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updated: 11/29/2010 4:01 PM

Horse of the Year debate: Spencer for Blame

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  • Garrett Gomez, right, rides Blame to victory during the Classic race at the Breeder's Cup horse races at Churchill Downs on Nov. 6. Mike Smith, riding Zenyatta, finished second.

      Garrett Gomez, right, rides Blame to victory during the Classic race at the Breeder's Cup horse races at Churchill Downs on Nov. 6. Mike Smith, riding Zenyatta, finished second.
    Associated Press

  • The Horse of the Year debate comes down to Blame (right), vs. Zenyatta (left).

      The Horse of the Year debate comes down to Blame (right), vs. Zenyatta (left).
    Associated Press

  • Garrett Gomez, right, rides Blame to victory during the Breeders' Cup Classic on Nov. 6. Zenyatta, at left, finished second.

      Garrett Gomez, right, rides Blame to victory during the Breeders' Cup Classic on Nov. 6. Zenyatta, at left, finished second.
    Associated Press

  • Garrett Gomez, right, rides Blame to victory during the Classic race at the Breeder's Cup horse races at Churchill Downs on Nov. 6. Mike Smith, riding Zenyatta, finished second.

      Garrett Gomez, right, rides Blame to victory during the Classic race at the Breeder's Cup horse races at Churchill Downs on Nov. 6. Mike Smith, riding Zenyatta, finished second.
    Associated Press

 
By Brian W. Spencer

Brian W. Spencer writes for Horseplayernow.com

I've never seen a mare like Zenyatta in my lifetime, and my guess is I won't see another one like her again.

A mere head in a $5 million race separating her from a perfect 20-for-20, it would seem a shame if she were to retire with such a record and without a Horse of the Year Eclipse Award (HOY), right?

I don't have a vote for the Eclipse Awards, but if voters do the right thing this year and give Blame the HOY award, such an oddity will occur.

In 2009, Zenyatta did everything any horse could do to secure HOY, but unfortunately 2009 was not a normal year, with a spectacular 3-year-old filly by the name of Rachel Alexandra making history all year long and rightfully securing the honors.

In 2010, with several contenders heading into the Breeders' Cup Classic with legitimate Horse of the Year resumes, the race figured to be the deciding factor for this year's title, and Blame beat her to the wire fair and square the only horse that will ever have such a distinction.

HOY should not be about emotion; it should be about which horse compiles the best record on the track, and in 2010 that horse was Blame, hands down.

The winner of the year's two toughest races, the Breeders' Cup Classic and Whitney, he did everything a horse is supposed to do, and this year there is no horse with accomplishments to rival his achievements on paper.

After Rachel Alexandra returned with a disappointing 2010 campaign, some of those who voted for her seemed to have a bit of emotional buyers' remorse. I understand their thinking -- they didn't award HOY to the "best" horse, but they were right in awarding it to the horse that had the best season.

Perhaps it sounds callous, but the award has maintained its integrity for years by keeping emotion out of play, and that's why it's an honor with the word "year" in the title, and not a Lifetime Achievement Award.

Many voters seem poised to turn it into just that this year and give Zenyatta the Eclipse based on emotion and all she's done for the game, rather than her performance on the track this year.

There is precedent, however, for doing the right thing and voting for Blame. The last time a horse captivated a national audience the way Zenyatta did this year was when Smarty Jones failed in his bid to win the Triple Crown in 2004 and was retired after the Belmont.

A superbly brilliant runner named Ghostzapper trounced the toughest Breeders' Cup Classic field in recent memory and was awarded Horse of the Year because he had the best record on the track that year. No emotion or media attention changed that.

Zenyatta's legacy will not be defined by Eclipse Awards. Her greatness will be defined by her incredible soundness and longevity as a top-class racehorse and her unbelievable courage and nose for the wire. It would be a shame, after all she's done, for her HOY award to come as something of a backtracking pity or sympathy vote, a sort of "sorry we wronged you, Zenyatta, it's finally your turn," as if Zenyatta were the equine version of Susan Lucci in her epic quest for an Emmy.

Zenyatta and Blame are both deserving of better than that, and though I would bet that she will win the award this year, voters still have a chance to do the right thing and give Blame his due by awarding him the HOY title he very rightfully earned with his accomplishments in 2010.

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