Countdown to the Cup: Horse of the Year Follies

So, how crazy is this year’s Horse of the Year picture? It’s obvious no one is stepping up to claim the title that is totally up for grabs and no doubt won’t be decided until the free for all that will be the Breeders’ Cup Classic.

Not only is the confusion regarding Horse of the Year reflected in the voting on the National Thoroughbred Racing Association (NTRA) poll, the entire concept of the poll is as well.

Is the poll meant to determine the best horses in training at that particular time or the best horses to have competed during the year? If you were to vote right now for the poll and for Horse of the Year would you completely discount the now-retired I’ll Have Another or is he still the horse to beat based on his unmatched heroics earlier in the year? One thing is for sure, the voters are pretty much divided in their interpretation of the poll.

Through last weekend’s races, Game On Dude has 13 first-place votes, while I’ll Have Another has 12. Yet Game On Dude is ranked No. 1, despite coming off a defeat in the Pacific Classic, and I’ll Have Another is ranked No. 6, up from No. 7.

The reason for this oddity is simple. Of the 42 voters, 20 of them do not even have I’ll Have Another in their Top 10, which strongly suggests their concept of what this poll represents is totally different than the 12 people who feel it is based on who has accomplished the most over the course of the year.

And then there are the six voters who have I’ll Have Another ranked sixth, seventh, or eighth. That is not about rules interpretation. These voters no doubt consider his accomplishments in their rankings, but feel winning the grade I Kentucky Derby, grade I  Preakness, grade I Santa Anita Derby, and grade II Robert B. Lewis Stakes is not worthy of a higher ranking, even though there are horses ranked above him who have not won a single grade I race. I’ll Have Another also is tied for the most wins (four) on the Top 10 list and is the only undefeated horse of those with more than two starts.

Perhaps the voters go strictly by handicapping and feel I’ll Have Another’s competition, times, and other handicapping criteria do not measure up to the horses who have accomplished less in terms of grade I wins. But when it comes to competition, the horses I’ll Have Another defeated have gone on to win the Belmont Stakes, Travers, Haskell Invitational, and Pacific Classic, as well as the Swaps Stakes, Jim Dandy, Ohio Derby and Iowa Derby, and there is a good chance the Super Derby will be added to that list.

I don’t take issue with anyone’s rankings, as once again it is a matter of interpretation. I just don’t know what to make of the poll itself, considering there are no guidelines and the fact that it is perceived so differently by the voters.

But that is the nature of polls in general, and it is more important now to look beyond that and focus on the Horse of the Year picture.

In one person’s opinion, I’ll Have Another is the clear-cut Horse of the Year until someone jumps up and takes it away from him. Game On Dude had his chance to at least be considered in the Pacific Classic, as did Mucho Macho Man in the Woodward. Both ran great races, but failed to win. If either should win the Classic it will be up to the voters to decide whether their body of work this year is impressive enough to overtake I’ll Have Another.

Fort Larned has put together back-to-back scores in the Cornhusker and Whitney, both in 1:47 and change, and could be pointed for the Jockey Club Gold Cup. He’s never been 1 1/4 miles, but won the grade III Skip Away Stakes at 1 3/16 miles in a fast 1:53 4/5. Ron the Greek has won two of the biggest stakes – the Santa Anita Handicap and Stephen Foster – and was second in the Whitney and Oaklawn Handicap, which puts him right in the thick of the Horse of the Year race. If either of these two should win the Gold Cup they would be in a good position to nail down the title in the Classic, especially Ron the Greek, who is already a grade I winner at Santa Anita.

Two other talented horses likely pointing for the Classic are Woodward winner To Honor and Serve and the consistent Flat Out, who is looking to return to his form of last year, when he won the Jockey Club Gold Cup and Suburban and was second in the Whitney and Woodward. His second in the Monmouth Cup and third in the Whitney in his last two starts coming off a five-month layoff suggests he is rounding back into form. With To Honor and Serve possibly running next in the one-mile Kelso and Flat Out looking a repeat in the Gold Cup, they are going to have to do something extraordinary to overcome their lack of production the first half of the year.

Another horse who could be dangerous in the Classic is the rejuvenated Richard’s Kid, but his resume this year does not appear to be strong enough to put him in the Horse of the Year picture.

On the 3-year-old front, most everyone is gone and only Alpha has the credentials to even be mentioned in the same category as the aforementioned older horses. With victories in the Gotham, Jim Dandy, and a dead-heat win in the Travers, he likely would need a victory in the Pennsylvania Derby and the Classic to be considered Horse of the Year material. The big question with Dullahan is which Breeders' Cup race he will be pointed for. Voters will be reluctant to give Horse of the Year to a horse who won only on a synthetic track, but if he can do something huge on Breeders' Cup day, his Pacific Classic victory over Game On Dude will go a long way in getting him votes.

Then of course, we have the budding superstars Questing (3-year-old filly) and Point of Entry (turf male), who could catapult themselves right into the Horse of the Year picture with an impressive score in September and a follow-up victory in their respective Breeders’ Cup race. As of now, we’re not sure which path Wise Dan will be taking. He is so versatile he would be tough going for the Breeders’ Cup Classic, Mile, or Dirt Mile, but by passing up the Woodward, it would appear as if he’ll head to the Woodbine Mile and remain on the grass. We’ll see where he winds up on Breeders’ Cup day, but it is important to note he has never run on a dirt track other than Churchill Downs, which is very friendly to grass horses.

So, take your pick. Who knows who will be peaking on Breeders’ Cup day? We could have another Drosselmeyer and no one would be shocked. One thing we should all be in agreement with is that it is going to take a victory in the Classic and possibly one other race or two spectacular performances by Questing or Point of Entry to take Horse of the Year honors away from I’ll Have Another. What this horse accomplished and who he defeated in the Santa Anita Derby, Kentucky Derby, and Preakness should not be overlooked because his career was cut short by injury or because of his trainer’s suspension and bad press. We just don’t have enough facts to let that overshadow the horse’s record. Yes, I’ll Have Another’s retirement has opened the door, but someone is going to have to bust down that door and not just sneak in by default.


Leave a Comment:

Karen in Indiana


Animal Kingdom is back in training. He's had 2 good works.

