The debate for Horse of the Year is in full swing with Wise Dan the likely winner by default thanks to Game On Dude, who for the second year in a row came up lacking in the Breeders’ Cup Classic (G1).
There would not be a debate if Game On Dude had won the Classic. The Bob Baffert trainee came into the race undefeated in five starts in 2013, with victories in the San Antonio (G2), Santa Anita Handicap (G1), Charles Town Classic (G2), Hollywood Gold Cup (G1) and Pacific Classic (G1).
After losing the 2012 Horse of the Year award with a seventh place finish in the Classic at even money, he was even worse this year, fading to finish ninth, again as the beaten favorite.
The 2012 Horse of the Year Wise Dan took the same path in 2013, and there are some Eclipse voters that are rather unimpressed with his campaign.
Andy Beyer wrote, “Knowledgeable handicappers know that Wise Dan’s victories this year were unimpressive. People with an appreciation of racing history know that horses with his specialty should not be an American champion. And fans should not want to honor a horse whose owner and trainer ducked tough challenges all year.”
I disagree with Beyer that a “specialty” horse should not win the Horse of the Year honors. If a sprinter goes undefeated in 10 starts and caps off the year winning the Breeders’ Cup Sprint (G1), and no distance horse established himself throughout the year, wouldn’t that sprinter make a fine Horse of the Year candidate?
Beyer’s statement that Wise Dan, “ducked tough challenges all year” does not hold water. Sure, the gelding was pointed exclusively to one-mile turf races, but that is what he does best, and I cannot blame the connections for going that route.
The gelding won six of his seven starts this year, his lone loss coming in the Shadwell Turf Mile (G1), which was washed off the turf and contested on polytrack. The gelding ran second as the beaten favorite.
He won four Grade 1 races including the Breeders’ Cup Mile and a pair of Grade 2 races.
Who has a better record than that?
Beyer says he is voting for Mucho Macho Man, the winner of the Breeders’ Cup Classic (G1). The five-year-old finished up the year great with his wins in the Awesome Again (G1) and Classic, but that was during a five-week span and he was zero for three earlier in the year.
He was pulled up in the Sunshine Millions Classic, was third in the ungraded Criminal Type, and then was third in the Whitney Handicap (G1). That just does not look like a Horse of the Year campaign to me.
I thought Princess of Sylmar would have made a fine Horse of the Year winner, but she came up short in the Breeders’ Cup Distaff (G1), fading to finish sixth.
The three-year-old filly had an outstanding year, winning six of her first seven starts including wins in the Grade 1’s Kentucky Oaks, Coaching Club of America Oaks, Alabama and Beldame.
Beholder snuffed out her Horse of the Year hopes by winning the Distaff, and she had a pretty darn good year as well. The Richard Mandella trainee won five of her seven starts including Grade 1 wins in the Las Virgines, Santa Anita Oaks, Zenyatta, and the Distaff. One of her losses was a second in the Kentucky Oaks.
We could have made a good argument for Will Take Charge if the D. Wayne Lukas trainee had been able to run down Mucho Macho Man in the Classic. After getting dusted in the Triple Crown races the colt bounced back with wins in the Travers (G1) and Pennsylvania Derby (G2), and after his second in the Classic came back to win the Clark Handicap (G1).
It would have been pretty simple to come up with the Horse of the Year if Game On Dude had done his job or even perhaps if Princess of Sylmar won her fifth Grade 1 in the Distaff.
However, their losses were Wise Dan’s gain.