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A debate worth having

It is a refreshing change. Nothing in terms of identifying the eventual
Horse of the Year for 2012 is cut and dry. There is room for difference of
opinion that spares the emotional fervor of Rachel Alexandra and Zenyatta at
the end of 2009 or the sense of fait accompli that preceded Zenyatta a year
later and Havre de Grace at the end of 2011. Opinions differ without
profane slurs. There are arguments to be made on behalf of more than one or two
of the season's best and civility prevails.

What's the racing world coming to?

Humans being more readily handicapped than horses, Wise Dan appears to be
the favorite and it is difficult to muster a bullet-proof argument either in
favor of or in opposition to his candidacy. Beauty is indeed in the eye
of the horseplayer. The last National Thoroughbred Racing Association poll
suggested a substantial plurality in support of Wise Dan and most of the
voters are also participants in Eclipse Award voting. At the same time, Wise
Dan's success was limited to mile races on grass - a specialty for which
there is no Eclipse category -- and in any other year Little Mike, winner
of three Grade 1 races on grass, including the two the most prestigious
international races run in the United States, would be the certain turf-course
champion. It appears that the fortune of one of these very talented and
deserving horses will come at the expense of the other.

Wise Dan: Woodbine Mile, Shadwell Turf Mile, Breeders' Cup Mile.

Little Mike: Woodford Reserve Turf Classic, Arlington Million, Breeders'
Cup Turf.

The lack of anything in this realm that can be viewed at cut-and-dry
almost a month after the Breeders' Cup lends a component to the new year that
has been missing for some time - suspense.

Your call, but Little Mike's portfolio is stronger than Wise Dan's.
Certainly, Fort Larned merits consideration after adding the Breeders' Cup
Classic to the Whitney Handicap he won last summer at Saratoga. Winning the
Classic puts a horse in the frame but in this case guarantees little else.
He may be charisma challenged, a perhaps overwhelming handicap in a
contentious poll.

Support for Kentucky Derby and Preakness winner I'll Have Another, now a
resident of Japan, is a bit surprising. Retirement of a 3-year-old in June is
not the path to immortality and the division in which he competed was, as
best, profoundly ordinary, its leading figures better known for injury and
illness than competitive heroics. Certainly, I'll Have Another will be
champion 3-year-old if only by default but there is no argument to be made for
the frivolous Horse of the Year aspirations of his fans and connections.
On the other hand, the lack of support for Royal Delta is perhaps more
surprising. Here is a defending Breeders' Cup Ladies Classic champion who
repeated emphatically at Santa Anita while defeating a field of females that
included two undefeated champions, both Breeders' Cup winners; the winner of
the Coaching Club American Oaks and Alabama Stakes and a California-based
multiple Grade 1 winner - the best field assembled anywhere this year and
one of the deepest in the race's history. Yet Royal Delta - who should be
the frontrunner to become the fourth female in as many years to win this
title -- is not the favorite to win the Horse of the Year vote. If her lack of
a victory over males is held against her, her accomplishment more than
balances the scale.

The lack of anything in this realm that can be viewed at cut-and-dry
almost a month after the Breeders' Cup lends a component to the new year that
has been missing for some time - suspense.

In the advance of winter, a bit of suspense that does not involve the
fiscal cliff is a good thing.