06 Sep 2012 5:04 PM

Sovereign Awards and Eclipse Awards need to be based on a points system. And winning an Eclipse needs to have the same starts rule as the Canadian Sovereign Awards: that is a horse must make a minimum of 3 starts in the country to be eligible.

Points could be as simple as:

15 Points Grade I Win

12 Points Grade II Win

8 Points Grade III Win

5 Points Open Stakes Win

3 Points Restricted Stakes Win (i.e. State Breds only)

1 Point for all other wins (allowance or claiming)

This would be a fair way to determine HOY and the division winners. It could also be used to name Trainer, Owner, Jockey (and groom) winners. (Trainers could nominate their grooms based on the various horses they rub throughout the year and they earn points based on this system.)

Ties would be broken by the number of Grade 1, 2, & 3 wins.

06 Sep 2012 5:44 PM

Frankel is Horse of the Year....and everybody on this side of the pond should acknowledge this....I wish he would come over to New York or Toronto to flash his stuff.....He's probably the best horse since Cigar! Alpha would have to set a track record and win the Breeder's Cup..he could come close.

06 Sep 2012 6:07 PM

Steve:  What are your thoughts on 3 year old HOY?  It comes down to Alpha and IHA don't you think?

06 Sep 2012 6:13 PM
Steve Haskin

Karen, I'm aware that Animal Kingdom is back in training, but do you think he has any chance of being Horse of the Year? He'll be fortunate to get two starts in this year. I just mentioned horses who have some kind of chance of getting Horse of the Year.

Tjconway, unless you live in England what do you base that on? This is about Horse of the Year in North America.

Dan C, I'll Have Another is as close to a lock for 3yo Eclipse as you can get. If Alpha wins the JC Gold Cup and the Classic then we can throw him into the mix.

06 Sep 2012 6:54 PM

Where are Zenyatta, Rachel Alexandra,or Havre de Grace when you need them? I agree that IHA at this point should be the leader but like everything else that's happened this year we'll just have to wait and see what goes down till BC Day.And I suspect the decisions won't go down easy. What a crazy year. I like Point of Entry alot,but don't really believe he is HOY just yet but as we know anything can   happen and has this year. I'm afraid to back any horse with the here today and gone tomorrow climate this year's been. I think we missed alot of good racing and rivalries. Thanks Steve,at least we can count on you.

06 Sep 2012 8:24 PM
Sandy in Lexington

Steve, I have to go "at this moment" with I'll Have Another for Horse of the Year.  I've never believed that this honor should be based on who wins the Classic.  It broke my heart that he was injured and retired - I loved watching him race.  The trainer suspension and bad press has been unfortunate and I hope it hasn't tainted the view of the public regarding IHA's racing career.  Your questions always keep have me researching and thinking!  Thanks for keeping my skills sharp!

06 Sep 2012 8:37 PM

Steve great analysis of the HOY picture.  I have to agree.  I think the way you are seeing it is right at this juncture.  It's IHA on top unless Game On Dude or MMM can win the BC Classic and come into consideration.  Alpha's got his work cut out for him, a JCGC win then BC Classic win is no easy task indeed.  And it seems like the 3 yr. Female HOY trend will be broken this year unless Questing does something amazing.  If HOY was not only based on on-track performance and fortitude I'd throw Paynter right in the mix as well, not many of them are as much of a fighter as he is. What is harder, battling foes in the Derby or battling illness after illness I don't know. But it looks to me like it should be IHA at this point unless one of them stands up to his accomplishments and breaks that door down.

Continuing to pray for Paynter, reports are a little better today.

On Justin Zayat's Twitter page there is a photo of Paynter in the hospital in upstate NY in his casts and IV in his neck.  Not a pretty sight and quite heartbreaking.  If Paynter pulls through all this he deserves some kind of special award.

06 Sep 2012 8:46 PM
Dr Drunkinbum

Paynter is the Horse of the Year with my criteria. I love you Paynter. The courage you have shown on but especially off of the track is extraordinary. Your talent on the track is only surpassed by your relentless pursuit of life off of the track despite all odds. Your battle is as tough as it gets yet not an impossible task as some have suggested. You are loved by thousands, more than you could possibly know or understand. I can only hope that the positive energy of those of us thinking about you  and hoping and praying for you often daily helps to give you even more strength. You're not giving up and we're not giving up. You are Horse of the Year this year and our hero forever. We love you, be strong and continue fighting.

06 Sep 2012 9:27 PM

Steve, in my opinion IHA hands down should be HOY. No other horse has compiled a body of work this year and done it so heroically as IHA!  Tnat being said, the award is usually about what have you done for me lately. :(

06 Sep 2012 9:35 PM
Paula Higgins

I totally  agree with you about I'll Have Another. He is the #1 candidate for HOTY even though he is retired. I will say this also, if Paynter makes it, they need to give this guy some kind of honorable mention along with the Zayats and his vet., Dr. Laura. Their efforts to save him have been nothing short of heroic. I think the vets who treat these very sick horses are amazing. They don't give up until there is absolutely no hope, or they are suffering significantly, if they have an owner who is equally as committed. I really admire them. Frankel is a great horse but this is about North American horses. Zenyatta and Blame were never up for Britain's or Europe's  equivalent title. Warlaine, I miss the girls too. What a gift they were to all of us.

06 Sep 2012 10:15 PM

The only horse with a chance to rip HOY honors from I'll Have Another is Dullahan with a win in the Breeders Cup Classic.  Jerry Crawford wants horse of the year for his pony, and he won't be denied if Dullahan can beat older horses for a second time in a Grade 1 race, especially if he does it on a speed favoring west coast DIRT track like Santa Anita.

06 Sep 2012 10:49 PM

If HOY was awarded today, I'd hand it to Questing.   She's won 2 G1, and ran the 10f at the spa quicker than the colts in the Travers, and won so easily.

Where are the stars?  Once again in the filly division.

06 Sep 2012 11:12 PM
Dr Drunkinbum

If I was given a vote for HOY it would be hands down no doubt for Paynter even if they took the vote away from me permanently after that but let's say that hypothetically they wouldn't let me vote for Paynter then I would probably be voting for I'll Have Another or possibly Dullahan if he does what I think he can which would be to win a race like the Jockey Club Gold Cup and then the Breeder's Classic. Just winning The Classic would not be enough to overcome IHA who was extraordinary and would have won the Triple Crown if he would have run in The Belmont. With Dullahan, I'm not falling for this "poly specialist" stuff until there is more proof. He just needs to keep Rosario aboard. Even without the Triple Crown what IHA did is hard to beat although what Katherine said is true, it's often about "what have you done for me lately." For some voters it's like what was done in the first half of the year was done in a different year.

