A Champion Muddle - by Eric Mitchell

 (Originally published in the November 12, 2011 issue of The Blood-Horse magazine. Feel free to share your own thoughts and opinions at the bottom of the column.

By Eric Mitchell - @EJMitchellKy on Twitter

By Eric Mitchell The Breeders’ Cup World Championships fell right in place with the rest of the racing year by turning end of the year honors into a muddle.

Remember in the spring, when all the best 3-year-olds were beating up on each other and no clear standouts emerged by the time we got to the Triple Crown? The pattern remained true through the prestigious triad with three separate horses winning the Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands (gr. I), Preakness Stakes (gr. I), and Belmont Stakes (gr. I). Incidentally, none of the winners of the classic races have won since. Derby winner Animal Kingdom was sidelined after being injured in the Belmont. Preakness winner Shackleford has done the best of the three with second-place finishes in the Haskell Invitational Stakes (gr.I), the Indiana Derby (gr. II), and in the Nov. 5 Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile (gr. I). Belmont winner Ruler On Ice’s best finish has been a second in the Pennsylvania Derby (gr. II). He also finished third in the Haskell and third in the Breeders’ Cup Classic (gr. I).

Not much here to hang championship honors on.

Interestingly, the 3-year-old male champion could still come out of a Derby—the grade III Ohio Derby. Caleb’s Posse has won four graded stakes this year—at 61⁄2 furlongs, seven furlongs, one mile, and 11⁄16 miles. The son of Posse beat three other graded stakes winners—To Honor and Serve, Justin Phillip, and Travelin Man—in the Amsterdam Stakes (gr. II), then went on to beat 2010 juvenile male champion Uncle Mo and three other graded stakes winners in the Foxwoods King’s Bishop Stakes (gr. I). Caleb’s Posse then rolled right into Breeders’ Cup, where he won the Dirt Mile convincingly by four lengths over Shackleford, who ran an outstanding race himself.

Four graded stakes wins—two of them grade Is including a Breeders’ Cup—looks pretty tough to beat.
As for Horse of the Year, the Breeders’ Cup did nothing to clear this race up either. As our senior correspondent Steve Haskin pointed out, all the leading contenders lost in the Breeders’ Cup.

So what do you do now? Well, Havre de Grace is still a candidate, having beaten the boys in the Woodward Stakes (gr. I) and having also won the Beldame Invitational Stakes and the Apple Blossom, both grade Is. The impressive daughter of Saint Liam has two additional graded stakes wins in the Obeah Stakes (gr. III) and the Azeri Stakes (gr. III).

But Acclamation, the California turf star, also has to be considered. The 5-year-old son of Unusual Heat has three grade I wins in the Charles Whittingham Memorial Handicap and Eddie Read Stakes on the turf, and the TVG Pacific Classic Stakes, run on Del Mar’s artificial surface. Acclamation has two other grade II wins in the Jim Murray Handicap and the Clement L. Hirsch Turf Championship Stakes.

Want more? If Game On Dude runs back in the grade I Clark Handicap at Churchill Downs Nov. 25 and wins, this year’s Classic runner-up will have three grade I wins and will have placed twice in grade I stakes.

Whatever happened to the good old days when the world championships crowned champions?

No Place Like Home

After Anecdote won the eighth race Nov. 2 at Churchill Downs, track officials honored trainer Bill Mott for earning his 650th career win under the Twin Spires. The Hall of Fame trainer, who has sent out more winners at the Louisville track than any other trainer in history, had little time to acknowledge the feat since he saddled winner No. 651 in the next race.

Mott brought his Breeders’ Cup contenders to his home base of Barn 19 at Churchill in late September for a reason, wanting them to be fully comfortable to their surroundings for the World Championships. It paid off with wins No. 652 and 653—Royal Delta in the Breeders’ Cup Ladies’ Classic (gr. I) and Drosselmeyer in the Breeders’ Cup Classic. Deluxe’s victory in the Nov. 6 Cardinal Handicap (gr. IIIT) made it 654. The home court advantage paid off.

Kentucky Governor Steve Beshear was on his home court in the winner’s circle with the WinStar Farm team after the Classic, congratulating the “Kentucky-breds all around.” Anyone care to ask Mr. Beshear and the Kentucky legislature why it was announced that Kentucky-bred Drosselmeyer’s first season at stud would be in New York and why TVG Breeders’ Cup Mile (gr. IT) winner and Kentucky-bred Court Vision will leave the Bluegrass State for Canada? 

23 Comments

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NASCAR PRO

I dont think any horse in the classic should win HOY,but I also think HOY is a popularity contest  for writers to vote on my pick if I was allowed to vote Acclimation he won multiple grade 1s on turf and dirt and he beat speed pretender Game on Dude wasnt even close.

