Monday, August 10, 2009

Sleeper Horse of the Year Candidate?

We're about 60% of the way through the meaningful horse racing season, and there are exactly three candidates for Horse of the Year. Barring something less foreseeable than Mine That Bird's Derby win, there are no other potential HOTY candidates. Who's in the running?

1. Rachel Alexandra. The prohibitive favorite at this juncture, she's 7-for-7 this year, has won four straight G1's, and has a pair of wins over the boys in the Preakness and Haskell. She's legitimately 1-5 to win HOTY, and looks like she's the best filly since Personal Ensign.

2. Zenyatta. She's done nothing wrong with year with three wins this year, two G1's, and is still undefeated in her career. The problem is that she's done nothing exciting by staying on the West Coast and appears to be ducking Rachel Alexandra. She has no shot to win this award without shipping east to face RA, which seems unlikely. If she changes her mind, ships, and beats RA, then she's got a shot.

3. Gio Ponti. The horse that no casual fan has heard of, and the real sleeper member of this trio. He's the only horse besides RA this year to win 4 Grade 1's, with wins in 4 turf stakes from 1 mile to 1 3/8 miles. He won the Arlington Million in fantastic fashion on Saturday, and looks to be legitimately one of the best turf horses we've had in a while.

Still, a male turf horse has no real shot against RA for HOTY. Unless...he ventures a little outside of his comfort zone and goes for the Breeders Cup Classic. Ridiculous? Not at all--the race is being run on synthetics this year, and as we saw last year with Raven's Pass, turf horses often like synthetic surfaces. Heck, his breeding even indicates that he'd like non-dirt surfaces.

So let's say he caps off his year by winning another G1 turf race and then the Breeders Cup Classic. Is that enough to take down RA? Depends. If she falters in her last few starts, then maybe it's worthy of consideration. If she does something else ridiculous such as winning the Travers or the Woodward, however, she can retire, make the Hall of Fame and wrap up HOTY before Labor Day. Which frankly, would be amazing.

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