Wise Dan's owner-breeder Morton Fink accepted the gelding's three trophies at the Eclipse Awards. Photo courtesy HorsePhotos.com
Now that the book has been closed on the 2012 racing season, one thing is for certain.
The voters got it right.
There were no real surprises at Saturday’s Eclipse Awards ceremonies as Wise Dan was correctly crowned as Horse of the Year and voters were even savvy enough to sidestep the temptation to spread the wealth. The gallant 6-year-old gelding was also chosen as the best older horse and male turf runner, despite some sentiment that Breeders’ Cup Classic winner Fort Larned and Breeders’ Cup Turf/Arlington Million winner Little Mike deserved some hardware.
The only close race was in the 3-year-old filly division where Questing eked out a slim 106-102 margin in first-place votes. That matchup was basically a coin flip as My Miss Aurelia finished ahead of Questing in their two meetings but Questing accomplished more throughout the year.
My own vote went to Questing. The deciding elements proved to be My Miss Aurelia’s post-Breeders’ Cup third-place finish in the La Brea and a feeling that Questing should not be penalized for her showing in the Breeders’ Cup Ladies’ Classic when she pulled up.
After that, in terms of non-landslides, came Pierrot Lunaire’s 116-99 win over Demonstrative for top steeplechaser honors – the lone misstep on my ballot.
The final tally for top older horse was 139-109 for Wise Dan over Fort Larned, which was closer than the vote should have been. In the Horse of the Year voting, Wise Dan was a much more decisive winner with 194 votes to 30 for I’ll Have Another and 12 for Fort Larned. While it would not have been unprecedented to say Wise Dan was the year’s best horse but not the No. 1 runner in his age bracket, it’s just not logical.
Fort Larned had an excellent year, but Wise Dan had a better one, losing just once – and he finished well ahead of Fort Larned in the Stephen Foster, that lone blemish on his resume.
Some may have bristled at the prospect of putting Wise Dan in exclusive company with his trifecta of trophies, but that was a misguided. While the three titles match what only John Henry, who did it last in 1981, Forego, Secretariat and Ack Ack accomplished, that honor does not hoist Wise Dan to the level of reverence as that foursome. It simply signified that Wise Dan had access to more categories than most of the sport’s greatest champions. Top dirt runners generally can win only Horse of the Year and the championship in their age category – unless they are a sprinter. Turf horses, meanwhile, have the added benefit of a championship for their prowess on sod in addition to one in their age category.
Being gelding, perhaps Wise Dan can elevate his status among the sport’s all-time greats over the course of the next few years. Until then, he should be saluted for exactly what he was in 2012: the year’s best horse – by a clear margin.
As for just how good a year it was, time will tell. But in mid-January of 2013, there’s a nice glow to it – thanks to some “wise” decisions.
WISE DAN ENDED HIS YEAR WITH A WIN IN THE BREEDERS' CUP MILE
Photo courtesy Penelope Miller
Dominguez recovering from head injury
In the most important part of the Eclipse Award announcement, thoughts and prayers go out to Ramon Dominguez, voted the champion jockey for a third-straight year, who was still hospitalized Sunday while recovering from a fractured skull suffered in a spill Friday at Aqueduct.
“He’s slowly progressing each day. He’s talking a little bit more today,” Dominguez’s agent Steve Rushing said Sunday via a text message released by the New York Racing Association.
And what are your thoughts? Did the voters get it right? What would you have done differently?