08 Nov 2011 7:17 PM
Tracy

I am sure to catch flack from this post but think it is worth it. I am not so much concerned with who did not emerge as a Champion from the Breeders Cup as who lost;the Race World lost.

I have been a race fan most of my life but was never able to attend a big race until this year when I attended the Preakness. It was pretty much all I could have hoped for; private parties in the infield, access to top riders and jocks (just walking around) a college party in the infield...). I was really excited to attend the Breeders Cup at the famed Churchill Downs and could have not have been more disappointed. It seemed just like a regular race day (except beautiful woman dressed to the nines). If racing wants to attract more people, this whole atmosphere needs to change. Think Super Bowl half--time between races. Fireworks, bands, easy access party tents in the infield (give me five minutes and I could think of a million other ways to entertain) I imagine entertainment could be brought in at very little cost. The focus will still be the amazing horses but goodness, it is time to think out side the box and really put on a show, then fans will come out and this sport will not be hanging on by a thread. I could not belive how many seats were vacant and races not filled. We can and need to do better.

08 Nov 2011 7:42 PM
LiveLoveDream

To Tracy:

For whatever reason Breeders' Cup just doesn't have the same appeal to the "general" public as Derby weekend. I went to the Kentucky Derby this year, and both Friday and Saturday were PACKED (well, as I'm sure anyone could guess, considering Oaks day was the third highest attendance ever, and Derby day set a new attendance record). I try to explain to people all the time that Breeders' Cup is actually THE best weekend of racing, but because it never gets the same hype as the Derby, people just don't get it.

As for the HOY debate - Game on Dude looks better to me. He's ran at 1 1/4 four times, winning once, placing 2nd twice and getting fourth once (coming right off another 1 1/4 race, plus the winner set a track record). People do nothing but complain about how horses can no longer get the classic distance, and this guy can. Havre de Grace only ran 1 1/4 twice, and the first time she came in second to Blind Luck and the next was coming in 4th during the Classic. Game on Dude's performance in the Classic was more impressive than hers. He lead the whole way on that heavy, sticky surface and was never really "challenged" since Drosselmeyer flew by so far on the outside. Who knows if he might have fought harder if he had been closer to him.

08 Nov 2011 10:27 PM
footy231

what about cape blanco ?

09 Nov 2011 2:58 AM
Soltero

We need to stop calling them World Championships -- they are nothing of the sort.  And we need to stop running the Breeder's Cup at Churchill Downs.  What about Woodbine, that was one of the best days for the Cup ever.  Belmont, Santa Anita, Keenland.  Please never again Churchill.  I'm for Shackleford for 3YO champion.  He danced every dance and made it to the end of the year at top level.  As for HOTY, I think it remains to be decided by late season racing.  Overall an uninspiring day of racing.

09 Nov 2011 6:04 AM
Mahuba

Don't forget to include Blind Luck!  She beats HDG by a nose in their last meeting and has the edge overall.  Has anyone got a better record that she has this year?   A lot of horses have been trounced in their last start of the year after a long, hard campaign and still gotten a championship.  Think Lost in the Fog!

09 Nov 2011 7:59 AM
sidekickflats

If you like Game on Dude for Horse of the Year you should strongly consider Acclamation.  Five graded stakes wins, 4 at a mile and a quarter or longer. And he defeated Game on Dude in the Pacific Classic at a mile and a quarter in 200.61 (stakes record time).  

Game on Dude at this point as 2 grade 1 wins and 2 seconds in Grade 1's .  Acclamation has 3 grade 1 wins and 2 grade two wins.

To me, Acclamation gets the nod.

09 Nov 2011 10:29 AM
Rachel NH

Re Mr. Mitchell's comment "Whatever happened to the good old days when the world championships crowned champions?"

Whatever happened to the 100 years before this contrived "world" championship, when HOY was determined by a body of work for an entire season?

09 Nov 2011 11:04 AM
Pedigree Ann

'Eclipse champion' this year will be a designation that only the stallion-ad makers will care about. I don't care whether Union Rags or Hansen gets the statue - they are both promising 2yos - but for their sires' owners it can mean serious money in stallion fees. Watch for the lobbying to begin!

09 Nov 2011 11:32 AM
bluhorse

Ann, Union Rags sire passed on last year and Hansen's sire is Tapit, who is one of the top sires in the US already whether he has a another champ or not, so not sure there is much money to be had over it. But I think it is safe to say that the connections of each horse will care as much as ever over the honor and glory of Eclipse Award designation  - or for the nominal increase in value of each horse as prospective studs, and it matters a tad to the female family for the breeders, too.