07 Sep 2012 12:25 AM
Arts and Letters

For a year that started with so much optimism - with so many of last year's 3 year olds coming back at 4, and then an almost triple crown, it's become a very depressing year.  Once again, we're probably going to end up with a horse of the year with just a few wins.  I miss the past!  Alysheba!  Easy Goer and Sunday Silence!

Sigh.  If I have to pick someone, I'll go with I'll Have Another, at least for now.

07 Sep 2012 12:48 AM
The Deacon

Based on what I have seen this year, I'll Have Another is HOTY. Winning the Santa Anita Derby, the Kentucky Derby and Preakness hasn't been accomplished since ( if my memory serves me) Majestic Prince in 1969. I don't see any Arts and Letters out there. Like Steve said, don't blame the horse because he got injured. He was 4 for 4 this year, beat the best 3 year olds running in 3 grade 1 races, thats good enough for me.

Lots of ifs here. Game On Dude is a nice horse, so is Dullahan but I don't see them winning it.  All the 3 year olds are pretty much gone now. Where will we now get our handicap horses for 2013?

So much promise in March has ended with a lot of emptiness in September. This sport, unlike any other is so fleeting and will break your heart.

Thanks for the blog Steve, wonderfully written as always.

Go Paynter, get well buddy. We are all pulling for you.

07 Sep 2012 3:40 AM

No way will IHA win the HOY. He's only ran against mostly 3 yo horses. Whats to say he would have won the Belmont. It hasn't happened with a few other Derby and Preakness winners. HOY is still up for grabs.

07 Sep 2012 7:45 AM

I'm totally on board with I'll Have Another.  Saw him in "horse-on" at the Ky Derby where I went in love with Union Rags and came away a true believer in IHA.  What a lovely horse.  We took a picture of him after his win walking down the track that shows him at his best:  confident but not smug.  Of course I agree with others about Paynter being a champion in his own right and I have him in my prayers.

07 Sep 2012 9:11 AM

I agree this year is up for grabs. BUT how about ol Shackleford. He has  run long and short and alot. He is always there. I also agree both Questing and My Miss Aurela shuld be looked at. It still seem the ladies are the superior ones

07 Sep 2012 10:27 AM

Seems to me like this year (except for I'll Have Another who I am in agreement with you, Steve, is way out front so far) is shaping up to be a possible Secretariat, Favorite Trick, Moccasin, La Prevoyante year -- 2YO as HOY.  I'm just waiting for the babies to start running in some of the big fall stakes and let's see.

(although I love Questing too)

BTW, can anyone tell me why the Summer Stakes and the Natalma Stakes are still only GrII?  It seems to me that these races are some of the few 2YO high class races on turf and over the last few years have thrown up some solid Breeders Cup 2YO Turf runners.  

07 Sep 2012 10:45 AM
lunar spook

IF to honor and serve or fort larned enter and win the b.c. classic , they must be considered

07 Sep 2012 10:50 AM

Ron the Greek will be in the money in the classic.IHA should win the award for 3yo he never beat anything else.But all of this is political so I would rather take my chances picking an exotic in the Classic.

07 Sep 2012 11:02 AM

Horse of the year?  I'll Have Another. This horse boosted horse racing this year. He made it great. Yes, its a shame he could not do the Belmont but his team rose to the occasion and made it a wonderful triple crown year for so many, win or lose. I'll Have Another is a star! and he has the looks to prove it!

Frankel is great, I agree, but he is not here and I'll Have Another was.  I hope he produces great babies to come back and run for us.

07 Sep 2012 11:05 AM
Love 'em all

IHA, aka "Cookie", gets my vote for HOY at this time.

My other two favs, Dullahan and Wise Dan, are bound to delight their fans in early November .... Dullahan in the Classic neck and neck with Game On Dude and Wise Dan in the BC Mile by several lengths.  Was thrilled with Dullahan's win in the PC!

Dear Paynter:  Keep fighting, fella!  My thoughts and prayers are with you day and night.

07 Sep 2012 11:34 AM

Profitable Horse Racing Handicapping: How to Maximize Profits and Minimize Losses its on amazon for like 3 bucks anyone read it?

07 Sep 2012 11:42 AM
lunar spook

Ill have another "is a star and has the looks to prove it" hmmmm i didnt know horse of the year was a beauty contest ?

07 Sep 2012 12:34 PM
Age of Reason

Here's the only horses I can see supplanting I'll Have Another for HOY, in no particular order:

Wise Dan: He would need to knock off Cityscape in the Woodbine Mile and Excelebration in the BC Mile, and who knows if Excelebration is even coming.

Point of Entry: While I'm on the turf horses, this one really needs to beat Dullahan / Little Mike in the Joe Hirsch, and the Euros (St. Nick, Snow Fairy et al) in the Turf if he wants a name in the HOY envelope.

Game On Dude still basically controls his own destiny, but in my dreams I keep seeing him running this year's Classic just like the last one--running an aggressive race on the lead, shaking off everyone turning for home and then getting nailed by a Bill Mott closer on the line (goodbye, Drosselmeyer; hello, Ron the Greek). If there were a Future Book for Horse of the Year, I'd probably put my money on Questing. She needs to win the Beldame and put in an Azeri-like performance in the Ladies' Classic, but both are very doable in my opinion. It's possible that a lot of Eclipse voters would love any reason to elect another distaff HOY, and if Questing lives up to the hype they would hardly need an excuse.

p.s. The Deacon, the last horse to sweep the Santa Anita Derby / Kentucky Derby / Preakness was Sunday Silence--which got me to thinking. All three of the horses to have swept those three races, namely, Arts and Letters, Sunday Silence, and I'll Have Another, were later best known for being part of an epic rivalry! Who can forget Arts and Letters vs. Majestic Prince, Sunday Silence vs. Easy Goer...and I suspect I'll Have Another vs. Bodemeister might eventually be remembered in the same light.

