Friday, December 30, 2011

2011 Eclipse Awards Part II: Who's Horse of the Year?

Resolved: to be Horse of the Year, you have to be your divisional champion.

Pretty straightforward proposition, right?  It's not at a rule that you'll find in the Eclipse Awards manual, but it stands to reason.  You can't be the champion for all of horse racing if you're not the champion of your own division.  It would be akin to a player winning the NBA MVP while not being voted to the All-NBA team.  Since the NBA/ABA merger, this has never happened.

We mention this because there is a groundswell of support in the racing community to name Rapid Redux Horse of the Year.  For those who haven't been following racing that closely, Rapid Redux has won every race he's started in 2011, and in the process tied the immortal Citation's record for most wins in a year (19) and has shattered the record for most consecutive wins with 21 wins.  He's had a neat campaign.

Here's the problem: Rapid Redux is nowhere near a very good horse.  He's run in nothing but starter allowance races--races that horses that have previously run in claiming races can run in--at smaller tracks in Maryland, Pennsylvania and West Virginia.  He's never cracked 95 on the Gowanus Speed Figure scale.  He's earned under $250,000 for the year because he's been running in races that have tiny purses.  And he's beaten zero horses of consequence.

There is no chatter of Rapid Redux competing with the likes of Tizway, Acclamation and Game on Dude for the Older Male Eclipse Award, nor should there be.  Those horses won Grade 1 races, and if healthy, would likely thrash Rapid Redux in a given race.  Despite that reality, Rapid Redux is getting some traction for HOTY because the other candidates are not particularly inspiring.  Hisconsistency is commendable, but giving him HOTY would be akin to crowning a golfer who won 10 times on the Nationwide Tour the player of the year.  It's just wrong. 

So circling back to our original proposition, there are 10 true candidates for HOTY--the 10 divisional champs discussed in yesterday's post.  Let's knock them off one by one until we get to our pick for HOTY.

10.  Sassy's Image.
9.  Caleb's Posse. 
8.  Tizway.  Picking the champions from these divisions came down to a process that was incrementally better than Rock, Paper, Scissors.  There's no real argument that any of them were the "best" this year.

7.  Hansen.  While undefeated and the clear divisional winner, he won a whopping 1 graded stakes race, 3 races overall, and won the Juvenile in no small part because Union Rags failed to run in a straight line.  He's good, but not in the Favorite Trick echelon.

6.  Amazombie.  He had a neat year and an admirable record--5 wins in 9 starts and never out of the money--but for a sprinter to take the title, he needs to be dominating.  He wasn't.

5.  Stacelita.  Had she won the Filly and Mare Turf, we would have given her some real consideration.  Since she won fewer than half her starts this year--yes, we're counting that loss in France--she's not a real contender.

4.  Cape Blanco.  He'll get some votes for the title, but we just don't love his candidacy.  Yeah, he won 3 Grade 1's in the US, but two of them were over horrible fields, and he lost all his starts in Europe before coming stateside.  Plus, we're unconvinced that he was actually better than St. Nicholas Abbey.  Can you be Horse of the Year when you may not be Horse of Your Barn?

3.  Royal Delta.  Her two losses in the summer and fall just kill her candidacy.  Her Alabama and Distaff wins were fabulous, but she completely no-showed in the CCA Oaks and finished 8 1/2 lengths behind Havre de Grace in the Beldame.  It's tough to say she was the best member of the fairer sex that ran this year.

2.  My Miss Aurelia.  No horse as thoroughly dominated her division as she did.  She won all 4 of her starts, including 3 graded stakes and two Grade 1's.  She won both G1's with ease, and beat every horse of consequence in her division by a comfortable margin.  (We're not counting Stephanie's Kitten, who never tried the dirt.)  The only two flaws in her resume are that the race record is a little light--4 starts is hardly a defining campaign--and the fact that she wasn't particularly fast.  Maybe she just caught a down year for fillies and had she run against the likes of Sweet Catomine, Halfbridled or Storm Flag Flying, she would have been an also ran.  It's enough hesitation to keep us from putting her in the top slot.

1.  Havre de Grace.  For all the strum und drang over this award, we actually don't expect the vote total to be close, and think she'll take it with relative ease.  Before the Breeders Cup, she was the leader in the clubhouse, having only lost once by a nose to her rival Blind Luck, and won her other 5 starts with ease.  In those 5 starts, she thumped Flat Out, who won the Jockey Club Gold Cup, and annihilated Royal Delta, who won the BC Distaff.  She took on the best, and with the exception of the BC Classic, beat the best.

Had she retired on November 1 with an injury, she would have won the award easily.  Since nobody stepped up on Breeders Cup day with a defining performance and she didn't completely embarrass herself in the Classic, she maintained her top spot, and is our Horse of the Year, making it 3 straight years a lady has taken the honors.  Congrats to Havre de Grace, and we look forward to another fun campaign from you in 2012.

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