As for Acclamation v Cape Blanco, I don't think he can beat out Cape Blanco for Turf Champion, so that leaves Acclamation in the running for Best Older Male. WIll be hard to claim HOY if he doesn't win a division championship. And it is going to be tough to knock the Dude out of the Top Older Horse slot with the majority of voters.

09 Nov 2011 7:05 PM
SouthernChris

Pedigree Ann, Union Rags' sire Dixie Union is dead.

09 Nov 2011 8:01 PM
Arts and Letters

Maybe it's time for the industry to clarify just what exactly HOTY means.  Is it the best horse or the horse who has the best year?  The one who wins the most grade 1's?  The most popular horse?  The best horse within their own division?  Do you get extra marks if you step outside your division?  Should we have some kind of points system through the year?  Are some grade 1's worth more than others (I'd say yes).  Should we have a minimum number of starts in the USA, to account for globe-trotting international horses.  Is there an option to have no winner in a year if enough people think there is no deserving winner?  Should there be a minimum number of grade 1 wins required to be HOTY?  We seem to be getting closer and closer to the day where HOTY will have only 1 G1 win under his/her belt.  Or should horse of the year be based on number of wins, regardless of level (ie Rapid Redux).  

I don't much care what criteria is used, it would just be nice to have something that everyone agreed on.  But that would mean change and various aspects of the industry working together, and we all know that will never happen.

09 Nov 2011 10:56 PM
HildyPie

Agree partially with Soltero.  

The Breeders Cup is not a World Championship event.  Calling it so doesn't make it so.  

10 Nov 2011 8:50 AM
Pedigree Ann

Hildy Pie, I can't agree with you more. It's not even a Northern Hemisphere Championship, since the top Far Eastern horses rarely come. It is comical to hear the TV presenters trying to make sure they include the 'World Championships' part; it is SUCH an unwieldy handle.

And I used the Juvenile runners merely as an example, perhaps not the best one. Owners may care, breeders may care, stallion owners may care who gets the statue, but when we have horses whose merit seems so little different, I as a fan do not. They are both nice horses. The HotY argument is the same; we have several nice horses whose merits are not sufficiently differentiated for me to care which of them gets the Eclipse. I will remember them for what they have done regardless of how the voting goes.

10 Nov 2011 12:18 PM
sidekickflats

Bluhorse

Acclamation could win a divisional championship, That of champion older horse.  His body of work, 5 consecutive graded stakes wins and his defeat of Game on Dude in their only matchup, gives him the edge over Game on Dude. At least in my opinion.  

10 Nov 2011 12:57 PM
robinm

Yes, HOY is a muddled mess and the 3-yr old picture only slightly less so.  I agree with Arts and Letters. HOY voters need more specific criteria; without that, particularly in years without a standout horse, this award will become simply a popularity contest, if it hasn't already. That said, while Acclamation had a great campaign in Calif. on the turf, I think his campaign was too specialized to warrrant strong HOY consideration.  For this same reason, I can't support any 2-yr. old, but oh boy, am I looking forward to 2012!  Game on Dude has probably been the most consistent older horse running in graded stakes.  If he wins again this year, I think he has a good shot.  I don't think a horse should have to win at a distance of ground for year-end award consideration.  Saying that, I believe Caleb's Posse deserves strong consideration in the 3-yr old male division.

10 Nov 2011 1:38 PM
GunBow

sidekickflats:

Actually, Acclamation and Game on Dude had met this year before the Pacific Classic.  They both also ran in the Charles Town Classic.  Game on Dude ran 2nd while Acclamation ran last(2nd race off layoff, on a muddy dirt track).  Also in that field was Tizway, who ran 3rd.

As a southern California racegoer, I feel Acclamation was the best horse that ran out here.  The problem with his resume is that he ventured out of Cali just once and ran last in that start.  And unfortunately for Acclamation, at least as it concerns the Eclipse for Turf Male, his signature win came on synthetic(Pacific Classic).  Of Acclamation's other graded stakes wins(2 other gr.1s and 2 gr.2s), all on turf, he really doesn't own a signature win, a win in a race of continental or international magnitude.  In contrast, his main rival for the Male Turf Eclipse, Cape Blanco, has the Arlington Million among his 3 gr.1 scores.

So, I fully expect Cape Blanco to get Turf Male Eclipse.  Acclamation's best shot at an Eclipse would be for Older Male.  There is a precedent for giving the Older Male Eclipse to a horse that never won a race on convential dirt(he didn't even have a win over synthetic), Gio Ponti in 2009.  

The timing of Acclamation's injury was terrible not only because it forced him to miss the Breeder's Cup, but also because had Don Warren been able to get Acclamation going again a few weeks after the BC(the injury was very slight, and it was the time missed training and not the injury itself that forced him out of the BC) the gr.1 Hollywood Turf Cup(run next weekend) would have been theirs for the taking.  And a 4th gr.1 win would have made it hard not to give Acclamation the Older Male Eclipse and possibly more.

