Swanky ceremonies to honor the 2016 Longines World's Best Racehorse will be held Tuesday, Jan. 24, at Claridge's Hotel in the heart of London's Mayfair district.
This is not to be confused with the 2016 Cartier Racing Awards of last Nov. 8, which also were presented in London at the Dorchester Hotel, or the dressy dinner at Gulfstream Park up the road from Miami next Saturday, which will salute the winners of the 2016 Eclipse Awards.
Coolmore's filly Minding won the Cartier Horse of the Year Award, Arrogate ended up on top of the Longines rankings for World's Best Racehorse, and California Chrome is expected to take the Eclipse Award as North American Horse of the Year. But for those still uncertain, there is another way to tell them apart.
A short walk to Hyde Park from the Dorchester can be found the statue of the legendary warrior Achilles, which honors the Duke of Wellington. It was unveiled in 1822, just seven years after the Duke spanked Napoleon at Waterloo. The 33 tons of bronze used to craft the imposing, 18-foot figure were rendered from Wellington's cannons.
In Grosvenor Square, just down the block from Claridge's, the memorial to Franklin Delano Roosevelt is crowned by a 10-foot statue of the American president standing atop a 13-foot white stone plinth. The Roosevelt statue was funded by a grateful British public in the wake of World War II, literally with contributions of nickels and dimes, and unveiled in 1948 on the third anniversary of FDR's death. Eleanor Roosevelt was there, along with King George VI and his daughter, Princess Elizabeth.
As for Gulfstream Park, the only statuary within hailing distance is the 100-foot-tall representation of the winged horse Pegasus locked in battle with a gnarly dragon in the adjacent shopping center's parking lot. What it has to do with Thoroughbred racing is a mystery, except for the fact that the Pegasus World Cup is about to come to life Jan. 28, with its advertised purse of $12 million. The statue reportedly cost $30 million.
If nothing else, the Pegasus race will present a rare opportunity to find out which award got it right, since both California Chrome and Arrogate are hurtling in that direction. Arrogate will collect a healthy amount of Horse of the Year votes, based on his half-length victory over California Chrome in the Breeders' Cup Classic, their only meeting, while California Chrome ended up just a pound below Arrogate in the Longines tally, 134-133.
As to the difference, the Eclipse Awards are determined by a nakedly subjective system in which some 200 or so industry insiders apply their personal standards to a year's worth of competition at the highest levels, and then vote like nearly everyone else. It's about as scientific as a pie fight.
The Longines World Rankings, on the other hand, are cloaked in the mumbo jumbo of race ratings and one-time superior performance spikes soberly applied by a committee of racing officials and handicappers associated with the International Federation of Horseracing Authorities, a group that has no particular authority over anything other than the Longines World Rankings.
Someone sold them on the idea of comparing horses running on five different continents, without the benefit of most of those horses coming within 5,000 miles of each other. There is a formula. Really, there is.
Then again, in 2014, two of the top three rated races in the Longines World Rankings were the Japan Cup, which was advertised "in association with Longines," and the Longines Hong Kong Mile. In 2015, it was revealed that six major events in Hong Kong, led by the Longines Hong Kong International Races, could be found in the list of the top 25 worldwide Group 1 stakes in the Longines rankings.
Well, good for Hong Kong, and good for Longines. The timepiece giant has put its money into the sport with style and makes the best commercials featuring horses, bar none. Anyway, the awards circuit -- from Cartier to Eclipse to Longines -- is there to offer handsome knickknacks for a variety of jobs well done. The more the merrier.
Still, the only true measure is out there on the field, whether the standard of excellence is a long career at the top of the game, as delivered by California Chrome, or a couple of tempting displays of intoxicating promise, courtesy of a colt like Arrogate. Get them together more than once, then you've got a work of art.
Another chance for SAFE Act
The announcement that the SAFE Act has been reintroduced in Congress should be greeted with full-throated support from all corners of the U.S. Thoroughbred world. The act calls for bans on horse slaughter, the transport of horses for slaughter, and the production of horse meat for human consumption.
Hopefully, proponents of the law will find a way to encourage its passage without the talking point decrying horseflesh as unclean meat because, as performance and companion animals, they legally receive drugs that should not be in the food chain.
Instead, there should be a calm and persistent assertion that the descendants of Pegasus and Eclipse hold a special place in the American experience that deserves special protection, and no amount of grisly, anecdotal evidence of how the Donner Party ate their horses before they turned on each other will change that sacred relationship. If it's wrong -- and it is -- there should be a law against it.