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.


  1. The honor is for the year, not the decade. If popularity and name recognition were the criteria, then Smarty Jones and Barbaro should have been Horse of the Year and they weren't.

  2. So far as this voter knows, there are NO established criteria for Horse of the Year. Therefore different voters give it different spins. Always have, always will. And besides, best racehorse of this year is definitely open to debate.

  3. To this voter, HOY is about performance on the track. And Blame beat the "Horse of the Decade" in addition to having a very good year on the track.

  4. Mr. Sparkman, Well Said!
    You have a horse that will undoubtedly go into the Hall of Fame, but may not be voted HOTY. REALLY??? You have a HORSE OF THE DECADE, who may not be voted HOTY? If this decision is made, voters will look inept and unqualified and will lose any credibility they may have. Not only that, the honor of Horse of the Year will have much less meaning in years to come.
    And to anon,
    Every year, there are good horses like Blame. Every year. A Zenyatta comes along once in a lifetime.

  5. In my humble opinion, just whom do you think Hollywood will be courting for a no-brainer, blockbuster movie? Zenyatta or Blame????? I know on which I'd be spending my hard-earned money to see!

  6. To Susan: Yes, a horse like Blame comes every year. That is why I am voting for him for Horse of the Year, not horse of a lifetime. I voted for Zenyatta last year when I thought she was the best horse in 2009.

  7. You know, I don't care. Zenyatta was a happy filly and a happy mare and hopefully will be a happy mama. That's all that matters to me. She gave all of us such joy in her career; in a way, she's above such human awards as HOTY.

  8. I think it's important to the sport, but I suspect a large segment of voters either don't recognize that or simply don't care. They'd rather vote according to their own petty interests and preferences. What else is new?

  9. I think you hit the nail on the head. Too many people "vote according to their own petty interests and preferences." Zenyatta clearly deserved HOTY in 2009 and deserves it again in 2010 (although not quite so clearly).


  10. Both Blame and Zenyatta are outstanding horses, but how does a horse look any more impressive than Zenyatta finishing second in the Classic?

    A loss that moved a lot of perceptions, I believe.


  11. John,

    I agree with you assessment but I would also give a nod to Sea The Stars......his body or work was significant.


  12. As noted, I was restricting it to American horses, so Sea The Stars was not a candidate.

  13. I hope you're right Frank, but there's a big block of people at your former employer who have always been dead set against her for their own reasons, which I'm sure you understand. I doubt that's changed.

  14. John –

    Nice to see a thoughtful post on this invariably contentious topic. Your conclusions, however, and especially your blithe undervaluation of Rachel Alexandra's three-year-old campaign, warrant a response.

    We are talking about a filly which beat males the Preakness (the first to do so in 85 years), the Haskell (the second filly ever to do so, and recording the fastest time of the year by the reckoning of many speed figure makers), and Woodward (the only female to win ever that race, and the first 3yo filly to win a Grade I race at a mile or beyond against males in NY since 1887). She won the latter race on courage and class, as it was clear to some of us who were around her at Saratoga that she was over the top. Unfortunately, though consistent with my previous assertion, Rachel was gutted by the stress of that race, and never fully recovered.

    Now, it's perfectly fair to argue that neither male division was particularly strong, as quality of competition is an important variable to consider. However, her accomplishments were nevertheless extraordinary, and, it is precisely when viewing Zenyatta's accomplishments through the same lens that it should become clear that Rachel was a deserving HOY winner.

    The quality of females that Z beat throughout her career was exceptionally low. Ginger Punch does not count, as she obviously failed to show her best in their only meeting. Zenyatta's only good class competition was in the Breeders' Cup, but you, like many observers, are taking too much for granted.

    There is no evidence to suggest that none of the other principals in that race – with the small, possible exception of Gio Ponti – ran to its best. Obviously Summer Bird did not reproduce his best, nor did any of those finishing behind him. Most of Twice Over's performances on turf this season were clearly better than his lone synthetic run. Even Gio Ponti is arguably better on turf, and, though a more nuanced point, there is evidence to suggest that he is better over shorter trips.

    In essence, Zenyatta was on her home court, racing over her optimum distance, and was facing horses which had travelled long distances, and which were arguably not at their best under the conditions of the race.

    Having said all of that, and given the lack of set criteria, I have no problem with Z being named HOY this year. But those who might argue that Blame is deserving of the honor are not, contrary to your suggestion, being inconsistent with last year's result.

