Come the right moment, a pawn can bring you victory – Ho Chi Minh.
Or, as they say, timing is everything. In any other year, Intangaroo would be favored to win an Eclipse Award as outstanding female sprinter of 2008. As it is, in a field of three finalists, she will finish third behind Indian Blessing and Ventura.
Seems unfair considering that of the four graded sprint stakes for females run in this country, Intangaroo won three of them. She didn’t have to carry her track or surface around with her, either, winning at three different tracks.
But when the Eclipse Award winners are announced Jan. 26 at the Fountainebleau Miami Beach Hotel in Florida, