A Case of Vino

A new topic of conversation has arisen that likely will have people at each other's throats, as is the norm with every topic these days.

OK, so here it is. Who should be the champion older horse? There is the distance horse in Vino Rosso and the sprinter/miler Mitole. So, will Vino Rosso take home the Eclipse for champion older male and Mitole the sprint championship or will Mitole nail down both awards and Vino Rosso get nothing?

Normally, when a horse wins more than one championship, it is a case of having no one who is deserving in the second category. Mitole is an absolute lock to win the sprint championship and the voting likely will be unanimous. Sure, you can make a case for the older horse championship as well, considering he won the prestigious Met Mile. But then again, many believe McKinzie would have won the Met had he not been shut off in the stretch before rallying strongly to finish second. The bottom line, however, is that Mitole did win in very fast time and went on to have a sensational year.

But let's forget about Mitole for a second. The question is whether Vino Rosso is deserving of an Eclipse Award. First off, let's acknowledge the fact that if Vino Rosso had not been disqualified from first in the Jockey Club Gold Cup we wouldn't even be having this discussion. The colt ran a gutsy race turning back the challenge of Travers winner Code of Honor, but the stewards felt there was enough of a bumping incident in the stretch to possibly have cost Code of Honor the nod. Neither horse deserved to lose what was arguably the most stirring stretch duel of the year, or at least one of them.

So, in the record books, Code of Honor won the Gold Cup, but in voting for an Eclipse Award, the race can easily be looked upon as a victory for Vino Rosso considering the circumstances and the fact that he held off Code of Honor and wouldn't let him go by. Supporters of the colt will feel as if he won.

But that is not the reason Vino Rosso is a worthy champion, nor is his victory in the Breeders' Cup Classic on its own. However, when a horse finishes first in the Jockey Club Cup and dominates the best distance horses in the country in the Classic, then you have to seriously consider him. But when he puts himself in the record books by doing something that has never been done before then you can equivocally say he is a worthy champion.

Going back to the beginning of the Breeders' Cup 35 years ago, no horse has ever shipped cross-country twice in one year to win grade 1 stakes in California. That is until this year when Vino Rosso accomplished the feat by shipping from New York to win the Gold Cup at Santa Anita, outdueling the Santa Anita Handicap winner Gift Box, and then shipping back to Santa Anita to win the Breeders' Cup Classic in dominant fashion defeating California's two best horses in McKinzie, winner of the Whitney at Saratoga; and Higher Power, runaway winner of the Pacific Classic. Finishing up the track was the horse who was placed first ahead of him in the Jockey Club Gold Cup, Code of Honor. Of the 10 horses defeated by Vino Rosso in the Classic, nine were grade 1 winners.

To put that feat in proper context, the only other Eastern-based horse to win two grade 1 stakes in California was Hall of Famer Skip Away, but he did it in different years. To ship to California twice in one year to win grade 1 stakes is nothing short of remarkable, which is why it had never been done before.

In the past 35 years only four horses have shipped cross-country to win the Santa Anita Handicap, four have done it in the Gold Cup, two in the Pacific Classic, and four in the Breeders' Cup Classic. Only one Eastern horse has won two of those races in the same year, and he did it once wearing blinkers and once without blinkers.

Vino Rosso also won the listed Stymie Stakes in early March in a sharp 1:35 1/5 for the mile. And it is interesting to note that the only horses to defeat him in two-turn grade 1 races were McKinzie and Yoshida in the Whitney and Code of Honor when he was place first in the JC Gold Cup. Vino Rosso came back to easily defeat all three in the Breeders' Cup Classic.

Vote for the horse you like, but you at least have to acknowledge that Vino Rosso accomplished enough in mile-and-a-quarter races to be a deserving champion in a category designed to honor two-turn horses. Let Mitole win in his category and Vino Rosso in his and everyone gets rewarded. In short, Vino Rosso should not be deprived of the championship because of a disqualification in a race in which he turned in a monumental effort, just as Maximum Security will not be deprived of the 3-year-old championship because of the disqualification of all disqualifications.

And finally, Vino Rosso needs an Eclipse Award to match his childhood classmate Justify. The two colts, who grew up together on Glennwood Farm near Versailles, Ky., have combined to sweep racing's Grand Slam, comprised of the Triple Crown and the Breeders' Cup Classic.

Vino Rosso has already had the Jockey Club Gold Cup taken away from him. We can't take an Eclipse Award away, too, right?

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