Horse of the Year
There was some grumbling on Twitter about 2006 Breeders’ Cup Classic winner and Horse of the Year Invasor, with his career record of 11 wins from 12 starts, being among this year’s inductees into the Racing Hall of Fame — “No offense to Invasor, who was very good in several races,” tweeted Marcus Hersh, “but if he’s a Hall of Famer, I kind of fail to see the point of the HOF” — but this Invasor fan heartily approves that the world-traveling, world-beating Argentine-bred will be enshrined in Saratoga. Nine of his wins were in Group 1/Grade 1 races, spread across three continents. That’s exceptional.
Back in 2007, Hall of Fame voter Bill Finley wrote, “When the time comes, I will have a hard time voting for horses like Invasor …” Earlier this year, writing of his ballot, his position seemed less conflicted: “Invasor’s career was a brief one but he was the dominant horse of the middle half of the last decade.” Finley was obviously not alone in his evolution — that Invasor was a first-ballot Hall of Fame pick suggests that as careers have grown shorter, more guardians of the game’s history have begun to rethink what makes a horse plaque worthy.
In short, the vibe when you watch a Black Caviar race is one of assurance. The absolute certainty that Black Caviar is indisputably better than those around her.
This is no small thing. In this age of online commentary and social media, everything is up for debate. Everything can and will be refuted by someone, somewhere, and with venom.
You can’t troll Black Caviar.
She’s so freaky good, she converts even the skeptical: “[Black Caviar] takes us away from our daily grind … like some 21st century Pegasus.”
And now she’s 25-for-25, the winner of a record 15 Group 1 races in Australia after the T. J. Smith Stakes. “Her odds of $1.14 made her unbackable.” Did anyone care? “You’re beautiful,” they shouted when she entered the paddock.
More Black Caviar at Randwick on Saturday here, in this fantastic album posted to Facebook by photographer Bronwen Healy.
4/17/13 Update: Black Caviar has been retired.
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On Friday, Horse of the Year Wise Dan (pictured here in the post parade) returned a winner in the Maker’s 46 Mile at Keeneland (the odds were in his favor). He looked eager on the backstretch, but waited for rider Jose Lezcano’s cue to go. “He wanted to go on, but I wanted to slow him down,” said Lezcano. “I waited as long as I could, but he’s a champion, you know.”
The win was a relief to trainer Charles LoPresti: “I did not want this horse to get beat today. I would have been really sad if he got beat today.”
1:00 PM Addendum: Beyer speed figure of 99 for Wise Dan, via Dan Illman.
When Wise Dan makes his first start of the year at Keeneland on April 12, don’t bet against him. Returning Horses of the Year are 16 for 21 since 1972:
Favored returning HOTYs are 16 for 20. With a return of $43.50 on $40 bet, that makes favored returning HOTYs just about the surest bet in racing.
(The chart above is an updated version of one that appeared in a lengthier post about betting returning champions in March 2010.)
1:15 PM Addendum: So, how might you play Wise Dan? Hello Race Fans has some tips on factoring favorites, and singling and spreading.
I’ll Have Another has likely clinched Horse of the Year, but there may be an alternative to him in Joe Hirsch Turf Classic winner Point Of Entry.
I admit, I’m a little confounded that anyone thinks I’ll Have Another is a leading Horse of the Year contender, much less that he’s a lock. You have to go back to 1999 to find a Kentucky Derby winner who didn’t race past Triple Crown season named Horse of the Year, and that was Charismatic, honored:
… after a season that was so lackluster some felt no one had done enough to deserve the award. In fact, 11 voters abstained in the Horse of the Year category. Another apparent protest vote was cast for a steeplechase horse named Saluter, the winner of the four-mile Virginia Gold Cup.
This season isn’t over, but it hardly figures to end that badly. Game on Dude, Ron the Greek, Wise Dan, and Point of Entry all have strong claims to the title if any of them win their Breeders’ Cup races.
10/6/12 Addendum: Another vote for IHA as HOTY leader heading into BC. Clearly, I’m out of step. Must be my bias toward whole-year campaigns.
Filling in the post-summer meet, pre-fall championship season lull …
One thing we should all be in agreement with is that it is going to take a victory in the Classic and possibly one other race or two spectacular performances by Questing or Point of Entry to take Horse of the Year honors away from I’ll Have Another.
That should be easy. At this point, I’ll Have Another seems barely in the Horse of the Year conversation — there would have to be chaos coast-to-coast over the next eight weeks for him to be a factor — and even 3-year-old champion honors hardly seem assured — both Alpha and Dullahan are well positioned to claim the title, if either manages to win the Jockey Club Gold Cup (A)* or Joe Hirsch Turf Classic (D), and then win in the Breeders’ Cup.
