Who is in Running for Horse of the Year?

It's not typical to have five Breeders' Cup races that could decide Horse of the Year, but that looks to be the case this year. The five races are the Classic, Turf, Distaff, Sprint, and Dirt Mile.

Here is what is facing the horses who have a shot at landing racing's highest honor.

BRICKS AND MORTAR (Turf) - If he stretches out and wins the Breeders' Cup Turf in his first attempt at a mile and a half and concludes his year undefeated in six starts, five of them grade 1 stakes, it would take a lot to deprive him of Horse of the Year, like a Code of Honor victory, especially since he has reigned atop the NTRA weekly poll all year. That would give him victories at Santa Anita, Arlington Park, Belmont Park, Churchill Downs, Fair Grounds, and Gulfstream Park. But this year's BC Turf is not a particularly strong field, especially with no Magical, and that could hurt him if he doesn't at least win impressively. However, he still will be up against the English Derby winner, the grade 1 Dubai Sheema Classic and Northern Dancer winner, and runner-up in the Canadian International, plus your usual cast of U.S.-based grade 1 winners, none of which, like the Europeans, are major headliners.

CODE OF HONOR (Classic) - He looks to be the only horse to have a chance at Horse of the Year coming out of the Classic. McKinzie might get a look, but it's hard to imagine a horse who won three of seven starts this year being Horse of the Year, despite what would be a Breeders' Cup Classic-Whitney double. None of the other older horses in the Classic have even a remote shot. If Code of Honor should beat the older horses in the Classic, as well as several grade 1-winning 3-year-olds, including the Preakness winner, it would be a resume of wins in the Breeders' Cup Classic, Jockey Club Gold Cup, Travers Stakes, Dwyer Stakes, and Fountain of Youth Stakes, and a second in the Kentucky Derby and third in the Florida Derby. That is three grade 1 stakes at a mile and a quarter and two victories over older horses. The forgotten 3-year-old right now could be Maximum Security if he follows his Bold Ruler win with a victory in the Cigar Mile along with his wins in the Florida Derby and Haskell Invitational, and finishing first in the Kentucky Derby.

MIDNIGHT BISOU (Distaff) - You couldn't ignore her eight-for-eight record this year -- all stakes and traveling all around the country. A victory would give her stakes scores at Santa Anita, Belmont Park, Saratoga, Monmouth Park, Oaklawn Park, and Sam Houston - that's six tracks in five different states. And if Elate should run a big race in the Classic that would add to her credentials. What would be against her is the fact that she never faced males. Although past female Horses of the Year faced males, there is one exception, and that is Azeri, who did not run against the boys until two years after she was voted Horse of the Year, so there is precedent. The year Azeri was voted Horse of the Year she won eight of her nine starts, all against females. Then again, there was no competition for Horse of the Year that year, especially when megabomb Volponi destroyed his field in the Classic, including Kentucky Derby, Preakness, and Haskell winner War Emblem. This year could be a lot different.

MITOLE (Sprint) - It probably would take a series of defeats by other contenders to give him a shot at the title. But if he should beat this star-studded field of brilliant sprinters and add that to his victories in the grade 1 Met Mile, Forego, Churchill Downs Stakes, and grade 3 Count Fleet Sprint Handicap--ending the year with six victories in seven starts--it would at least put him in the conversation. But sprinters are up against it when it comes to Horse of the Year, although he did win the most prestigious mile race in the country. It would be interesting to see if they attempt to solidify his position by going for the Cigar Mile. That would put him in rarified air, being the nation's best six-furlong horse, seven-furlong horse, and miler. He probably would be considered that with a BC Sprint victory, but winning the Met Mile and Cigar Mile would really boost his reputation.

OMAHA BEACH (Dirt Mile)- If he were to pull this off it would be one of the great comebacks in racing history. Here is the Kentucky Derby favorite sidelined six months, missing two return engagements, and winding up winning the Breeders' Cup Dirt Mile and Santa Anita Sprint Championship to go along with his victories in the Arkansas Derby and Rebel Stakes. It probably still would take a win in the seven-furlong Malibu Stakes at the end of the year to put him in the picture. That race would also be used as a prep for the rich Pegasus World Cup that will come too late to do him any good in the voting. Even if he doesn't get Horse of the Year honors, this would have to go down as one of the most unusual and extraordinary campaigns we've ever seen and would stamp him as something special.

Other scenarios - What if SISTERCHARLIE defeats Fleeting from the Aidan O'Brien stable and Iridessa and Fanny Logan and other Euros, as well as several top-class Americans? She would only be four-for-four this year, which probably would not be enough to get her Horse of the Year. However, it would be her seventh consecutive grade 1 victory, which is pretty amazing, and she may pick up a vote or two, depending on what happens in the other races. On the other hand, a defeat could possibly cost her the Filly and Mare Turf title if GOT STORMY should beat the boys in the BC Mile. I'm not quite sure if UNI has done enough, but her last was sensational.

The most interesting scenario in terms of champion turf female is if FLEETING beats Sistercharlie in the Filly and Mare Turf. Although I would never vote for a European with only one start in this country, Fleeting has run an unlucky fourth in the Beverly D., which turned out to be one of her many horrible trips this year. After having to steady along the inside going into the first turn she dropped way too far back, some 20 lengths off the pace, and came running on strongly in the stretch. I have never seen a horse encounter more traffic problems in one year than this daughter of Zoffany. She could very easily have won the English Oaks, Irish Oaks, Prix de l'Opera, Ribblesdale Stakes, and certainly the British Champions Filly and Mare Stakes, in which she had the trip from hell. But she has a huge turn of foot and always puts in that big late run. She may be the best 2-for-12 horse I have ever seen.

Fleeting has a decent shot of beating Sistercharlie if she can finally get some good luck and not get trapped again in a traffic jam. I also believe that Sistercharlie's pacesetter Thais will benefit Fleeting as much as Sistercharlie. So, yes, Fleeting does have a shot at the Eclipse Award if all the pieces fall together for her. Sistercharlie will be tough as usual, but this filly could prove to be a value play.

Even if OMAHA BEACH doesn't get Horse of the Year, if all the heavy hitters in the Sprint get beat and Omaha Beach wins the Dirt Mile and Malibu, he could very well wind up the champion sprinter - an odd accomplishment for the Kentucky Derby favorite. He could also wind up champion 3-Year-Old Male if Code of Honor and Maximum Security both get beat in their respective races.

If Dennis' Moment, Eight Rings, and Maxfield all get beat, which is highly unlikely, do you give the championship to the winner, who would be a longshot with minimal previous credentials, or do you give it to stay-at-home TIZ THE LAW off his sensational Champagne victory and his undefeated record in two starts? Two-year-olds are being named champions now with fewer and fewer starts.

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