine Risk the only time they met, my vote for champion 3-year-old filly went to Genuine Risk, mainly for running so well in all three Triple Crown races.

To this day, Genuine Risk is the only filly to have finished first or second in all three Triple Crown races. And if Codex had been disqualified in the Preakness, as many believe should have occurred, Genuine Risk would have won two-thirds of the Triple Crown.

I felt what Genuine Risk did in the three Triple Crown races trumped Bold 'n Determined's accomplishments. Also, I'd say it did not help Bold 'n Determined that she did lose three races against fillies that year. As for Genuine Risk, her nose lose in the Maskette was the single time she lost vs. fillies in 1980.

In addition to Genuine Risk being voted champion 3-year-old filly despite losing to Bold 'n Determined the only time they met, there are a number of examples in which Horse A was voted Horse of the Year despite the fact Horse B defeated Horse A more times on the track.

In 1969, Arts and Letters and Majestic Prince met three times. Majestic Prince defeated Arts and Letters twice. Yet Arts and Letters was voted Horse of the Year.

In 1975, Forego and Wajima met three times. Wajima defeated Forego twice. Yet Forego was voted Horse of the Year.

In 1978, Affirmed and Seattle Slew met twice. Seattle Slew defeated Affirmed both times. Yet Affirmed was voted Horse of the Year.

In 1984, John Henry and Interco met twice. Interco beat John Henry both times. Yet John Henry was voted Horse of the Year.

In 1986, Lady's Secret and Precisionist met twice. Precisionist beat Lady's Secret both times. Yet Lady's Secret was voted Horse of the Year.

Let's take a closer look at what happened in those cases.

In 1969, Majestic Prince beat Arts and Letters by a neck in the Kentucky Derby and by a head in the Preakness. Arts and Letters then beat a less-than-100% Majestic Princess by 5 1/2 lengths in the Belmont.

Between the Preakness and Belmont, Arts and Letters defeated older horses when he won the Met Mile by 2 1/2 lengths. Majestic Prince was retired after the Belmont, whereas Arts and Letters would go on to win the Jim Dandy by 10 lengths, Travers by 6 1/2 lengths, Woodward against older horses by two lengths and Jockey Club Gold Cup over older horses by 14 lengths.

My feeling was that even though Majestic Prince defeated Arts and Letters twice in the three times they met, Arts and Letters deserved the Horse of the Year title because of his other victories. But some felt Majestic Prince deserved the Horse of the Year title. Charles Hatton, the learned Daily Racing Form columnist, was one of those who cast his Horse of the Year vote for Majestic Prince.

In 1975, on the two occasions when Wajima defeated Forego, there was a huge disparity in the weights. The first time they met, in the Grade I Governor Stakes at Belmont, Forego, a 5-year-old, transported 134 pounds and finished fourth, while Wajima, a 3-year-old, carried only 115. In the Grade I Marlboro Cup Handicap, Wajima carried 119 and won by a head, with Forego second under 129. And then in the Grade I Woodward Stakes, Forego, who shouldered 126, won by nearly two lengths over Wajima, who carried 119.

Even though Wajima defeated Forego twice in the three races they met, Forego was voted Horse of the Year due to his overall 1975 record and the fact he carried so much more weight the two times he lost to Wajima.

In 1978, Seattle Slew, a 4-year-old, won the Grade I Marlboro Cup Handicap under 128 pounds by three lengths. Affirmed, a 3-year-old, carried 124 and finished second. In the Grade I Jockey Club Gold Cup, Exceller won by a nose over Seattle Slew. As older horses, Exceller and Seattle Slew each carried 126 pounds. Affirmed, who carried 121, finished fifth, 18 3/4 lengths behind Exceller and Seattle Slew. But, in Affirmed's defense, he had no chance in the Jockey Club Gold Cup because his saddle slipped.

Even though Seattle Slew defeated Affirmed both times they met, Affirmed, was voted 1978 Horse of the Year based to a large extent on his sweep of the Triple Crown.

In 1984, Interco won four of five starts. All four victories were in Grade I races. His only loss came when he finished second to Desert Wine in the Grade I Californian. In the Grade I Santa Anita Handicap, Interco won while defeating fifth-place finisher John Henry by eight lengths on the dirt. In the Grade I San Luis Rey Stakes, Interco won while defeating third-place finisher John Henry by three-quarters of a length on the turf.

However, Interco's achievements came during the first half of the year. He never raced again after the Californian in June. Following the San Luis Rey, John Henry won the Grade III Golden Gate Handicap, Grade I Hollywood Invitational Turf Handicap, Grade I Sunset Handicap, Grade I Arlington Million, Grade I Turf Classic at Aqueduct and Ballentine's Scotch Classic Handicap at the Meadowlands.

Even though Interco defeated John Henry both times they met, John Henry was voted 1984 Horse of the Year.

In 1986, Precisionist defeated Lady's Secret by 1 1/4 lengths in the Grade I Iselin Handicap. However, neither of them won. Roo Art took the Iselin on a sloppy track. In the Grade I Woodward Stakes, Precisionist won by 4 3/4 lengths, with Lady's Secret second. Even though Lady's Secret won the Breeders' Cup Distaff instead of running in the Breeders' Cup Classic, she was voted Horse of the Year. The door for that opened when neither Turkoman nor Precisionist were able to beat 10-1 Skywalker in the Classic.

The point is a 2010 Eclipse Award voter has more to consider than just the fact that Blame beat Zenyatta the one time they met. Should that win by Blame over Zenyatta mean something? No question. It should mean a lot. I personally believe it is a huge accomplishment. After all, by beating Zenyatta, Blame did something no one else could do in the big mare's previous 19 races.

But, as evidenced by the examples cited above, defeating Zenyatta in and of itself should not automatically mean Blame will be, or should be, Horse of the Year.


by Jon White


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