Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Horse of the Year or Horse of the Decade

Is Zenyatta the Horse of the Year, the Horse of the Decade? Or both?

To this observer that is the only remaining question in the ongoing debate between Blame and Zenyatta proponents for 2010 Horse of the Year. Think about it....no, seriously. Project yourself, say 10 years into the future, and ask yourself who will be remembered as Horse of the Decade for the first ten years of the 2000s.

I'm certain there are readers who will disagree, but I cannot see how it can be any horse but Zenyatta for Horse of the Decade. She will be the only significant horse to lose only one race, the only winner of 19 straight, the only mythic equine figure of the decade, the only horse the public remembers from the "naughty noughts".

The other possible candidates? Maybe Tiznow, who did become a two-time Breeders' Cup Classic winner in the first year of the decade. Curlin was Horse of the Year twice, but tailed off rather markedly after his return from Dubai. Ghostzapper made the speed boys shiver but did not race very often, and his apparent belly flop at stud will hurt him in the past's rear-view mirror, justified or not. How can any of that compare to winning the first 19 of 20 starts and the mythic status that streak acquired? What other American-based horse really did much worth remembering for more than one season? What other horse evoked comparisons to the all-time greats of the sport?

I'm sure I'm missing someone and you readers will remind me, but I can't come up with any other really deserving candidates. The classic 3-year-olds all flubbed their lines at one time or the other. Rachel Alexandra was brilliant for one season against a bad crop of 3-year-old colts and an almost non-existent older male division. The American grass horses have become a joke. Azeri also won three consecutive older mare titles, but no one except possibly Michael Paulson really thinks she should be compared to Ruffian.

So how can a horse clearly be the Horse of the Decade and not be voted Horse of the Year even one of those years? Well, it could happen. The speed figure believers have never liked her, the anti-synthetic crowd doesn't like her (despite the fact that she ran probably her three best races in her only starts on dirt), and there is still a strong Eastern bias to the voting base. I suspect, though, that the strongest opposition comes from the folks who are saying the award should go to the horse who won the biggest race of the year against the best field of the year. Of course, many of those are the same folks who voted for Rachel Alexandra last year, ignoring the obvious fact that it was Zenyatta who won the biggest race against the best field last year. Go figure.

Intelligent, honorable people can certainly disagree, and I cast no aspersions on anyone else's opinion. But for me, Zenyatta cannot be Horse of the Decade and not be Horse of the Year. She's earned it.