Hopefully many of you were able to read the unique interview that John Shirreffs gave this morning at Keeneland. If not, here are the highlights.
Shirreffs, who prefers to play things close to the vest, was gracious enough to answer questions from a group of about eight reporters for 45 minutes. He was pressed about a variety of tough subjects (many of them by yours truly) including Zenyatta's 2010 campaign, Horse of the Year, the weather at Churchill Downs, and many other things.
What made this interview more unique than others is that it was in a controlled environment. It was in a small room in one of the first floor Keeneland offices with a small group of us sitting around a table. It made things much easier than if we were standing outside of his barn holding recorders in front of his face. I think the environment enabled us to get much more out of the usually reserved Shirreffs.
Without a doubt, the highlight of the interview for me was when he talked about Horse of the Year. I knew by watching the Eclipse Awards last year that Jerry Moss was very upset about the outcome. I had never heard Shirreffs talk about it as openly as he did today.
"We were very disappointed. I thought they had a unique opportunity because of the situation where they could have split it. I think it was absolutely fair that Rachel Alexandra won the Eclipse Award; I thought that was great. But I thought Zenyatta was equally as great."
That comment was revealing, but what came next was even more surprising. He said Zenyatta should win Horse of the Year, win or lose next month's Breeders' Cup Classic.
"I would think it would be almost too much. For what she does for the industry for the last three years, I would say that would be a real slap in the face. Not only on performance but what's she's done for racing."
A couple minutes later I reminded him that Quality Road, if he wins, would have a pretty good case for Horse of the Year, as would Lookin At Lucky and Blame. To which he responded with a stone-faced glare:
"I think I said exactly what I wanted to say."
I left it at that because I knew how Shirreffs felt, but let me say this now: If Quality Road, Lookin At Lucky, or Blame win the BC Classic, there is no way they should be denied Horse of the Year. Taking the emotion out of it, Zenyatta would not deserve the award over those three based on the merits of this year's campaign. The key words are this year's campaign.
I know there would be a group of people who sentimentally would feel as though Zenyatta would deserve Horse of the Year no matter what happens in the Classic, especially those that felt she should have won the last two years. But Horse of the Year is not about 19-for-19 or helping the industry. It's about the current campaign and who has done the most on the racetrack in that given year.
Quality Road, Lookin At Lucky, and Blame all have done enough to be considered champions should they win, as would Zenyatta if she wins. That's what makes this year's BC Classic so special--it is a true championship race.
We can cross this bridge after the Classic, but I hope voters have enough objectivity this year to do what's right. Just because Shirreffs has an opinion on his mare, doesn't mean it's necessarily right.