Horse of the Year debate: Kristufek for Zenyatta
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About an hour after the Breeders' Cup Classic, while still in a fog, I posted the following status on my Facebook page.
"Blame had an incredible year. Blame beat Zenyatta on the square. Blame = Horse of the Year."
But Horse of the Year should be awarded based on a horse's resume, not on sentiment, right?
Blame won three Grade I stakes races. He dealt the legendary Zenyatta the first, and only loss of her 20-race career.
Zenyatta won five Gade I races this year, but beat only a few relevant horses in the process.
In professional sports, an award is given for the "Most Valuable Player". Statistics are a key component, but intangibles and the success of the team also come into play. The question voters must ask themselves: which player was the "most valuable" to have?
There is no such established criterion when voting for the Horse of the Year, but in a race for "Most Valuable Horse" Zenyatta would win by a pole over any HOY contender.
At the age of 6, most mares lose their competitive edge and want to be a mommy. Zenyatta was supposed to retire after last year, but she refused.
Rachel Alexandra got the East Coast bias nod over Zenyatta for 2009 Horse of the Year honors (I voted for Zenyatta). The two were supposed to settle their "who is better" dispute on the racetrack in the Apple Blossom at Oaklawn. Zenyatta showed up, but Rachel did not.
This year, she had our hearts in our throats in the Vanity, Clement Hirsch and in the Lady's Secret, winning all three in the final jump, but drama is part of her shtick. It's what makes her special.
Many racing enthusiasts jabbed at Zenyatta's connections for ducking big races out of state in favor of ones they knew she could win at home in California.
Hit the pause button.
Zenyatta entered her title defense in the Breeders' Cup Classic as the undefeated, undisputed heavyweight champion. Had she suffered a loss leading in, the intrigue would have been sucked right out of the event. Instead, even though she fell a nose short on that day, we were rewarded with one of the most memorable sports moments of the year, and a race for the ages.
Not since Smarty Jones in 2004, and to a certain extent Barbaro two years later, has a horse captured the imagination of the general public like Zenyatta. Her come from behind style, her patented "Z-dance" videos on YouTube, and an appearance on "60 Minutes" branded minds. The morning after the Classic, despite her loss, hundreds gathered to pay homage to one of the most fan-friendly horses of all time.
The Breeders' Cup handle was up significantly and the TV ratings tripled because of her. The horse racing industry needed a shot in the arm, and Zenyatta provided one.
Vastly underappreciated, our game craves coverage from the mainstream media, and Zenyatta gave them a reason to pay attention. You can't put a price on coverage like that.
Zenyatta's connections are legitimate and likeable. Racing her this year was their gift to the sport. Racing stars come and go. At the end of the day, Blame heads to the breeding shed as a sound 4-year-old.
Some have suggested creating a "career achievement" award for Zenyatta. The Big Sport of Turfdom and the Eclipse Award of Merit are out there too, but sorry, they just don't have the same bite as the coveted Horse of the Year title.
Zenyatta was a breath of fresh air for an industry that desperately needed one. She captivated the nation, creating a new legion of fans that will help spread the word that horse racing is cool.
Blame will be remembered as a good horse. He will forever be tied to Zenyatta because he beat her.
Zenyatta, on the other hand, leaves a legacy in her wake.
A vote for Blame certainly isn't wrong, but if you love and care about the horse racing industry and understand her mass contributions to the sport, a vote for Zenyatta is right.
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