  15. Sorry, a small correction. Third from last paragraph above:

    "There is no evidence to suggest that none..." should have read "There is evidence..."

  16. John, I think that you are correct. Zenyatta is the horse of the decade. But Smarty Jones came within 30 feet of being a triple crown winner after being tag teamed by Bailey and Nakatani on serious good horses. He put both of them away and just missed. He also had thousands of people show up to watch him train and was only defeated once in his career. I think that qualifies him as a serious horse.

  17. Tinky, you and I will have to agree to disagree on this one. Rachel Alexandra was overrated because she beat bad horses, pure and simple, in my view. I see no reason whatever to assume that Summer Bird did not run his race in the Breeders' Cup as you so blithely assert. Speed figures? Don't trust them for a second, especially from certain quarters that have a definite axe to grind against synthetics. And I see no conclusive reason to assume Ginger Punch ran that much below her best in the Apple Blossom. Twice Over's form this year better? Why do you say that? Just because he won some G1s against inferior horses? So what? He's a Timeform 128-129 horse, and that's as good as he is. If anything he might have run a bit better on synthetic in my opinion.

    As for Rachel's "first sinces", so what? What matters is what she beat, which is to say, not much.

    And we'll definitely have to disagree that people who use the "He won the biggest race" argument but ignored that argument last year are not being inconsistent. There are at least as many equivocations about Blame's win this year as there were about Zenyatta's last year, so that's just a non-starter for me.


  18. GREAT TOPIC including FACTS as well as opinion. and if ANYONE saw as MANY replays of the BC Classic they would realize that the VERY START of ANY RACE is when the Hind Legs of racehorses "EXPLODE" more than ANY other time in a race. And since Zenyatta like to come come "easy and slow" she got BLASTED WITH DIRT AND DIRT CLODS LIKE NEVER BEFORE!!! And THAT HAD TO "HURT". And You could tell because she dropped SO FAR BEHIND that she normally does anyway. But she "What she was Made of" with an EXPLOSION OF HER OWN and was ONE JUMP SHY if WINNING and retiring a Perfect 20-for-20!!
    I just REALLY HOPE that they would send her abroad and be bred to SEA THE STARS because HE was the HORSE OF THE CENTURY for the ENTIRE WORLD and a Pedigree to Match!! Look at what a good sire his half-brtoher GALLILEO has been. And SEA THE STARTS would have "dusted" Gallileo as well as any other "Great Horse" in the past.

  19. Tinky, I doubt if anyone could hate arguing any more than I do, so let's just leave it as agreeing to disagree.

  20. No question Zenyatta was Horse of the Decade (except when did the decade start -- 2000, or 2001?) (at least in North America; haven't really thought about the whole world and the whole decade).

    But she wasn't Horse of the Year in 2010. Blame had a better year. And in the context of the whole world (which becomes relevant when you're thinking about Horse of the Year even if the award is one for horses that raced at least once in NA), Zenyatta didn't even have the best racing year by a mare in 2010.

    (As may be obvious from the foregoing, my worldwide Horse of the Year 2010 is Snow Fairy.)

    Personally, I believe Zenyatta had a better 2009 than Rachel Alexandra, which is amazing because Rachel had a 2009 for the ages -- but we've all argued that to death.

    Whether the "decade" is 2000-2009 or 2001-2010, don't we get the same answer? Zenyatta.

  21. Excellent blog. I'm constantly astounded at how many people think Blame is definitively the better horse when he beat Zenyatta by mere inches. He proved he was a good horse (after getting his head handed to him in the Jockey Club Gold Cup) but in that race, Zenyatta proved she was a great horse. Clearly there are no rules regarding Horse of the Year but basing it on "winning the biggest race of the year" is hogwash, as Zenyatta already knows quite well. If you're going to be East-Coast biased or dirt biased or stallion biased or old money biased, so be it, but own up to it, please and stop using the Breeders' Cup Classic winner excuse when close to half of those winners were NOT named HOTY. ~BonnieH

  22. You got it just exactly right, John. Zenyatta is Horse of the Decade and beyond. Given that everyone in the industry with any sense recognizes that, does it really matter which horse is Horse of the Year? If it is not Zenyatta it will be soon forgotten.
    Claudia Atwell Canouse