Jessica Chapel / Railbird

Horse of the Year

Wise Dan’s Return

The Horse of the Year is set to make his first start of 2014 today, and:

“If he is going to be vulnerable, this is it because the others that are in there have been running,” [trainer Charlie] LoPresti said.

True, but he’s also a returning champion. The odds are good that he’ll win. In 2010, I found that returning champions beat the winning favorites average by a significant margin when they made their first starts of a new season.

The stats for returning champions are now updated through 2012: You can view the numbers and complete spreadsheet via Raceday 360. There are a couple of changes in this year’s version: I restricted the data to only starts made in North American races with wagering (horses who returned in non-wagering exhibition races and foreign races were excluded, as were steeplechase champions). I also broke out the numbers by division and decade this year, as well as by class, which revealed a few interesting tidbits.

One thing I left out of the R360 post, but wanted to make note of, is that all champions, not only the favored, won or finished in the money in 186 out of 228 races (or 82% of starts). Be sure to include them in your exotics.

The original data, including all champions named from 1971-2012, and not only those who returned to race, can be downloaded as an Excel file.

4/12/14 Update: And Wise Dan wins the Maker’s 46 Mile at Keeneland. Here’s the returning Horse of the Year chart, updated:

That brings the returning HOTY record to 18 wins from 23 starts (18 wins from 22 favored), for a total payout of $49.10 on $46 bet.

He Was the Best

And now he’s in the Hall of Fame.

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.

A Perfect 25

Why Black Caviar is the right horse for this moment:

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.

– – – – – 

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.

Returning HOTYs

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.

Clinched?

Bill Finley:

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.

Awards Speculation

Filling in the post-summer meet, pre-fall championship season lull …

Steve Haskin on the unsettled awards picture:

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.

Jess Jackson, RIP


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.

More remembrances from friends and industry leaders …

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.

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