07 Sep 2012 12:34 PM
Bill Rinker

Nice article Steve,  I'm not sure how it's done, but I tried it this way. At this stage I believe it comes down to I'll Have Another and Game on Dude. I looked at their races and tried to make a judgement call based on a race by race comparsion, here's my scoop. First however, I have to say that I believe Game on Dude faced stronger competition across the board. These older horses have proven themselves more completely then a lot of the three year olds had earlier in the year. Now my race by race score, I'll Have Another's races come first then Game On Dude's. The Robert B Lewis, vs. the San Antonio, both grade 2, anvantage goes to the Dude. The Santa Anita Derby grade 1, vs. California Stakes grade 2, anvantage, also the Dude. Even though we have a difference in graded stake status, I felt that Game on Dude's win is a clearly more dominate performance (probably his best this year). Kentucky Derby, vs. Hollywood Gold Cup, both grade 1, advantage I'll Have Another. (side bar: I think that if Mike Smith had never touched Bode in the stretch at Arkansas we now have three horses under 2:00:00 in the Derby,). Preakness, vs. Pacific Classic, both grade 1, advantage I'll Have Another. Throw in Game On Dude's clunker in Dubai and the fact I'll Have Another took more of his show on the road, and, I'd have to say at this point I'll Have Another was much more impressive and deserving. I also want to say that I'm a huge fan of Game On Dude. I was very fortunate to have seen him up close and personal, I think he has great determination, strength and talent, is very personal, and nice to be around. What impressed me most about I'll Have Another was every time you saw him he just looked better and better, the epitome of what a race horse can be. However, if Game on Dude can show that dominant strength a couple more times this year, I may have to reconsider, but where we stand right now I'll Have Another is a length and a half ahead. Before concluding let's not forget about Shackleford, if he returns to form watch out, he's incredibly talented and with the right trip a mile and a quarter is not beyond reason. I also think Mucho Macho Man is an gigantic talent,(so many good horses so many close races). One other thing to consider when analizing racing in America this year. This has probably been the most grueling summer for heat we have seen in a long time, life in the barn has got to have been extremely stressful to say the least. It would be nice to see improvment in the Barn area, we need to raise the roof a little, I think it would help everything.                  

07 Sep 2012 12:52 PM

Poor I'll Have Another--he is the Rodney Dangerfield of this year's group of US race horses.  Upon retirement, it was bad enough when the horse was passed over by our US farms for stud, but now it does not appear that he is getting much respect in the current voting polls.  Given his flawless record and G1 wins, my vote would be for him as HOY.  Yet, considering what a mixed-up year this has been, I have a feeling that whoever wins the BC Classic will most likely win the top honors. This one race usually pulls a lot of weight with voters.

07 Sep 2012 1:32 PM
Jennifer in Columbia

The Deacon, your memory does not serve you. There was a horse named Sunday Silence who won the Santa Anita Derby, KY Derby, and Preakness in 1989.

As for HOY, I really haven't seen anyone who earned the award this year. I am hoping for break-out performances in the next two months. At this point, my front-runners are: Point of Entry, Questing, Game on Dude, and Dullahan. Here's hoping this dismal year turns around.

I should also add: Power up, Paynter! I am so thankful that Paynter is doing better, and I appreciate the Zayats keeping us all informed about his progress. Hoping for a miracle!

07 Sep 2012 2:06 PM

Steve, in the sentence:  "The big question with Dullahan is which Breeders' Cup race he will be pointed for. Voters will be reluctant to give Horse of the Year to a horse who won only on a synthetic horse, but if he can do something huge on Breeders' Cup day, his Pacific Classic victory over Game On Dude will go a long way in getting him votes."

I believe you have a 'aha' moment in the part 'horse who won only on a synthetic horse'.  I think you meant sythetic track'.

Good to have the thinking ahead juices starting to flow again.  I sort of shut down after IHA was retired.

BC, here we come.........

07 Sep 2012 2:10 PM
lunar spook

It figures chief piccawinna would be the one to mention ron the geek , those two deserve each other, lol !

07 Sep 2012 2:50 PM
Shelby's Best Pal

No standouts this year but you lay out a convincing case for I'll Have Another.  As President Clinton reminded us in his speech, "It's arithmetic."  More grade I's is just that simple.  And thinking of the Breeders' Cup is a happy thought.  I haven't attended since '08 and I can't wait.

07 Sep 2012 3:16 PM

It will be either Wise Dan or Mucho Macho Man as HOTY at the end of the season. These two have looked a cut above the rest on their best day and only need to bring their "A-game" for the remainder of the season. The winner of The Jockey Club Gold Cup, Breeder's Cup Classic, Cigar Mile and Clark will decide it ...any horse with 3 Grade ones that include the BCC should be "top dog" at year's end.  Fort Larned and Ron The Greek have live shots and THAS has an outsiders chance if indeed he's come to hand as evidenced by his gritty Woodward performance.

07 Sep 2012 4:46 PM
lunar spook


07 Sep 2012 4:59 PM

Hey Loonee Ron the Greek will be running in the classic maybe with a running mate from the same stable and he will run in the money.He is a consistent horse that runs his race.Game on Dude wont be an overlay this year in the classic.As far as Ft Larned he beat Ron the Greek lets see him do it on another surface and with different circumsatnces.

07 Sep 2012 5:11 PM

I think IHA was a GREAT 3yo but the award is for HORSE of the year not COLT of the year.

07 Sep 2012 5:14 PM

Shelbys Best Pal I agree with you I think Ron the Greek has won two grade 1s as well as IHA.I dont think the vote is conducted this way IMO it is more of a popularity contest.

07 Sep 2012 5:37 PM
The Deacon

Age of Reason/Jennifer in Columbus:

As soon as I posted the blog I knew there was another horse who accomplished that triple. I also knew it was Sunday Silence. Moral of the story, quit blogging at 1am in the morning.

There are no Arts and Letters or Easy Goers out there to take the HOTY away from I'll Have Another.

Maybe it's just me but I think this is a lock. No other horse has stepped up, all of those other resumes for HOTY in 2012 are just so-so.  Can Point of Entry really get enough wins and votes to win. Remember a few yeas ago, Zenyatta won the Breeders Cup Classic but Rachel won HOTY and didn't run past the Woodward Stakes.

I'll Have Another has done more then enough to win it. I believe he would have won the Triple Crown and maybe could have been one of the great ones............

