I have stated numerous times on this blog that I do not have a vote for Horse Of The Year. However, that fact does not prevent me from offering my opinion on who should be Horse Of The Year. Firstly, I think there are only three legitimate candidates for the award: Blame, Goldikova, and Zenyatta. Oddly enough, each of these three candidates have something in common: they each lost once in 2010. Blame finished behind Haynesfield in the Grade 1 Jockey Club Gold Cup, Goldikova finishes behind Makfi in the Group 1 Prix Jacques le Marois, and Zenyatta finished behind Blame in the Grade 1 Breeders' Cup Classic.
To begin with, I will address the candidacy of Goldikova since I think she might have the most working against her. She did something no other horse has ever done in 2010, she completed a three-peat of victories in the same race in the Breeders' Cup, turning the trick in the Mile once again at Churchill Downs. Her closing kick in the Mile was one of the more tantalizing sights of the Saturday card of racing in the Cup, as she ate up the ground and drove past Gio Ponti, The Usual Q.T., and everyone else to win under a perfect ride from Olivier Peslier. However, that was her only start in America, and while she did win at three different distances in 2010 (seven furlongs, one mile, and one mile and one eighth), I just don't think she is in the same class as the other two candidates for Horse Of The Year this year.
Next is Blame, who most observers seem to think will win the award. He started in five races this year and is the only one of the three candidates to run with less than Grade or Group 1 company, winning the Grade 3 Schaefer at Pimlico on Preakness day to kickstart his season. From there, Blame was a force in every race he ran in sans one. He ran down Battle Plan to win the Grade 1 Stephen Foster at Churchill Downs, he ran down Quality Road to win the Grade 1 Whitney at Saratoga, he won the Grade 1 Breeders' Cup Classic by holding off the best horse we might have seen in the last ten years to score by a scant nose. However, he was absolutely trounced by Haynesfield in the Grade 1 Jockey Club Gold Cup at Belmont Park. Haynesfield was able to set the pace and win by a convincing margin that day and while it is true that Haynesfield was among those beaten by Blame in the Classic, it is also true that the Classic just did not set up for Haynesfield's style and his bid was doomed from the start.
Finally, we have Zenyatta. She ran six times in 2010 and won five them, all with Grade 1 company. I know that the competition didn't always merit Grade 1 consideration, but those are the facts. She ran over five different racetracks in 2010 and several different types of surface (Pro-ride, Cushion, Polytrack, and conventional dirt). She tackled all comers until the last race and she lost by the narrowest and bitterest of margins. Her other conventional dirt race resulted in her tremendous win in the Grade 1 Apple Blossom, a race her connections still sent her to even after the defection of the horse we all wanted her to face, Rachel Alexandra. She provided us with heart-wrenching excitement in nearly every other race she ran in, whether it was running down a gritty St. Trinians in the Grade 1 Vanity at Hollywood or doing the same to Switch in the Grade 1 Lady's Secret during the Oak Tree meeting at the same racetrack.
I think we also need to evaluate what Zenyatta has done for the entire sport of racing over the past year. She was profiled on "60 Minutes", she was featured by Oprah Winfrey as one of the "Women Of The Year", she created an atmosphere around her every time she went to the track that no horse has been able to replicate since the days of Secretariat. I think it might be true that even if you didn't bet a nickel on Zenyatta, you inevitably found yourself rooting for her.
In the final analysis, does her losing by a nose to Blame devalue all those other accomplishments she blessed us with in 2010? Does Blame getting drilled by Haynesfield outweigh the fact that he managed to defeat Zenyatta on the biggest stage the game has to offer? As I said earlier, I don't have a vote for Horse Of The Year, but if I had one I would give it to Zenyatta. She was clearly the Horse Of The Year in everyone's heart and she also was the Horse Of The Year at the racetrack. The devoted fans she has proved it every time she went out to do what she did and I think that even in defeat, she gave us her greatest performance of all twenty of her starts.
Tune in again tomorrow for more from They Are Off. For right now, I am Gone... GOODBYE!