This year’s race for Horse of the Year is undoubtedly one of the more muddled in recent history.
A lack of any real standout campaigns this season, coupled with Drosselmeyer’s upset win in the Breeders’ Cup Classic, has left voters with the task of deciding who’s the best of a seemingly mediocre lot.
Havre de Grace, who would become the third straight female to win Horse of the Year following Rachel Alexandra in 2009 and Zenyatta last year, is considered a tepid favorite by most observers.
The 4-year-old filly won three Grade 1 races this year, including the Woodward Stakes vs. males, and in all likelihood would have locked down the award with a win in the Breeders’ Cup Classic. However, her disappointing fourth-place finish has lent some voters to look elsewhere.
Other leading candidates include a pair of California-based runners, Game on Dude and Acclamation. Game on Dude merits consideration based on his wins in the Santa Anita Handicap and Hollywood Gold Cup, California’s most prestigious races for older horses, and his game runner-up finish in the Breeders’ Cup Classic.
Acclamation won five straight graded stakes in California earlier this year, but none of his wins came on a conventional dirt track and he didn’t compete in the Breeders’ Cup.
Two New York-based runners, Flat Out and Tizway, are also on the short list of Horse of the Year candidates. Flat Out won the Jockey Club Gold Cup and Suburban Handicap, but he was second to Havre de Grace in the Woodward Stakes and also checked in behind the filly in the Classic.
Tizway’s candidacy has gained a bit of steam recently after Mike Watchmaker, national handicapper for the Daily Racing Form, declared the colt his Horse of the Year. Tizway had only two wins this year, but they came in two of New York’s most prestigious races. Tizway set a new stakes record when winning Met Mile, and he followed that up with a dominating win in the Whitney Handicap at Saratoga.
Unfortunately, Tizway was injured in the run-up to the Breeders’ Cup and didn’t participate.
Others likely to receive Horse of the Year votes are Cape Blanco, who was by far the most accomplished turf runner in North America in 2011; and 2-year-old filly My Miss Aurelia, who capped a perfect 4-for-4 campaign with a win in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies.
The Horse of the Year Award will be presented as part of the Eclipse Awards ceremony at the Beverly Wilshire in Beverly Hills, Calif. on Jan. 16.
A Brief History of Santa Anita Park, Known as the ‘Great Race Place’ & Horse Racing’s Premier Venue
It was a very merry Christmas for Southern California race fans when Santa Anita Park opened for business on Dec. 25, 1934. The sprawling facility, built on a 410-acre parcel outside of Los Angeles, proved an instant hit with its art-deco architecture, postcard vistas of the San Gabriel Mountains and top-class racing.
Santa Anita Park was the brainchild of Dr. Charles H. Strub, based in San Francisco, Los Angeles-based movie producer Hal Roach and architect Gordon B. Kaufman. Strub and Roach combined their financial forces to build a racetrack in the Southland shortly after state lawmakers legalized parimutuel wagering in California in 1933.
“The Great Race Place,” as Santa Anita would come to be known, proved such an immediate success that investors in the track received a 100 percent dividend within the first year, according to Wikipedia.
In addition to its well-received architectural design, Santa Anita Park ushered in a host of other practical innovations to horse racing. It was the first track in the world to employ such things as a mechanical starting gate, electric timer and photo finish camera when it opened for business that Christmas day.
Throughout its history, Santa Anita has been home to some of the most legendary names in horse racing. Perhaps none more so than the great Seabiscuit.
The popular racehorse cemented his legacy by winning the 1940 Santa Anita Handicap and its unprecedented purse of $100,000. Seabiscuit would prove such a fan favorite that a movie based on his life starring Shirley Temple was filmed at Santa Anita shortly the win and a statue of Seabiscuit was erected in the paddock, which still stands today.
One of the darker periods of Santa Anita’s history came in a three-year span beginning in 1942. With the onset of the Second World War, racing was suspended and Santa Anita was turned into an internment camp for Japanese-Americans. As many as 17,000 people were housed in the horse stables during the war. A bronze plaque in memory of that episode of Santa Anita’s history also stands on the grounds.
Today, Santa Anita Park is owned by a group led by Frank Stronach Stronach found success in the business world through his Canadian-based auto parts company, Magna International. He also owns one of the biggest Thoroughbred racing and breeding operations in the world.