07 Sep 2012 6:31 PM
Lammtarra's Arc

I never Agree with The CHIEF, BUT Ron The greek will win the BC Classic, and he will put GOD away mid stretch.  That is a true 10f dirt horse, and he could go longer!.  RON THE GREEK will be HOTY after this campaign is over. 2 HUGE GR1 wins, and a runner up in the Whitney because of a horrible ride.  Those picking Game on Dude for his performances this year should put their glasses on because he has beat NOBODY at all in ANY of his wins.  Then he loses the PC to a 3yr old, and the Big Cap to got it!...RON THE GREEK.  I will say Ron the Greek will run and win the JCGC(If he runs), and the BC Classic, and put this discussion to bed.   GAME ON DUDE???...LOL!.   As for 3 year olds, The Two Classic wins for IHA should be enough, but adding the SA Derby also, and the Lewis...he is a LOCK IMO.  The only other horse who has a shot is Questing if she runs out wins in all GR1's and wins the Classic at santa Anita.  JMO.

07 Sep 2012 7:00 PM

Ill take Groupie Doll in the Masters Stakes #7

07 Sep 2012 7:18 PM

The Summer Stakes and Natalma don't have deep fields. It's one of the artefacts of Graded-$$$ qualification rules that canny trainers scan the horizon for races off the beaten path where some graded earnings are up for grabs. The quality of the race is judged by who wins it, but also who was beat. Shippers everywhere.

There are several other noxious consequences of point systems. They award points without nuance -- those things we see, the ease of the win, the trouble encountered, whether the opposition showed up on the day. Think Secretariat's Belmont -- worth the same points as any other Belmont?

Worst of point systems: they add one more factor besides the readiness of the horse to the decision to run.

07 Sep 2012 7:22 PM

I just watched "That Handicapping Show" and I think I will take the horse for the course # 10 Its Me Mom in the Masters Stakes at Presque Isle Downs on Saturday.

07 Sep 2012 7:25 PM
Age of Reason

The Deacon (and all whom it may interest),

In my opinion Point of Entry will need one of those "perfect storms" to gain a serious spot in the HOY discussion. For example, if he beats Dullahan and Little Mike in the Joe Hirsch, and those two come back to take the BC Classic and the Mile, while Point of Entry in the Turf beats Snow Fairy and St. Nicholas Abbey who're coming off a 1-2 finish in the Arc (again, all hypothetical), and Game On Dude, Questing, and Ron The Greek all run up the track in their races, well, then he becomes a serious contender. Obviously I'm exaggerating and being a little facetious, but unfortunately our turf stars have to do much more to get into the year-end championships discussion.

07 Sep 2012 7:39 PM
Lammtarra's Arc

Cassandra, the Natalma, and the Summer stakes,Woodbine Mile, The Nearctic, The Ep taylor, the International are ALL BC preps, and are certainly very good, and always have very LARGE fields.  I know I go every year for their BC challenge races.  The idiots who own Northern Passion won the Natalma(creaming stephanie's Kitten by 5 1/2 lengths) and then run her on dirt in the fillies Juvenile, instead of the Fillies Juvenile Turf where she WOULD have creamed Stephanie's Kitten again.  You had Regally Reaady who won the Nearctic and then won the BC Turf Sprint, then you had pluck the year before winning the Summer stakes and easily winning the BC Juvenle Turf in a canter.  These are the TOP north american Preps for their respective disciplines. So go take your pathetic theories else where because you have NO clue how great our Turf course is, and how great the runners who run here perform on the highest level.  OH and Court Vision won the Woodbine mile, and Followed it up with a win the following year in the BC Mile.....guess who finished second to Court Vision last year??????   Turralure who WON last years Woodbine Mile....Now what where you saying about our preps???....

07 Sep 2012 8:03 PM
anita b

Hi Steve,

Question and comment---about Shackleford. Why did Shak's team run him in an off track--KNOWING HE ABHORS it. He made bad press for horse racing as well as for his team. Maybe he should have stayed in the barn that day--wouldn't have gotten a cough and been scratched this past weekend.

I agree that IHA should be among the top horses for HOY-even 3 year old champ--sad to say, he probably won't win either. Depends who wins on Breeder's Cup Day.Hoping Questing keeps up her great work--her last race was unreal-breathless. Thanks Steve for great article. Anita Carter

07 Sep 2012 8:18 PM

Dr. D.,

I know how much you love Paynter.  Me too.  Today, Mr. Zayat spoke on ESPN Radio at length about Paynter's ordeal.  I was reading some of Justin's tweets and found it.  Ahmed Zayat is such an articulate, passionate, well spoken, educated man with his heart in the right place about horses and the industry.  Our prayers are being answered, Paynter is even better today.  But it is still an hour to hour, day to day thing.  Please give a listen to Mr. Zayat from this morning's broadcast on ESPN radio.  He said Paynter has an unbelievable will to live, it's even baffling the vets.  Keep praying everyone and PowerUpPaynter!

07 Sep 2012 8:24 PM

I really, really liked I'll Have Another.  However, I really do think it is time that American racing put more emphasis on soundness and longevity.  Too many unsound but speedy horses are retired at two or three, and go to the breeding shed. That cannot be good.  

  In my opinion,HOY should go to a horse who held up.  

07 Sep 2012 8:37 PM
Dr Drunkinbum


   Paynter's will to live is tremendous and is far more powerful than his will to win in competition which was immense. It is his nature. That is why in this case I didn't like reading about the fear of pain. My initial fear was that they wouldn't give him every chance to fight for his life despite pain and discomfort because I was convinced that is what Paynter wanted to do. I have been relieved recently to see that they want to give him every chance, and that they are listening to Paynter who is telling them "I will let you know if I've had enough but I don't intend to give up, ever. Please give me the chance. I only have one life." I have always admired the Zayats and I love that they are giving Paynter every possible chance. Paynter overcomes the pain with his will to live, and desire to be healthy. He's got a lot of help from the vets in overcoming the pain but he does it on his own also. I know that it is still a battle and against the odds but the improvement tells us that it is possible for Paynter to make it. All he wants now is a fighting chance. Paynter is giving 100% and so are the Zayats and the vets. This is a knockdown, dragout fight and I believe they can win. Thanks I will try to find that show.

