Three different horses won the Kentucky Derby presented by Yum! Brands (gr. 1), Preakness Stakes (gr. 1) and Belmont Stakes (gr. 1) for the second consecutive year and Derby winner Animal Kingdom is now out for the year with a slab fracture. There are no stars in the older horse ranks and for the first time in North American history, there are rumblings of three consecutive female Horse of the Year titles. Zenyatta was Horse of the Year last year and Rachel Alexandra took home the golden statue in 2009.
Preakness winners in recent years at least have some bling in their trophy cases giving Shackleford fans some hope. Since Derby winner Charismatic won Horse of the Year in 1999, (he also won the Preakness that year) three Preakness winners have been honored with the golden Eclipse Award. Preakness winners Point Given (2001), Curlin (2007) and Rachel Alexandra were all so honored without Kentucky Derby victories. The last Derby winner to garner Horse of the Year without a Preakness win was Spend A Buck in 1985.
Belmont winner Ruler on Ice also might have something going for him depending on your definition of asset. Although the Test of Champions has not produced the number of Horse of the Year winners in recent years, the three most contemporary Belmont winners to be named HOY were Point Given 10 years ago, A.P. Indy in 1992 and Conquistador Cielo 10 years before that. So if the Belmont Stakes continues its recent trend of producing a Horse of the Year every ten years or so, Ruler on Ice may be right on schedule. Which brings us back to the definition of asset.
Adding further optimism to the Shackleford and Ruler on Ice camps, Rachel Alexandra and Curlin also won only one Triple Crown race. Both won the Preakness and then showed what it takes for a 3-year-old to get Horse of the Year post Triple Crown.
Rachel Alexandra won the Mother Goose against fillies, the Haskell Invitational against colts again, and the Woodward against older horses to finish her 2009 campaign. All three of her year-end races were grade 1, at three different tracks and Rachel had zero losses on the year to boot.
Curlin wasn’t so accomplished losing the Belmont to Rags to Riches after his Preakness win. He was then third behind Any Given Sunday and Hard Spun in the Haskell. But Curlin hit his stride in his last two races defeating older horses in the Jockey Club Gold Cup (gr. 1) and Breeders’ Cup Classic (gr. 1).
Not that any of the current 3-year-old males can’t make a late season run, but Curlin and Rachel Alexandra illustrate just how high that Horse of the Year bar has been set.
As in most years, the older horse division is most likely to produce the HOY but they too have struggled to produce a favorite. Donn Handicap winner Giant Oak has lost three straight since taking the division's first grade 1 race in January and Game On Dude, upset winner of the Santa Anita Handicap (gr. 1) in more ways than one, lost the grade 3 Lone Star Park Handicap to Awesome Gem in his next start. The other grade 1 race for older horses at a mile or more, the Stephen Foster at Churchill Downs, produced long shot winner Pool Play, who returned $75.20 to his supporters that day.
Perhaps the front runners for Horse of the Year as June turns to July come from the ranks of the older fillies and mares. Havre de Grace may have the slight advantage in that division as the winner of three graded races this year including the prestigious Apple Blossom Handicap (gr. 1) at Oaklawn Park. A recent winner of the grade 3 Obeah Stakes at Delaware Park, Havre de Grace is on target for the grade 1 Delaware Handicap July 16.
Although a slow starter this year with three consecutive seconds in graded stakes, Blind Luck (photo above) remains the longtime nemesis of Havre de Grace in a rivalry that goes back to the Delaware Oaks (gr. 2) last year won by former. Havre de Grace has the edge this year, however, defeating Blind Luck in the Azeri Stakes (gr. 3) in March at Oaklawn. Blind Luck then came back to win the grade 2 La Troinne at Churchill Downs before recently defeating an accomplished group of fillies and mares in the grade I Vanity Handicap at Hollywood Park.
Meanwhile, Awesome Maria has gone undefeated in four races this year including winning the grade 1 Ogden Phipps at Belmont Park. Trainer Todd Pletcher has indicated that the grade I Ruffian at Saratoga may be the next start for Awesome Maria who was among the top 2-year-old fillies on the East coast last year.
Should a female win the Horse of the Year again this year after Rachel Alexandra in 2009 and Zenyatta last year, it will be the first time in the history of North American thoroughbred racing that females will have been named Horse of the Year in three consecutive years. Since the Horse of the Year was established in 1887, Twilight Tear and Busher in 1944-’45 respectively, were the only other females to win Horse of the Year in consecutive years, so the odds seem a little stacked against the ladies. There may not be another Rachel Alexandra or Zenyatta in this group of older fillies and mares, but they do bring enough name recognition and industry credentials to be respected.
Perhaps todays male have some respect, but none of the colts, horses and geldings racing today have quite yet obtained the credentials of some of their female counterparts. This may not quite be Tea Leoni and David Duchonvy splitting up, but it is soon time for all to step up make some Horse of the Year waves.