As a way-too-long campaign to decide the presidency of the United States is finally a thing of the past, Thoroughbred racing fans can now ponder an election of their own.
It’s one that promises, on one hand, a shorter and less divisive campaign, yet figures to end with the same predictable finish that sent President Obama back to the White House.
In January, it will come as absolutely no surprise if Wise Dan’s name is announced as Horse of the Year. His 2012 campaign was practically perfect. Five wins in six starts, highlighted by a victory over an international field in the Breeders’ Cup Mile (G1) in track-record time, comprise a rather sparkling resume.
The final America’s Best Racing national media poll illustrates the widespread support for Wise Dan as 45 of the 52 first-place votes and 507 points went to the 5-year-old gelding. Not even the President fared that well at the polls.
Behind him, Royal Delta was second with four first-place votes and 421 points, which seems somewhat curious. Not because of who she finished behind – Wise Dan clearly had a better season – but for a horse who was four places behind her in the Top 10.
As impressive as Royal Delta may have been in her last two starts – winning the Breeders’ Cup Ladies’ Classic (G1) and the Beldame Invitational Stakes (G1) before that by 9 ½ lengths – her record features four wins in seven 2012 starts.
Even if her trip to Dubai for the $10 million Dubai World Cup (UAE-G1) is discounted, she had losses in the Personal Ensign Stakes (G1) and Sabin Stakes (G3). That’s second best?
It just doesn’t make sense with I’ll Have Another in the mix.
In the rush to pull a Dennis Green and crown Wise Dan, it’s surprising that I’ll Have Another finished sixth in the ABR poll with two first-place votes and just 238 points.
Some voters in the ABR poll do not list or downgrade horses who no longer are in training, which might explain winding up sixth. Yours truly fits into that category.
Yet across cyberspace, chatter about I’ll Have Another being a Horse of the Year candidate has been little more than a whisper and it surely deserves more consideration than that.
My own ABR vote had Wise Dan No. 1 and I’ll Have Another No. 2 and the difference between them was so small that there will be some hemming and hawing between now and when my Eclipse Award ballot is submitted. Maybe I’ll reverse the two.
It’s plausible, largely because I put no stock in the notion that I’ll Have Another’s achievements are less regal than Wise Dan’s because he only faced 3-year-olds.
Now, if we’re arguing about the merits of winning the Dwyer or the Swaps Stakes, yeah, that makes sense. But we’re talking here about capturing the Kentucky Derby (G1), America’s most famous race. The one race everyone wants to run in and win. You can’t even say that about the Breeders’ Cup Classic (G1) as Wise Dan’s connections opted to run in the Breeders’ Cup Mile (G1) rather than the mile-and-a-quarter Classic.
It goes without saying that if I’ll Have Another had added a victory in the Belmont Stakes (G1) he would have become one of the most famous horses in the long-and-storied history of the sport. So winning two out of three legs of the Triple Crown and missing the final one due to a career-ending injury is a ho-hum achievement? Please.
Matching up the 2012 records of Wise Dan and I’ll Have Another actually paints a flattering picture for the Paul Reddam-owned, Doug O’Neill-trained runner.
Wise Dan’s biggest win was the Breeders’ Cup Mile; I’ll Have Another’s was the Kentucky Derby.
Had Wise Dan beaten Frankel in the Mile, then he would definitely get the nod in that matchup. But in beating Frankel’s overseas sparring partner, Excelebration, and getting a break that fast-closing 2011 Kentucky Derby winner Animal Kingdom ran into traffic problems, I’ll give a slight edge to I’ll Have Another’s clear-cut win in the “Run for the Roses.”
After that it’s the Woodbine Mile Stakes (Can-G1) for Wise Dan, the Preakness Stakes (G1) for I’ll Have Another.
That’s I’ll Have Another 2, Wise Dan 0.
I'LL HAVE ANOTHER WINNING PREAKNESS
Photo courtesy of Eclipse Sportswire
In the third spot, Wise Dan has the Shadwell Turf Mile Stakes (G1); I’ll Have Another has the Santa Anita Derby (G1).
Finally, it’s I’ll Have Another’s win in the Robert B. Lewis Stakes (G2) over Wise Dan’s triumphs in the Fourstardave Handicap (G2) and Ben Ali Stakes (G3) and a head loss on dirt in the Stephen Foster Handicap (G1).
And maybe a season-long campaign carries more weight than one that lasted just five months, and “The Wise One” was amazingly versatile with excellent efforts on turf, dirt and synthetic surfaces. Yet to ignore I’ll Have Another seems implausible uless there’s a backlash over O’Neill’s drug suspension earlier this year or the selling of I’ll Have Another to Japanese breeding interests. Maybe it’s just a short memory. Who knows. Yet, whatever the reason, the logic seems flawed as we move forward and engage in the industry’s most lively debate.
Wise Dan would certainly be a worthy Horse of the Year.
But I’ll Have Another should be a worthy rival.
See you at the polls.
And what are your thoughts? Who gets your Horse of the Year vote? How do you rate I’ll Have Another’s chances?