07 Sep 2012 9:37 PM
Dr Drunkinbum


  Thank you very much. That was an exceptional podcast with an amazing man, Ahmed Zayat at espn radio.

07 Sep 2012 9:59 PM

Should Ron the Greek win the Jockey Club Gold Cup he is Horse of the Year. It's what the Australian 'punters' call a 'lay down misère' - a dead certainty.  Three marque race wins at three of the, arguably, four predominant race tracks. Mind you, he has to do it yet.

As much as Keeneland and Del Mar are wonderful tracks, have historic prestigious races with great carnival cards/prize money the relatively new synthetic surfaces do demean  the value of the race and, subsequently, a Grade 1 win on dirt must be considered of higher value than a Grade 1 win on any other surface.

As for 3 year olds only beating 3 year olds (let alone 2 year olds only beating 2 year olds) and winning Horse of the Year then the older horse division would have to be in a very poor state of affairs.  Which it is not in 2012.

At this stage, Ron the Greek has a firm clasp on to the holy grail of HOY and if he wins the Jockey Club Gold Cup...

07 Sep 2012 10:16 PM
Linda in Texas

It is that will to live just like ambition is born with you that he is revealing through this terrible time. He is being such a good patient from the looks of the photos i just saw. Standing still while the Doctor is treating him. This is a Stallion folks,not a sweet mare having a foal. He is something else.

I second everything everyone has said about Paynter and all his loving caregivers.  I liked Paynter the first time i ever saw him,even before he raced. I believe i mentioned him and his color.

Thanks for the twitter mention Alex'sBigFan. All i can say is he looks like he is prepared to be the first horse to walk on Mars!

Frankly I have high hopes as far away as Mars for him. And Dr. D. your words were spoken right from your heart. Steve, Dr. D., ABF, Patricia, Fran, The One and Only Sovereign Deacon and his lovely wife who lets him post at 1 in the morning,' and so many here are just down to earth super human beings, and i am also thinking Mike Relva, Paula Higgins, Karen in Texas, and on and on. Forgive me for not mentioning everyone. What a true blessing all of you are.

I think I'll Have Another deserves something. My word ya'll, what else could a horse do? He would have won The Belmont. I know it.

Another heart breaker this past year and he is solamente in Japan as his reward. T'aint fair MeGee.


And Paynter, we are with you brave fella. We will pray on and you keep fighting on! Another day listed to the positive side.

07 Sep 2012 10:19 PM

Shack would be my choice, assuming he gets back to form and away from Saratoga, then Dullahan, and throw Turbulent Descent in there if she get a few more races.  Maybe Royal Delta too.  Lord knows she's better looking than any of the colts still around.

07 Sep 2012 10:33 PM
Arts and Letters

I agree with LucyWG and wish there was more soundness and longevity in horses.  Otherwise, maybe we should switch to "Horse of the Half Year" -- because there's usually a good horse in the spring who is then injured and/or retired, and a good horse in the fall who didn't run or do much in the spring.  Is it really too much to ask to see a "Horse of the Whole Year" again?

07 Sep 2012 11:13 PM

Midnight Lute,

I'm surprised that, in your passion, you forgot a significant one, though it WAS somewhat unconventional.  Dreaming Of Anna pretty much dusted the boys in the Summer Stakes of 2006 before taking the Breeders Cup Juvenile Fillies on the dirt at Churchill Downs.

I will take issue with you, though, on a couple of points.  I love Ron The Greek (truly do), but neither he or anybody else was beating Fort Larned in that Whitney.  The win margin was very deceiving.  Also, you intimated that Game On Dude "lost" the Big Cap to Ron The Greek.....Game On Dude didn't run in that Big can't lose a race by not running in it.

As far as the 3yo Eclipse goes, has there ever been a dual-classic winner (any two of the three) that DIDN'T win that award?  I don't think so, though Steve might be able to correct me if I'm wrong.  The only 3yo in training right now that has even the most remote chance of upsetting I'll Have Another for that award is Dullahan, and he would have to win the Joe Hirsch at 12f on the turf AND the Breeders Cup Classic at 10f on the dirt to pull it off.  That's a pretty tall order!

Then there's HOTY.  Frankly, the vitriol flying all over the internet in 2009 and 2010 involving first Zenyatta/Rachel Alexandra, and then Zenyatta/Blame has turned me off to really caring about this award.  Certainly, it's very important for the connections of the horses involved on many different levels, but it's not very meaningful to me anymore.

The divisional Eclipse Awards are now what get my attention.  There's passion involved with them too, but somehow it's just more genteel.

07 Sep 2012 11:30 PM
Mister Frisky

@Karen in Indiana,You can follow AK and all the other Motion horses at know if he makes it back before BC.Also,Graham Motion not running as hot as last year.Lots of starters,not a high win pct.

07 Sep 2012 11:48 PM
Greg R

A year like this, without an obvious leader in the handicap division, is the kind of year we sometimes get a HOY winner from another category.  Favorite Trick.  Azeri.  Rachel.  But runaway leaders in most other divisions have not emerged, either!

Since so many voters give extra weight to what happens in the fall in the older male ranks, Ron the Greek, Fort Larned or Mucho Macho Man would probably win the HOY title with wins in the Jockey Club AND BC Classic.

I DO believe IHA another would have won the Belmont and therefore Triple Crown if sound, but we can't count speculations.  On the other hand, your list of races won by horses who trailed him is very impressive, indeed.

Think of all the other horses who won two-thirds of the Triple Crown and didn't win HOY, whether they should have or not.  Big Brown did just as much.  Unfortunately, the key to being remembered kindly seems to be, "Quit (retire) while you're ahead."

I'll Have Another still leads in my book, but I wouldn't bet a dinner that that will last.

08 Sep 2012 12:24 AM
The Deacon

Age of Reason:

HOTY is a lock and it belongs to I'll Have Another. I do not believe there is anything any horse can do to snatch it away. We are talking about winning the Kentucky Derby, The Preakness Stakes and the Santa Anita Derby.

Maybe you get 2 more races out of each of them. It's not enough to win the award. We can talk about it until doomsday but the deal is over. I'll Have Another deserves the award. Classy horse who was brilliant this season.......

