The Brock Talk

Monday, January 16, 2012

Fat Lady Still Humming A Few Bars In Horse of the Year Race

I, and many in racing for that matter, expect history tonight at the Eclipse Awards. When they get down to giving out the golden Eclipse trophy for Horse of the Year, Havre de Grace may become the third consecutive female to be so named. Not since Hanover won the first North American Horse of the year title in 1887, has the title gone to females in three consecutive years.

Only once have females been named Horse of the Year in two consecutive years. Twilight Tear in 1944 and Busher in 1945 pulled the Horse of the Year double so-to-speak nearly 70 years ago. Havre de Grace would also be the fourth female in ten years to be Horse of the Year with Azeri getting the title in 2002. So there is certainly no female bias among the Eclipse Award voters.

Rachel Alexandra was Horse of the Year in 2010 after what many consider to be the greatest campaign ever by an American 3-year-old filly. The record setting Zenyatta was Horse of the Year last year. Both were substantially more popular and accomplished than Havre de Grace, but the now 5-year-old daughter of St. Liam (Horse of the Year himself in 2005) is still the favorite this year.

Of course this could all be for not if Acclamation is named Horse of the Year tonight by the voters at Daily Racing Form, the National Turf Writers Association and the National Thoroughbred Racing Association. And that upset could very well happen. At the very least, the race may be closer than some assume.

Like Havre de Grace, Acclamation, who will likely be named champion grass horse and possibly champion handicap horse at the ceremony at the Beverly Wilshire Hotel in Beverly Hills, Ca., won five graded races during the year. Havre de Grace is the heavy favorite to also take home an Eclipse for Handicap Mare.

Both won a major grade 1 race around two turns, against older horses on the main track. Acclamation won the Pacific Classic at Del Mar and Havre de Grace won the Woodward at Saratoga.

Acclamation’s four other wins included the Jim Murray Handicap (gr. IIT) at Hollywood Park, the Charles Whittingham Handicap (gr. IT) at Hollywood Park, the Eddie Read (gr. IT) at Del Mar and the Clement L. Hirsch (gr. IIT) at Santa Anita.

In addition to the Woodward, Havre de Grace won the Azeri (gr. III) and Apple Blossom Handicap (gr. I) at Oaklawn Park, the Obeah Stakes (gr. III) at Delaware Park, the Beldame (gr. I) at Belmont Park.

Havre de Grace had two losses last year: losing in July by a nose in the grade 2 Delaware Handicap to finish second to her nemesis Blind Luck. She ended the year finishing sixth in the Breeders’ Cup Classic. Acclamation lost twice to start the year before rattling off his five wins in consecutive order. The then 5-year-old horse finished fifth in the Frank E. Kilroe Stakes (gr. I) at Santa Anita in March, then finished and last of ten in the sloppy Charles Town Classic (gr. III) in West Virginia in February before the Jim Murray.

The Charles Town trip was Acclamation’s only foray away from his base in Southern California running all of his other races at Santa Anita, Hollywood Park and Del Mar. Havre de Grace raced in four different states including Arkansas, Delaware, New York and Kentucky.

Havre de Grace ran up a 2011 bankroll of more than $1.3 million while Acclamation was also a millionaire last year with $1,126,000 in earnings.

So despite the popular notion that Havre de Grace will be named Horse of the Year tonight, it is not a certainty. Looking at the actual 2011 race records and statistics of the two horses, there are actually few things that separate them. Havre de Grace will probably get points from certain voters for her travel schedule and for continuing her rivalry with Blind Luck during the year. (The two met for the fifth and sixth time this year: each winning one while the other was second.) Acclamation may be more popular among west coast voters.

No matter where the votes come from or why, tonight's Eclispe Award announcement for Horse of the Year, may be just a little more dramatic than some assume. If not dramatic, at least the Fat Lady has not completely ended her performance.

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