Friday, November 18, 2011

Who's Horse of the Year?

Though there is still over a month of 2011 left, the discussion of which horse will be crowned Horse of the Year is gracing headlines of many racing publications. Though there are some divisional championships that need no discussion, there is plenty of confusion over many of the awards, including the most coveted of them all: Horse of the Year.
The past two years, Horse of the Year has been a raging debate that included a great mare by the name of Zenyatta. Fans of Rachel Alexandra, Blame, and Zenyatta argued over which horse should be named Horse of the Year, giving plenty of reasons as to why they were on the side they were on.
This year won’t be such a heated debate, however. Though lacking the battle between horses like the debate of 2009 Horse of the Year and 2010 Horse of the Year featured, 2011 Horse of the Year is still a tough decision. As we look back on the 2011 racing season, it is very unclear. By the conclusion of the Breeders’ Cup, no horse emerged as the top horse in the nation. Voters have a tough decision to make. Though there are plenty of horses deserving of this award, I have listed just five contenders for Horse of the Year in alphabetical order.

Photo: Terri Cage
Drosselmeyer: He’s no longer the forgotten Belmont Stakes (GI) winner. Drosselmeyer is now one of the first horses that comes to mind when one thinks of the top horses in the nation. Of course, this is due to his recent Breeders’ Cup Classic (GI) win under Mike Smith. Though Drosselmeyer recorded the most prestigious win of all the Horse of the Year contenders, he does not have enough on his résumé to take home the award. His only other win this year came in the $60,000 One Count Stakes at Belmont Park. Despite the fact that he defeated eventual grade two winner Birdrun (who would defeat Drosselmeyer next out), grade three victor Inherit the Gold, multiple stakes winner Alma d’Oro, eventual Breeders’ Cup Marathon (GII) winner Afleet Again, and stakes winner Edgewater, the race was not Horse of the Year material. One of Drosselmeyer’s most impressive performances this year was a closing second to Flat Out in the Jockey Club Gold Cup (GI) prior to the Breeders’ Cup Classic. Though I think Drosselmeyer is the best older horse in the country, I do not believe he has enough credentials to earn Horse of the Year, let alone Older Male.
Game on Dude
Photo by Mary Cage
Game on Dude: Excluding Drosselmeyer, who likely will not receive Horse of the Year, Game on Dude had the best Classic finish of the top Horse of the Year candidates. In the Classic, he finished a hard-trying second and was just passed in the final strides. He defeated the talented filly Havre de Grace, who is considered the top choice for Horse of the Year by many, by a length and a half. He won two grade ones this year, the Santa Anita Handicap and the Goodwood Stakes. He missed out on winning three grade ones by just a nose when stablemate First Dude nipped him at the wire in the Hollywood Gold Cup Hanidcap. Game on Dude finished out of the top three just once in eight starts this year, when he finished fourth over a track he did not care for in the TVG Pacific Classic Stakes (GI). Only three of his races were not grade ones: his impressive win in an allowance optional claiming at Santa Anita, his second place finish in the Charles Town Classic Stakes (GIII), and his third place finish in the Lone Star Park Handicap (GIII). Game on Dude was on the scene all year, competing at the highest level. In fact, his last four starts were all grade ones. Unfortunately, I do not believe Game on Dude will be voted Horse of the Year, but if I could vote, I would choose Game on Dude for his success and competitiveness at the highest level all year.
Havre de Grace
Photo by Mary Cage
Havre de Grace: Many of the people who are claiming Horse of the Year a mess are also claiming that they believe Havre de Grace will be Horse of the Year. Though she is not on the same level as the past two female winners of Horse of the Year (Rachel Alexandra and Zenyatta), the daughter of Saint Liam is very talented. Of all Horse of the Year candidates, she had the most grade one wins. However, her Breeders’ Cup performance wasn’t quite worthy of Horse of the Year. Like Game on Dude, three of Havre de Grace’s starts were not grade ones. Two of those three were wins. The one that was not was a loss to champion Blind Luck. Though Havre de Grace won three grade ones this year, including a win against males in the Woodward Stakes (GI), her race against the best in the Breeders’ Cup Classic was not what she needed to secure Horse of the Year. She was defeated by three lengths in the Classic, with Drosselmeyer, Game on Dude, and Ruler on Ice finishing ahead of her. Zenyatta may have won Horse of the Year despite losing the Breeders’ Cup Classic last year, but she was only beaten by half a head. I believe Havre de Grace will come away with the title of Horse of the Year and though I don’t think she is as deserving as Game on Dude, I do think she is plenty worthy of the award.
My Miss Aurelia
Photo: Terri Cage
My Miss Aurelia: I’ve followed this special filly since the post parade before her maiden race. She is one of many deserving Horse of the Year contenders. In fact, she could have the best credentials of all of them. She’s undefeated, a winner of three graded stakes, a dual grade one winner, and a dominant Breeders’ Cup champion. She had a flawless campaign and in four starts, she had a total winning margin of nine and three-quarters lengths (an average winning margin of nearly two and one-half lengths). I believe My Miss Aurelia is a very deserving Horse of the Year. However, it is unlikely that a two-year-old will be voted Horse of the Year.
Royal Delta: In what I saw as one of the most impressive Breeders’ Cup victories, Royal Delta won the Breeders’ Cup Ladies’ Classic (GI) by two and one-half lengths. Her other grade one win besides that championship win was a dominant win in the TVG Alabama Stakes (GI) at Saratoga. Royal Delta’s other graded stakes appearances include a win in the Black-Eyed Susan Stakes (GII), a third place finish in the TVG Coaching Club American Oaks (GI), and a second place finish to Havre de Grace in the Beldame Invitational Stakes (GI). The main thing that will prevent Royal Delta from winning Horse of the Year is her eight and one-quarter-length loss to Havre de Grace in the Beldame. Royal Delta will not be Horse of the Year, but she will be Champion Three-Year-Old Filly.
Royal Delta
Photo: Terri Cage
All of the mentioned horses are very talented. However, as mentioned, if I could vote, my vote would go to Game on Dude. It’s a tough decision for me between My Miss Aurelia and Game on Dude, but I believe as an older horse, Game on Dude has an edge over My Miss Aurelia. There are also the extremely talented and multiple grade one-winning turf horses Acclamation and Cape Blanco. Yet, I don’t think these horses will be crowned the champion of the year. Likely, Havre de Grace will become the third female in a row to be voted 2011 Horse of the Year.

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