10 Nov 2011 6:30 PM
Dawn in MN

My unqualified opinion is that Pearl the goat should get horse of the year, because anyone who concludes a horse champion this year is only fooling themselves.  Seriously, with horse of the year being a popularity contest based on subjective opinions it just isn't that impressive an award.  Guess I've just got post-Breeders cup blues, lost all the money I bet this year.

12 Nov 2011 8:42 AM
Dawn in MN

P.S.  I'm such a sour grapes baby.  If I were to take myself seriously my unqualified opinion would be Shackleford for horse of the year.  That guy ran his heart out, and never gave up.

12 Nov 2011 8:45 AM
Moodygirl

LOL DAWN in MN. Loved your comment on Pearl The Goat. Personally I am taking the HOY debate a whole lot less seriously than the previous 2 years. There is no heartfelt attachment to the contenders this year. This is not said disrespectfully for this years crop which had no clear "STAR".

I have a lot of respect for Shackleford. He ran all year, all the TC races, won some, hit the board always (I think), and showed a lot of HEART every time. Also he may be an excellent candidate for the breeding shed because he showed so much stamina. He raced all those races & stayed sound! I don't know who should or will be HOY but Shack certainly deserves RESPECT.

12 Nov 2011 1:46 PM
Needler in Virginia

To Arts and Letters, if the criteria for Horse of the Year is consistency, stamina, and durability there is only one to vote for: his name is Rapid Redux. Never mind at what level he has been racing, this horse has remained sound and racing all year and has 19 wins from 19 starts this year. I hope he makes the 20-20. He and his trainer deserve any accolades they get, except I think they won't as there are those who see no need to reward the "bottom level" runners at all. These are the horses that keep tracks open during the week, they run and try, and help put food on the table for a load of backstretch workers who have never even hot-walked a G1 winner. Rapid Redux and his connections should be rewarded, even if the horse does not win his 20th try. Their accomplishments are stellar and speak well of the heart of this industry.

Cheers and safe trips to all.

12 Nov 2011 8:39 PM
Dawn in MN

Needler, you make a very good point and I respect your case for Rapid Redux.  Your statement that;

"These are the horses that keep tracks open during the week, they run and try, and help put food on the table for a load of backstretch workers who have never even hot-walked a G1 winner."

got me thinking...Maybe they could dedicate horse of the year to all the horses who never won a G1.

13 Nov 2011 9:33 AM
Dennis

I have to side with the blogger "MOODYGIRL" yes

this Horse Rapid Redux have won 19 races straight,regarding the HOY I and although this horse was not a Rich Race(breeders cup) candidate, this Horse proved that this is a Racehorse,and that it's not only the Million dollars spent for Horses, and the purses they win, but the integrity, and fight, and soundness, and over-all, competitiveness of this race-Horse!! anyway, they would never give this award to Rapid Redux, because, they all would scroff at the Horse, and they all will say, who did Rapid Redux beat, and how much purse did Rapid redux earn?

however, I Have news for them (the voters) what about Uncle Mo? yes, the better  than GOD racehorse?being the Racing Analysts that I am, I can strongly say that cry babies do not belong in this game!

they may have the money, but it's like you cannot buy love!!

you cannot buy titles, you have to earn it,it's like school teacher gave the class home work assignment, and a few never did their home work, and never prepared, and thought that teacher being friendly; would give an easy pass,and when the test came and they failed, they blamed the class-room, saying things like,the room was too hot, the pencil made mistakes, and even cried sick, and played hookey, before class,and sick after taking the test..the list goes on, and on.

I believe "Drosselmeyer" should win Horse of the Year, if rapid redux" does not win, I am voting for "RAPID REDUX", I hope they see this, and consider him, as for Uncle Mo, this horse should be voted as the "CRY BABY HORSE OF THE YEAR" reasons, when he got beat at Aqueduct, quickly he had a Liver problem,he went to equine farm, got well, came back , got beat, ran again, won beating 4 horses, went to Churchill downs, worked 50-50, they said he was fit,

no excuses,an in the Classic, which they said he would win, as he was the best horse in America, and he lost badly, then the cries were the racetrack, he did not like the racetrack, said his trainer, and jockey, then he went for more veterinarians tests, and found out that he was still sick from the previous liver disease, then he was abruptly retired, next day! then they said although it is still a problem, he could still mate, and it's not heriditary, guess, what..enough is enough,have a great retirement life Uncle Mo

and if you are potent to breed mares so be it,right now, you could never mate any of my mares!!

16 Nov 2011 12:58 PM

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