08 Sep 2012 4:12 AM

Midnight Lute:

Game on Dude did not race in the Santa Anita Handicap this year(I was vocal beforehand that skipping the Big Cap and going to Dubai was a huge mistake).  So, he hasn't faced Ron the Greek this year.

08 Sep 2012 5:09 AM


Mucho Macho is not going to get HoY if Ritvo continues with her conservative scheduling and doesn't run him again before the BC Classic.  

Even with a BC Classic win, that would be his one and only grade 1.  At the very least, he would have to come back and win the Clark or Cigar Mile.  1 grade 1 win is not going to cut it when there is a horse that is a dual classic winner with the gr.1 SA Derby on the side.

That's HoY.  As for champion older male, then yes, Mucho Macho Man would need only to win the Classic.  Basically, unless a Drosselmeyer type or 3 year old wins the Classic, the winner of that race will be the champion older male.

08 Sep 2012 5:15 AM

Had I'll Have Another raced last year and accomplished the same things he did this year, he would have been HoY over Havre de Grace.  And it wouldn't have been that close.  

No disrespect, but Havre de Grace did some backing into the HoY last year.  In early September of last year, Havre was coming off yet another loss to rival Blind Luck; for most writers, at that time Havre De Grace wasn't the #1 horse in North American, and she wasn't even the #1 older female.  

However, because of that loss in the Del Cap, and with the realization that to even get the Older Female Eclipse over Blind Luck Havre would have to do something special, Porter and Jones threw caution to the wind and ran her in the Woodward.  When she won it, it changed the debate vis-a-vis Blind Luck, because Blind Luck had never defeated males, and it thrust Havre squarely into the HoY debate.  

A romp in the Beldame over star 3 year old filly, Royal Delta, consolidated Havre's position as pro-tem HoY, but Porter and Jones recognized that if any number of older males won the Classic, a win by Havre in the Ladies Classic might not be enough for HoY.  And with the menory of Zenyatta going for HoY by running in the Classic fresh in everyone's minds, it was somewhat expected that for Havre to really seal the award she needed to face the best horses, not just female horses, in the Classic.

The irony is that if Drosselmeyer is not in the Classic field, Havre places with a 3rd, a rare achievement for a female in the Classic, but she probably loses HoY to Game on Dude(as winner of the Classic).

08 Sep 2012 5:28 AM

In the era of Rachel, Zenyatta, and Havre de Grace, each of whom ran successfully against males, can Questing really be voted HoY without facing males?

Even if Questing wins out and takes the Beldame and BC Ladies Classic, would her resume be enough to overcome a dual classic winner who owns a total of 3 grade 1s and a grade 2?  

Rachel, as a 3 year old filly, won the Kentucky Oaks by 20, the Mother Goose by 20, won the Haskell and Preakness over 3 year old males, and then beat older males in the Woodward.  Questing's accomplishments would fall far short of that.

However, wins in the Beldame and BC Ladies Classic would at least put Questing in the ballpark of 02' HoY Azeri.  Azeri was a 5-time grade 1 winner, and won her grade 1s in Cali, Arkansas, and Chicago.  And there was a dual classic winner in 02, War Emblem, a horse that also won the gr.1 Haskell and the Illinois Derby(gr.2 or 3).  But War Emblem also had bad losses in the Belmont, Pacific Classic, and BC Classic on his resume; IHA was a perfect 4 for 4.

08 Sep 2012 5:48 AM
Karen in Texas

HOY and 3y/o colt should be a lock for I'll Have Another, as Deacon says above, but lately the voters are doing some odd things. He is certainly deserving.

About Paynter...yes, he is showing a will to live and lots of fight, intangibles that all medical professionals can recognize and appreciate. Maybe this has already been mentioned, but the Zayats' commitment to their ill horses is on record. Remember Thorn Song? His laminitis was considered hopeless (although caused by injury) and the insurance company actually paid a claim for his loss/death, but he refused to die. The vets said Mr. Zayat called constantly, in tears, for updates. Thorn Song now stands at stud several years later.


08 Sep 2012 11:14 AM
Karen in Texas
08 Sep 2012 11:19 AM

No other horse has even come close to the accomplishments of I'll Have Another.  Yes, he has been retired but even a Breeder's Cup win cannot outshine him.  All of the best horses have been injured and retired with the exception of Paynter and he is ill.  If HOY is based on a body of work for the year, it has to be I'll Have Another.

08 Sep 2012 2:43 PM


Tabasco Cat won the 1994 Preakness and Belmont, but Holy Bull won the Eclipse for 3YO colt ()and HOY -- when he won Florida Derby, Blue Grass, Dwyer, Haskell, Travers, Woodward and Metro mile.

08 Sep 2012 4:34 PM
Carlos in Cali

If Ron The Greek wins the JCGC,he should be the leading contender for HOY heading to the BC,hands-down.

Dual Classic winner I'll Have Another should only get it by default if the top older handicap horses fail to win their respective next races,including the BC.Let's not forget he only raced 4-times this year,The May 19th Preakness being his last race....

Fort Larned needs to win another Gr.I along with a victory in the BC Classic in order to take HOY honors,IMO.Ditto with To Honor And Serve,MMM and Game On Dude.Dullahan has a chance if he goes to the JCGC and wins along w/a victory in the BC Classic,but I doubt he'll go that route.

The Clarke might be the deciding factor if said horses dissapoint from here on...

08 Sep 2012 5:19 PM

Gun Bow,

I agree fully with your post 08 Sep 2012 5:15 AM. Trainer Ritvo has been too conservative with MMM.

08 Sep 2012 5:49 PM

Lunar Spook Im going to call you looney tunes are you sure your not someone we all know using a different screen name.Your pick salty strike was nowhere near the front when the winners hit the wire.Of course I picked Groupie Doll.No inventes tanto viejo,on paper there was the 10 as the pacesetter and the 7 as the closer.

08 Sep 2012 7:46 PM

I definitely feel I'll Have Another is Horse of the Year and I don't think any other can do enough to take it away from him.  That being said, how sad is it Steve that you had to write about the lack of any real criteria that the voters must follow?  Another thing going on in this sport that shows how fractured it is!  

08 Sep 2012 8:41 PM
Paula Higgins

Karen In Texas, you are so right about the Zayats. A wondeful thing to see. Dr. Laura is also one impressive vet. Totally dedicated to Paynter's care. I really think all involved, including Paynter, deserve special recognition at the Eclipse Awards this year.

