JC / Railbird

Eclipse Voters

Expert Opinion

John Pricci on the DRF bloc voting Blame as Horse of the Year:

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.

Joe Drape on the same subject:

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?

Zenyatta Feminista?

I’ve tried to stay away from the 2010 Horse of the Year debate. I don’t have a vote, and if I did, I might have been tempted toward the same conclusion as Alan Shuback before narrowly landing on Zenyatta as my pick for the honor. That would seem to put me on the same side of the debate as most female fans and voters. Steve Davidowitz, opening up his HOTY vote to fans for the second year in a row, reports quite a skew in the responses he’s received:

Get this: The actual tally of 147 fans that sent me E-mails and posted comments on this website was an astonishing 132 for Zenyatta and only 15 for Blame!

That imbalance of opinion similarly was skewed by the presence of so many female voters in my poll, as only 24 men voted, while 123 women participated.

The male vote was split down the middle, 12 for Blame and 12 for Zenyatta.

Looking at this another way, only three of the 123 women in my poll voted for Blame!

Turf writers’ ballots revealed so far are running along similar lines: Four of five women* have voted for Zenyatta; nine of 19 men for Blame, nine for Zenyatta.

12:00 PM Addendum: *Four of six, with Alicia Wincze casting a vote for Blame.

1/6/11 Addendum: Wow, Jennie Rees — who said she was going to vote Blame HOTY in a blog post a couple weeks ago — didn’t vote for either leading contender. “Very late in the game, I decided just to not vote in the Horse of the Year category — I made the decision not to make a decision.”

On Voters, Politicking, and What Ifs

An interesting comment thread developed on the post “Odd Voter Out,” about broadening the pool of eligible Eclipse Award voters and the propriety and prevalence of voters politicking via their ballots. Regarding the pool, Jennie Rees suggests on her blog opening up voting to broadcasters, an idea current NTWA officer Ed DeRosa supports here, as he does the possibility of including players who wager significant money through US-based outlets. Either or both would freshen up the awards, which, with fewer than 300 voters and many of those attached to legacy media, are in danger of seeming increasingly irrelevant to fans such as the Turk.

As for politicking, it’s part of the process. Commenter tvnewsbadge makes the reasonable assumption that for voters with strong feelings about synthetic surfaces, “personal considerations did influence at least SOME” in this year’s Eclipse voting, an assumption shared by Nick Kling, who wrote of the Horse of the Year tally, “There is no doubt part of the 130-99 vote favoring Rachel Alexandra was tied to the surface issue.” Close readers of the vote totals released last Monday could clearly see an anti-synthetic contingent within several divisions, and it wasn’t outlandish for knowledgeable observers to speculate that the vote for Icon Project as champion older female was no mistake. Jay Hovdey’s take on that little post-Eclipse flap gets it right:

Who cares if someone might have voted for Icon Project anyway? To my mind, given the climate of controvery surrounding synthetic surfaces, there very easily could have been a voter out there who refused to consider any horse without traditional dirt form for one of the traditional main track awards, and Icon Project, a runaway winner of good races at Belmont and Saratoga, was a viable alternative once past Zenyatta and Life Is Sweet.

Exactly, who cares? If voters can’t put forth a surprising selection, politick, or register a protest as a handicapper against a disliked surface or some other issue — all on principle, I would hope, and not as a frivolity — with their ballots, then the awards might as well be based on a points system. Rather than discourage such votes, it would be better to embrace transparency across the voting blocs, as the NTWA does by publishing its members’ ballots. There would be little mystery to rogue votes then and any ensuing debate would probably be pretty lively, and almost certainly, more compelling than the name-calling that accompanies a mix of anonymity and unknown reasoning.

Whether the vote for Icon Project as champion older female was legitimate or a mistake caused by tech troubles, it should have remained as it was submitted. To change the ballot sets a lousy precedent and raises not insignificant questions, as DeRosa brings up in a post on his Big Event Blog:

Will you only be allowed to change your vote if you can corroborate your intention with a vote in another category?

Would we be going through this for any other category or for any other horse or for any other situation other than to make a champion unanimous? What if the vote had been 200-32 instead of 231-1? What if Dosik had voted anyone but Zenyatta as Horse of the Year?

There’s also an unfortunate undertone to the correction, hard to ignore, a sense of the voter being brought into line, his errant vote made to conform with the majority. The retabulation making Zenyatta unanimously a champion, as Rachel Alexandra was in her division, seems not merely an effort to set the historical record straight, but a sly means of granting the equality that was impossible in Horse of the Year voting to the two distaffers and an attempt to assuage those who may have felt embarrassed by the mistaken vote. What if Duke Dosik had entered the name of Rachel Alexandra or another for 2009 Horse of the Year? Would his vote for Icon Project still be an error?

Related: Auditors and steering committee members, note — there may be more Eclipse voting mistakes out there. Bill Christine’s commentary certainly suggests so: “Just because turf writers can read a Racing Form doesn’t mean they’re deft with computers. I struggle with my electronic vote every year, hoping I don’t hit the wrong button at the wrong time, and I know a number of colleagues who are just as klutzy. One of them called me on a Sunday this year, the day before the balloting deadline, to have me walk him through the process. It was the blind leading the blind, from flag fall to finish.”