Saturday, October 4, 2008

Horse of the Year...further discussion

The response I received from Dana concerning my last post got me to thinking a bit about how we weigh the different aspects of racing when rating our choice(s) for Horse of the Year.

Dana is admittedly in Zenyatta's corner, at this point in time, for Horse of the Year. In my last post I sided with Big Brown (at this point), but have Zenyatta rated second with Curlin rounding out the top three and having to race and win the B.C. Classic to win HOY in my mind.

Is this just a case of weighing the males with more importance than the distaff? I don't think so but as I stated in my last post it is self evident that the races run predominantly by males are weighted with much more importance. To my thinking this is not wrong. The entire industry revolves around the results of these races, especially the three year old Classics. The entire breed is built upon the genetics of those that dominate these races. This, too, may be a slight to the distaffers but it is a design of nature not of choice. A stallion can cover over a hundred mares (too many) but a mare can only have one foal a year. However, I believe the best racing stock is determined through female lines. Give me a good producer over a unproven well bred yearling every time. It's undeniable all the successful old private racing barns were built around their broodmares. It can be argued heatedly who was worth more to the breed Ballade or Halo. Obviously the argument is ridiculous as we need both but based just on success a good mare will produce better quality more often (percentage wise) than a stallion can ever hope to. I'm also not sure that basing the health of the breed on three year old horses is such a great idea -they're not even fully matured yet - (see my Year of the Five Year Old) but, nonetheless, that's the way it is.

I do believe the distaff division has been the most interesting, contentious and entertaining this year, but it is the older division that has created most of the excitement. And I do weigh them and the older male division with less in importance than the three year olds. Also I do rate a horse running routes more heavily than those sprinting. After all the ideal 'classic' thoroughbred is one bred to run fast carrying weight over a distance of ground. And I think this, the epitome of what the breed should be, should be omnipresent when making a decision as to which thoroughbred is HOY. Also as I mentioned in the last post the three year olds seeking Classic wins or a Triple Crown have to perform to a calender and not to races cherry picked to coincide with their best form. This is the hardest demand of all and one with which only they must contend.

So as I see it the only true discrimination against the distaffers is one that is mostly American. That being that we don't run the females against the males very often. I'm not sure why that is? Perhaps it's just a puritanically followed custom that has not been questioned. I don't think that is based on ability alone. While generally speaking it is possibly (and practically accepted) true that males may out perform females of the same age I don't know that this is true. I do know that I see no difference in the top performers in both divisions. One only has to think back to last years Belmont when Rags to Riches beat the reining horse of the year, and generally accepted best horse in the world, Curlin. I would give Zenyatta every bit as good a chance of winning the B.C. Classic as Big Brown and only slightly less a chance than Curlin. Perhaps the answer is to write some races that add incentive for more in the distaff division runners to challenge the males. Added money for a win? I don't know. I would like to see it more often. I also know that many came down hard on both Larry Jones and Todd Pletcher for running and, if I remember one particular word correctly, 'ruining' their fillies by running against the boys. I don't see how either horse was harmed by their race. Can you blame the race itself for Eight Belles tragedy or Rags to Riches precipitous decline? I don't think so.

So for the moment I will stand by my choice of Big Brown. But I will be rooting for Curlin. But I would love to see Zenyatta run against them both.

Discussion to be continued...


Anonymous said...

I think Zenyatta's got a good a shot as any to win the Classic. But it's the distaff division this year that's the most interesting. What about the turfers or the sprinters? They're unfairly overlooked too unless the triple crown stand out bombs in the classic.

George said...

Dana, Again I think you're right. I too love turf racing (though I don't handicap it well), however, the American game is so predominately weighted toward dirt that I think the turf runners are so little regarded because that is just a result of this fact. With the synthetics coming into vogue -and I think to stay for quite a while- this may slowly change over the next decade or two. But this is HOY in the U.S., not the world, so it is understandable that the dirt runners get top considerations. In Europe it would be unusual to see a dirt runner garner such honors. Though in Europe it is, as you know, a bit more likely that a horse would run on both surfaces. Also, I would argue that this year has been one of the least spectacular as far as U.S. grass racing. Up until (and maybe still so I haven't checked recently) Mike Watchmaker, in his Watchmaker Watch listings, has the Man O' War as the best turf race in the States this year. And, sadly enough, he may be right - I would vote for the Arlington Million. As far as sprinters go one would have to be unbelievably dominant, like Lost in the Fog was, but also win the BIG ones to to get my vote. In any case it's fun to disagree about it and know no one can really be right. -George

Patrick J Patten said...

there is no Male division. The best of the best run in open company, that's 3&up. I think Zenyatta has been awesome this year, but I think the TBA standings have it right. Right now Big Brown #1 635 Curlin 2 @ 560, if Zenyatta wanted to be HORSE of the year, she's compete against all horses, that's not the gameplan for her connections, i'd like to see her run in the Classic, but that doesn't fit her goals, shame, but the facts. Big Brown you could argue has ran in the 3yo only category, but the Classic will determine HOTY and everyone is invited.

George said...

Thanks Patrick. I should more clearly have said open company when refering to male runners. But part of my point is that though it may be 'open company' the races are run almost exclusively as though there is a male division. Few are the fillies and/or mares that challenge in open company. Is the distaff division (in the minds of trainers and owners) truly a helpful bias and so they avoid open company? or is it a quirk of U.S. racing? I really don't know the answer.