Handicapping Horse of the Year Honors Not Satisfying

Horse of the Year

Breeders’ Cup Distaff winner Untapable is a contenders for Horse of the Year (Photo credit: Breeders’ Cup Ltd.)

The Eclipse Award for Horse of the Year was supposed to be decided on the track at Santa Anita in the $5 million Breeders’ Cup Classic (G1), but because of the controversial start where eventual winner Bayern wiped out the betting favorite and main pace threat, who is now most deserving?

It is a question that will be debated over the next two months until all of the ballots are cast and a winner announced at the Eclipse Awards at Gulfstream Park in January.

As unsatisfying as the Breeders’ Cup Classic results were (unless you held a winning ticket on Bayern), this year’s race for the Horse of the Year is equally unsatisfying.

Let’s take a look at the candidates:



Record: 10-6-1-1

Earnings: $4,389,680

Grade 1 wins: Haskell Invitational, Breeders’ Cup Classic

There is no doubt some Eclipse voters are going to looks elsewhere after the way the Classic was run, with Bayern veering in and bumping with the betting favorite Shared Belief and the main pace threat Moreno. In polls posted on various web sites, about 80% thought Bayern should have been disqualified. Some on the media are not big fans of Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert. The colt is just not going to get enough votes. We have to go back to Curlin in 207 to find the last Classic winner to win Horse of the year honors.


California Chrome

Record: 8-5-0-1

Earnings: $3,827,800

Grade 1 wins: Santa Anita Derby, Kentucky Derby, Preakness

Lost in the shuffle of the controversial start of the Classic was just how good California Chrome ran. The colt was third, but beaten just a nose and a neck. He won the first two jewels of the Triple Crown before coming up short in his fourth in the Belmont Stakes. His stinker in the Pennsylvania Derby (G2) where he was sixth behind Bayern really stands out, but it was his first start off a 3 ½ month break. Three Grade 1 wins including the Kentucky Derby and losing a photo in the Classic makes him a favorite.


Shared Belief

Record: 5-4-0-0

Earnings: $1,401,000

Grade 1 wins: Pacific Classic, Awesome Again

A Classic win would have locked things up, but instead he was wiped out at the break and had to settle for fourth as the beaten favorite. The colt missed the Triple Crown season with foot issues, but his two Grade 1 wins came against older. If Bayern had broken straight and Moreno had engaged early, would that have set things up for this guy in the Classic? Hall of Fame jockey Mike Smith thinks so, but I am not sure enough voters will agree.



Record: 7-6-0-0

Earnings: $2,808,600

Grade 1 wins: Kentucky Oaks, Mother Goose, Cotillion, Breeders’ Cup Distaff

She won the two biggest races of the year for the ladies, the Kentucky Oaks and the Breeders’ Cup Distaff. Her lone loss was a fifth in the Haskell Invitational when she took on the boys and a racing strip that was kind to speed in a race won by Bayern. Three of the last five Horse of the Year winners were females: Rachel Alexandra (2009), Zenyatta (2010) and Havre de Grace (2011). She is a serious candidate and with four Grade 1 victories, she is deserving.


Main Sequence

Record: 4-4-0-0

Earnings: $2,610,000

Grade 1 wins:  United Nations, Sword Dancer, Joe Hirsch Turf Classic, Breeders’ Cup Turf

The Graham Motion trainee won his first three races this year by a neck, a head and a neck, and was sent off at 6-1 in the Breeders’ Cup Turf as the Euros got most of the attention coming into the race. In fact, this guy was not really talked about much for year-end honors. However, a win in the Turf gave him his fourth Grade 1 win of the year, matching Untapable. Of course, there is precedent for a turf runner to be Horse of the Year, Wise Dan taking down the hardware the past two years. With voters possibly split between the top three-year-olds, this guy has a shot of pulling off the upset.


Wise Dan

Record: 4-4-0-0

Earnings: $1,259,310

Grade 1 wins: Makers 46 Mile, Woodward Reserve Turf Classic, Shadwell Turf Mile

The gelding had a serious shot of winning his third consecutive Horse of the Year award with a win the Breeders’ Cup Mile, but an ankle injury knocked him out of the race, and he probably is out of the race for Horse of the Year as well. He could garner some votes which might hurt the chances of fellow turf star Main Sequence.


How I predict the voting will go down:

1. California Chrome

2. Untapable

3. Main Sequence


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