I was going to write a recap of the Breeders' Cup but as expected the Horse of the Year debate has already become the focus of everyone's attention, and so I am forced to address the issue sooner than I wanted. Let me get this out of the way right now before it goes any further:
Blame should be Horse of the Year. Like last year, if you take the emotion out of it there is really no other way to go. It's really not even that close.
The people campaigning for Zenyatta are doing so out of emotion. I keep hearing that she should win because she did so much for the sport and she won 19 in a row. Both of these are true. Here's the problem with that logic:
Horse of the Year is not a popularity contest and it's not a lifetime achievement award. The honor is supposed to go to the best horse of 2010. And going by that criteria, Blame is the clear winner. Why? Here are the facts:
- 1. Blame defeated Zenyatta head-to-head
It doesn't matter whether it was by a head or length or five lengths. He won the Breeders' Cup Classic in their only meeting. The margin of defeat is irrelevant. When Zenyatta beat St Trinians by a half-length, Rinterval by a neck, and Switch by a half-length, nobody held that against her. So her margin of defeat cannot be used to make a case for her. Did she run a good race? Absolutely. But this is sports and sports can be cruel at times.
Because none of the horses in contention for Horse of Year separated themselves during their pre-Breeders' Cup campaign, the Classic was a true championship race. I can almost hear the Zenyatta backers now saying that Rachel Alexandra won in 2009 without racing in the Breeders' Cup. This is true, but Rachel had the honor locked up before then. Some years that happens. Last year was one of them. What she did had never been done by a 3-year-old filly and she was very deserving of the award. Each year is different. For example, if a 3-year-old wins the Triple Crown next year, he will be Horse of the Year no matter what happens in the BC Classic. You can't make the excuse that Zenyatta should win this year because of what happened last year. That is sour grapes.
- 2. Zenyatta did not do enough this year
The Zenyatta connections put all of their eggs in one basket in 2010. They did that by running a conservative campaign that included five filly and mare restricted races, only one of them outside of Southern California. As I wrote during the season, everyone was expecting them to A) race her on the East Coast like they said they were going to do or B) race her against males in California. They did neither of them. Therefore, she was forced to win the Classic to earn Horse of the Year.
If Horse of the Year was the goal, there really was no excuse for them not to run Zenyatta in the Hollywood Gold Cup, Pacific Classic, or Goodwood. Nobody said she had to run in all of them, but if she wasn't gong to go East, she had to face males at least once. As it is, she never defeated a grade I winner this year during any of her five victories. And she never defeated males. How is that deserving of Horse of the Year?
John Shirreffs was quoted as saying, "I thought a grade I was a grade I." We all know that isn't true. Not when the grade Is were all in restricted filly and mare races. Freddie Head said as much a couple weeks ago.
He won the William Donald Schaffer, and then three of the most prestigious grade I races this country has to offer--the Stephen Foster, the Whitney, and the BC Classic. He also won in Maryland, New York, and Kentucky twice. He also showed up at Belmont in another top tier grade I race--the Jockey Club Gold Cup. The connections were judicious with their spots, but they didn't duck anything. They entered tough races--all races that Zenyatta could have showed up at. She didn't, and when they met for all the marbles, Blame won. Fair and square.
Again, the award is Horse of the Year, not the How Many Fans Did You Bring to the Sport Award or How Many Races Did You Win in a Row During Your Lifetime Award. The 19 straight wins, while a terrific feat, should be irrelevant during this debate. She wasn't 19-for-19 in 2010. She was 5-for-6. And when everything was on the line, Blame defeated her.
Anything less than Horse of the Year for Blame would be a "slap in the face" for the Hancocks and Al Stall Jr. Zenyatta has been great for the sport, but I'm pretty sure the Hancocks have also done a few things during their 100 years in the industry to better horse racing.
If you strip all the emotion out of it, Horse of the Year is pretty clear. Blame.