*Never mind, re: Alpha and the JCGC. He’s going to Pennsylvania.
At the Eclipse Awards, January 2010.
It was announced today that owner Jess Jackson, 81, has died of cancer.
Since last summer, it had been apparent that Jackson was not well. He missed seeing Rachel Alexandra win at Monmouth in the Lady’s Secret Stakes in July, he wasn’t at Saratoga to watch her work in August. His wife, Barbara Banke, began to take a more prominent role in the stable. And deep in a Jay Hovdey column, published in DRF in January, was a discreet mention of the disease he had previously beat into remission (via).
None of which dulled the shock on hearing of his passing.
Jackson liked to see his horses run, and he enjoyed seeing his horses tested. Bringing Curlin back as a 4-year-old in 2008 and campaigning Rachel Alexandra as he did in 2009 was sporting (even if it could be frustrating, waiting on him to say where and when one of his stars might start next). I’ll always remember the Woodward, the grandstand shaking from the force of the crowd rising and cheering for Rachel as she streaked down the stretch. Her 3-year-old HOTY campaign was bold and historic, a remarkable achievement.
“They broke the mold with this guy,” eulogizes partner George Bolton.
4/24/11 Addendum: Joe Drape is out with an appraisal of Jackson’s racing career, which concludes:
Jackson, too, set some standards, one in particular that any horseplayer or horse lover can appreciate. He let his horses run instead of retiring them to the breeding shed and life as a pampered A.T.M. He ran them in the biggest races on the brightest stages. He didn’t worry if they got beat.
That was refreshing in this era.
Arienza is off to a promising start after winning her debut following a strong gate work at Oaklawn. “Well, she looked like her mother this morning.”
“Historically, it was just so important that she got that credit next to her name, I think. It just stamps her as one of the elite horses,” Shirreffs said. “No matter what emotions there are, I mean I’m emotionally tied to her, but when the industry recognizes a horse as Horse of the year, that is the ultimate compliment.”
The shocking portion, however, was Daily Racing Form’s tally, a margin that looked very much like a third judge at a heavyweight title fight who was looking the other way while a battle was joined.
Not surprising, but how un-expert. (via @raypaulick) DRF block went for Blame 38-21. How can DRF say it’s the authority on horse racing?
The argument could be made that the DRF bloc made the least shocking, most expert pick, going for a male winner of multiple Grade 1s over main track dirt with a narrow edge in speed figures (five triple digits to Zenyatta’s four) — a horse who beat the other the one time they met in the race that everyone said would decide the title (before the race was even run). They voted the dogma, which, most years, nicely aligns with what happens on track. That it didn’t this year says much more about how ultimately unsatisfying both leading HOTY contenders’ 2010 campaigns were than it does about DRF voters’ judgment.
Based on the rancorous debates of the past couple years surrounding the HOTY title, Todd Lieber argues in the Thoroughbred Times that Eclipse voters should have set criteria to guide their votes:
It would be up to others with far more knowledge and greater standing in the industry than this correspondent to determine what those criteria should be, but since I’ve raised the issue I will at least hazard a suggestion. The honor should go to the horse with the most consistent record of achievement at the highest level of racing during the year. To be sure, this will not stifle debate, but it would at least focus the questions.
Well, that’s awfully vague. How about a points system for HOTY?
Ramon Dominguez’s 15-year career as a jockey has been more journeyman than money rider. Before moving his tack to New York in 2009, where he swept the leading rider title at every NYRA meet that year and scored his 4000th career win at Aqueduct last March, he dominated the mid-Atlantic circuit, only occasionally breaking through nationally, as he did when Better Talk Now won the 2004 Breeders’ Cup Turf or Scrappy T collided with Afleet Alex at the top of the Pimlico stretch in the 2005 Preakness Stakes.
In 2010, hard work and talent not only made Dominguez one of the most consistent and capable jockeys in the game, it also made him one of the most successful, with earnings of $16,911,880 and 369 wins, including 43 stakes, five of those G1s. Last night, out-polling Garrett Gomez 124-60, Dominguez won his first Eclipse Award. Of the honor, NYRA handicapper Andy Serling said it best: “Glad to see Ramon Dominguez win the Eclipse for Jockey of the Year. People like him make me proud to work in this industry.”
More Eclipse Awards: Steve Crist counts votes, Claire Novak recaps, Bill Dwyre celebrates with Horse of the Year Zenyatta’s connections (“I’m so happy for the fans”), Foolish Pleasure lists. And even more reactions via Raceday 360 …