The Brock Talk

Monday, November 14, 2011

Havre de Grace Was Tops In A Difficult Year

It has been a rough year for the Horse of the Year award. So troubled has the year been for those horses pursuing the golden Eclipse award, that I have pondered the dilemma for more than a week since the completion of the Breeders’ Cup, and still, I am not adamant about my selection.

For disclosure, I do not vote for Horse of the Year. That honor has been bestowed upon the folks at Daily Racing Form and the National Thoroughbred Racing Association. But if I did have a vote this year, I would approach it the following way.

It would be difficult to give the award to Breeders’ Cup Classic winner Drosselmeyer (photo right). His only victory this year other than the Classic came in the $60,000 One Count Stakes at Belmont Park in May. No matter the significance of the Breeders’ Cup Classic, it needs a little more help than the One Count Stakes to confirm a Horse of the Year.

Others under consideration had difficult days at the Breeders’ Cup that may have eliminated them from Horse of the Year. The Breeders' Cup is billed as the World Championship after all.

Goldikova was attempting an unprecedented fourth consecutive Breeders’ Cup Mile hoping to add to her record three straight, but was unable to overcome a trip filled with traffic difficulties this and finished third. And one third place finish in American does not a Horse of the Year make.

Classic favorite Flat Out went into the Breeders’ Cup off of a win in the grade 1 Jockey Club Gold Cup, two seconds in the Woodward and Whitney, Saratoga’s two main events for older horses, and third in the grade 2 Suburban Handicap at Belmont in July. Flat Out also had one of the better human interest stories this year in 70-year-old trainer Charles “Scooter” Dickey, but a fifth-place finish in the Breeders’ Cup Classic compromised the Horse of the Year chances for Flat Out.

Kentucky Derby winner Animal Kingdom should also be considered. Although Animal Kingdom has not run since finishing sixth in the Belmont Stakes June 11, the Kentucky is certainly the most noteworthy race in America and its winner she be duly noted.

There is also some precedent for Animal Kingdom being named Horse of the Year – at least from a chronological standpoint. In 1999, Cat Thief won the Breeders’ Cup Classic at nearly 20-to-1 odds over favored Behrens in seventh. That year Charismatic was named Horse of the Year after being injured in the Belmont Stakes and not running thereafter. Like Animal Kingdom, Charismatic won the Kentucky Derby but unlike Animal Kingdom, also had a victory in the Preakness and in the grade 2 Lexington. Animal Kingdom has the grade 2 Vinery Racing Spiral Stakes win to match Charasmatic's Lexington and of course the Kentucky Derby, but no Preakness.

Stay Thirsty is another from the 3-year-old ranks that should get some attention from the Horse of the Year voters. He has three graded stakes wins this year in the Travers (gr. 1), Jim Dandy (gr. 2) and Gotham Stakes (gr. 3). Hurting him, however, was his performance in the Kentucky Derby (12th) and the Breeders’ Cup Classic (11th).

Game On Dude deserves consideration from Horse of the Year voters based on his two grade 1 victories this year in the Santa Anita Handicap in March and the Goodwood Stakes, again at Santa Anita, in October. He was also second in the grade 1 Hollywood Gold Cup this summer but probably still needed to win the Breeders’ Cup Classic to solidify the Horse of the Year award. Zenyatta can run second in the Breeders’ Cup Classic and be named Horse of the Year. But can Game On Dude do it? I’m not so sure.

Having the best record in the most graded stakes this year was the filly Havre de Grace (photo left). She won five of seven starts in 2012, three of which were grade 1 including a win over older males in the Woodward. Her fourth-place finish in the Classic and the fact that four of her five wins came against fillies and mares will be her Achilles heel among Eclipse voters.

Unlike Favorite Trick in 1997 and Secretariat in 1972, the 2012 Horse of the Year is not likely to come from the 2-year-old ranks. Like Favorite Trick, Grey Goose Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Hansen finished the year undefeated, but that was only Hansen’s third start of the year and first in graded stakes company. Hansen’s other victories, while impressive with 12-1/4 and 12-1/4 winning margins, came in the $95,000 Kentucky Cup Juvenile and a maiden race, both at Turfway Park.

Juvenile Favorite Union Rags has wins in the grade 2 Saratoga Special and grade 1 Champagne Stakes but very much needed to win the Juvenile in order to be considered for Horse of the Year. Instead, a second place keeps him in contention for divisional honors, but probably not for Horse of the Year.

Maybe the Horse of the Year title will go to a horse that did not run in the Breeders’ Cup. Acclamation finished 2012 with five consecutive wins in graded stakes including three grade 1 wins – something only he has accomplished this year. His grade 1 victories came in the Charlie Whittingham Stakes at Hollywood Park and the Eddie Read and Pacific Classic at Del Mar. A tenth-place finish in the grade 3 Charles Town Classic and no appearance in the Breeders’ Cup will be the hurdles facing Acclamation with voters. They will just have to decide what is the biggest detriment to a Horse of the Year - losing in the Breeders’ Cup or not running at all.

It has been a difficult year for racing stars. Again the Kentucky Derby has failed to win another race after the Run for the Roses and a long shot takes the Breeders’ Cup Classic. Preakness winner Shackleford and Belmont winner Ruler On Ice also finished the year with no victories after their trips to the winners’ circle in their respective Triple Crown races.

I don’t have a vote in the Eclipse Awards, but for records’ sake, Havre de Grace deserves to become the third consecutive female to be named Horse of the Year in a close call over Acclamation. Helping Havre de Grace is her appearance at five different tracks this year in four different states. Acclamation raced at four tracks in two states. Havre de Grace raced primarily against females while Acclamation won most of his races on the grass. However, both have grade 1 wins against older male horses on dirt around two turns. Neither Acclamation nor Havre de Grace won the Breeders’ Cup Classic, but it has been four years since Curlin won the Classic and the Horse of the year.

It is not an easy year to vote for Horse of the Year, but it should again go to another female. She may not be as accomplished at her most recent predecessors, but seldom ever have been. What matters is that Havre de Grace had the best year of any thoroughbred this year.

And for that, Havre de Grace should be honored with golden Eclipse Award for a rich and accomplished year.

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