It's horse racing, not Little League

December, 3, 2012
12/03/12
11:52
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When the 2012 Eclipse Awards are handed out in January a scene out of the spectacular year of 1973 could be repeated.

For back then, the immortal Secretariat took home three of racing's year-end prizes. He was voted Horse of the Year as well as the champion 3-year-old and top turf runner.

Wise Dan could conceivably be named Horse of the Year, the champion turf runner and the best older male.

With some luck it could happen again, and other greats like Ack Ack, Forego and John Henry get some long overdue company as hat trick winners.

Wise Dan could conceivably be named Horse of the Year, the champion turf runner and the best older male of 2012.

Could.

He might win only two awards and if some folks have their way, in a page torn out of a Little League scorebook, he'll win just one -- the biggest prize of them all, Horse of the Year.

As illogical as that may sound, there is at least a bit of logic to some, but not all, of it.

In terms of Horse of the Year, Wise Dan seems to have it sewn up.

Yet as far as the top turf male goes, there's reasonable doubt.

Wise Dan's accomplishments on turf include wins in the Breeders' Cup Mile, two Grade 1's, the Shadwell Turf Mile and Woodbine Mile, and Grade 2 Fourstardave.

Not bad, but some voters could view Little Mike's resume in a better light. That list of accomplishments features wins in the Breeders' Cup Turf and Arlington Million, two of the year's richest and most important turf races. He also won the Grade 1 Woodford Reserve Turf Classic and the ungraded Florida Sunshine Millions Turf, though he lost three times.

Wise Dan was unbeaten on turf.

Clearly there's room for a lively debate.

Which should not be the case in one other category.

There seems to be some sentiment to choose Wise Dan as Horse of the Year but name Breeders' Cup Classic winner Fort Larned as the champion older male, which makes little sense.

Unless Wise Dan booted Man's Best Friend Einstein out of the DeLorean and took a ride in Doc Brown and Marty McFly's time-travel machine from "Back to the Future," he spent this entire year racing as a 5-year-old, which constitutes being an older male. As versatile as Wise Dan may have been, to embrace saying he did enough to be named the year's best horse but was not the best horse in his age category is something that has never happened in the 40-year history of the Eclipse Awards and now is not the time for a precedence.

There are a few ways it can unfold in that manner, and both are ill-advised. One would involve placing a nonexistent criteria on the award that it goes to the year's best older dirt horse, which happens much of the time but is not a requirement. Some view Wise Dan's versatility with excellent performances on grass, synthetics and dirt as the key to making him Horse of the Year, but there's no rule saying versatility should not factor into an individual category as well.

There's a winner and a lot more who lose in every race, and that's what should happen in the Eclipse Award voting.

The other reason seems to center on making everyone feel good, much like they do in youth sports when everyone on every team gets a trophy. Fort Larned won only five of his nine 2012 starts, which does not have a Horse of the Year ring to it -- or much of an Eclipse Award ring to it, for that matter. But he did indeed have a fine year with wins in the Breeders' Cup Classic, the Grade 1 Whitney and the Grade 3 Prairie Meadows Cornhusker and Skip Away, and the reasoning is that there should be some reward for a year that good.

The same logic was woven into a foolish outcry to give the Horse of the Year to both Rachel Alexandra and Zenyatta in 2009, and it was as wrong then as it is now.

Horse racing, like any other sport, revolves around winning. Horses are not loaded into a starting gate and then pulled out without racing with two of them deemed the winners.

There's a winner and a lot more who lose in every race, and that's what should happen in the Eclipse Award voting. If you pull the lever for Wise Dan as Horse of the Year, you have to vote for him as the best older horse. Case closed.

If anyone feels Fort Larned had a better year than Wise Dan, then they should vote for him as best older male AND Horse of the Year. Perhaps they should vote for I'll Have Another or Royal Delta, who will win their respective categories, as Horse of the Year. That makes sense.

As much as there could be some sympathy for the connections of Fort Larned, even if they leave the Eclipse Awards dinner without a trophy they will not enter the new year empty-handed. Their horse did earn them $3,598,455 and a lifetime of thrills in 2012.

That alone is a pretty nice reward, wouldn't you say?

Remember, it's horse racing, not Little League.

• Bob Ehalt grew up a few furlongs from Belmont Park and has followed horse racing as a fan, turf writer or owner since 1971.
• Has won three Associated Press Sports Editors awards and was the recipient of the '09 Breeders' Cup media award for outstanding social media.

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