The Gift of Giving - By John McEvoy

A year ago I voted for your Curlin for Horse of the Year without—as other voters did—receiving a complimentary bottle of wine from you, sir, California vintner extraordinaire. Certainly, your wonderfully talented son of Smart Strike deserved the honor. Curlin did everything asked of him except for having his tootsies caught up in Santa Anita’s synthetic surface in the Classic (gr. I) on Breeders’ Cup day.

I understand other voters did receive such generous and thoughtful bottled encouragement to, evidently, look kindly on the chances of a top-class runner with a magnanimous owner. I’m told the wine was fine. Curlin won the title. I think, Mr. Jackson, that justice was done. My question: Where was mine?

Well, Mr. Jackson, this is a different year with a more contentious scenario. As an annual recipient of an Eclipse Award ballot, I am eligible to vote—and receive. I am not implying that my vote could in any way be influenced, guided, or purchased. I am just bringing this matter to your attention. (My home address will arrive under separate cover).

A couple of years ago I was sent a hat with the name of a possible sprint championship contender. I have scores of such ballcaps. T-shirts? Most of the voters have enough of those items. (In case anyone ignores this advice, I am a large. So are my son and my two sons-in-law. Just a thought). Engraved money clips are a possibility, especially ones that come equipped with currency.

The reason I am writing, Mr. Jackson, is to note that your amazing filly Rachel Alexandra is a very strong candidate for 2009 Horse of the Year. If she wins, you’d have three in a row. How impressive would that be?

“Rachel,” as you’ve aptly pointed out, had a 3-year-old campaign for the ages. She was amazing, no doubt about it. In any other year, Rachel Alexandra would be a shoo-in to become only the sixth female Horse of the Year.

But, Mr. Jackson, this is not “any other year.” Zenyatta—with her perfect record of 14 starts with no misses, victory over the best male horses in the world in the Breeders’ Cup Classic, coming from last to win with her ears pricked and hardly taking a deep breath—well, sir, that was a display of brilliance that is etched in every observer’s memory.

The voting for the Horse of the Year has been fiercely debated for weeks. There are powerful arguments on both sides. What a quandary for us voters!

Heartiest congratulations on Zenyatta’s memorable Breeders’ Cup Classic triumph. It was truly inspiring. And witnessing the Santa Anita crowd’s reaction to her was spine-tingling to say the least. I was fortunate enough to be at Churchill Downs for Personal Ensign’s dramatic victory over Winning Colors in the l988 Breeders’ Cup Distaff (gr. I). Never did I dream I would see another mare complete an unbeaten career in such exciting fashion. How wonderful to be so surprised years later by your black marvel!

I find it ironic, of course, that Zenyatta is going up against the generous Mr. Jackson’s Rachel Alexandra in the voting for 2009 Horse of the Year honors. In any other year Zenyatta’s achievements would single her out to every perceptive voter.

But we have to be cognizant of the fact that “Rachel’s” campaign thrust her to the forefront, too. Eight straight 2009 stakes wins without defeat. A classic victory in the Preakness (gr. I). A trouncing of colts in the Haskell (gr. I). A triumph over older males in the Woodward (gr. I). It was an amazing campaign by a talent for the ages. This future Hall of Famer would be a shoo-in any other year, as would her rival Zenyatta, another lock for the Hall of Fame.

Such a close contest! What a quandary for us voters!

I will certainly be weighing all factors leading to my decision in the days ahead before ballots are due. They will be busy weeks, as we plan for a milestone birthday of our oldest daughter. She has long been a huge fan of the famed rock trio The Police.

Any chance of you convincing your great friend Sting to make an appearance at this occasion? Just a thought. (Details about my daughter’s upcoming gala available upon request.)

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