08 Sep 2012 9:24 PM

At this point, I'll Have Another gets my vote.  He beat the best 3 year olds (who says the horse has to beat older horses to win HOY?) IHA had what it takes to win the TC, but  the tendon tear took care of that.  I think the criteria needs to be set- If a horse wins the Classic, it shouldn't be an automatic HOY.  It should be based on the body of work the horse has accomplished in the year.  

I also think that there should be a special award for Paynter- he has fought, and continues to fight colitis, DIC and laminitis.  His owners and vets have kept the racing fans up to date on his condition, have done what is best for the horse, keeping his needs and comfort foremost.  

I hope the powers that be remember that the Classic isn't the only criteria.  Remember that Zenyatta was passed over twice before finally receiving it.

08 Sep 2012 11:03 PM
Karen in Texas

Paula H.----An appropriate award for Paynter might be the Vox Populi for this year?

casey----Thanks for the reminder concerning the DIC. That can be deadly in and of itself. Team Paynter is fighting a huge battle and, yes, they have been very open about his condition.

09 Sep 2012 11:11 AM

Thanks Tiznowbaby, for that correction.  I had forgotten about Tabasco Cat, and as nice a horse as he was, Holy Bull certainly was a deserving winner of the 3yo Eclipse Award that year.

It's funny that I actually thought for a minute that Tiznow was another 3yo Eclipse winner under those same circumstances until I managed to remember that Fusaichi Pegasus DID NOT win the Preakness!  Sometimes there's no accounting for brain cramps! LOL!

09 Sep 2012 12:01 PM
Crickett Hoffman

Does anyone pay attention to Horse of the Year anymore?  First there is no real competition.  A horse gets slightly good and is gone.  Good horses get injured and are gone.  There are no champions.  The voting is so subjective as to resemble voting for Homecoming Queen (who is the most popular horse in the barn this year?).  The point system suggested in one of the comments would be fantastic.  Just like the points system for Indy and NASCAR it would give you a little bit more to root for and a real champion would emerge.

09 Sep 2012 4:48 PM
Paula Higgins

Yes Karen in Texas, I would certainly vote for that. But I do think the Eclipse people should consider something for the vet. and owners. Their committment to their horse is amazing. Reminds me of Barbaro, the Jacksons and Penn Vet.

09 Sep 2012 6:40 PM

Carlos in Cali,

Wise Dan's HOTY chances are as good as any.  If he can capture the Woodbine Mile, Breeder's Cup Classic and do an encore in the Clarke he'd have copped it ...don't you think? He's also the type that can set track records on any surface.

09 Sep 2012 6:40 PM

Crikett Hoffman, a point system is NEVER going to work in horse racing.  Horses are too unpredictable, and the very nature of the game makes races too unpredictable.  It's Tricky nearly fell on her face at the start of the GI Personal Ensign a couple weeks ago and she actually took the lead turning for home, only to fade to third at the wire as much the best.  A point system would say only that she finished third in that GI race....end of story.

A point system in polls is probably OK, but using points in real performance evaluation is unfair, and probably irrelevant to boot.

09 Sep 2012 10:54 PM

I want to second the thoughts of others and express my admiration for Paynter and the Zayats.  

The horse is showing great fight and the Zayats are demonstrating great compassion and love.

10 Sep 2012 1:31 AM
Carlos in Cali


It seems like they're pointing Wise Dan to the BC Mile. I don't think they want to face proven 10f horses like Game On Dude or Ron The Greek.

10 Sep 2012 2:28 PM
Greg R

Just occurs to me, how come no sprinter ever gets respect as Horse of the Year?  If the contenders in other categories have fairly undistinguished, checkered records and there is a brilliant sprinter who pretty much runs the table in major stakes, why not? One could think of a few whose records in given years were more consistent and dominant than the actual HOY's those years.  

12 Sep 2012 11:49 PM

Steve started this blog with "How crazy is this year's HOY picture?".  How true!  No horse is a "lock" at this point.

Chief Picawinna's comment regarding "horse" vs "colt" makes me think he may not have noticed that Hoy the past 3 years was awarded to a filly and 2 mares. Technically a "horse" is an entire male of 4 or over, but besides the recent run of wins by the fairer sex, several 3-yr old colts have won, even a couple of 2-yr olds.  At this point, if none of the older horses step up with a significant win before the Breeders Cup AND win a BC race, IAH has as good a chance as any.  Particularly if a 3-yr old wins the BCC, as long as the "what have you done for me lately" mentality doesn't rear it's ugly head, because clearly IAH was superior to any of the other 3-yr olds still running. That said, with 3 months and several big races still up for grabs, no way do I feel IHA is a "lock".

It's great to hear all the positive comments about Paynter and his "team".  He looks to be well on the way to beating the odds; they are even talking about returning him to the races if he recovers fully.  If he were mine, I would be very reluctant to put him back into the same conditions that may have contributed to his original illness. Maybe he can't handle the stress of racing, shipping, etc.  It's clear Mr Zayat loves this horse and I'm sure he will do what he feels is best for him.  I certainly hope mention will be made at the year-end awards ceremony; maybe in the form of a special award as, no matter how heroic a battle Paynter is waging against his illness, the award for 3-yr old colt is won on the track, or at least it should be and there are a numer of 3-yr olds with better race records than Paynter.

13 Sep 2012 4:09 AM
Karen in Texas

robinm---I very much agree that Paynter may be compromised by the same "stressors" should he be returned to racing.

13 Sep 2012 11:08 AM

You are correct robinm,I think all of them should stay in their catagories.A horse is a horse and a filly and mare are just that.I dont pay much attention to this popularity contest(HOY).I do think when a mare has a 20-19-1-0 career mark she is very special in my mind, I dont care if she only runs at home and on one surface for almost all her races.

13 Sep 2012 4:35 PM

I believe Horse of the Year should be won 'mathematically,' not emotionally. Points for Grade 1 races, Grade 2 and so forth down, with the BC, TC races having a few extra points.

How Slew O'Gold was out voted by All Along and Devil's Bag is still beyond my understanding. Can someone explain?

Allow all the parochialism, oddball quirkiness, or 'feel good' voting be expatiated in the various divisions.  

14 Sep 2012 10:57 PM

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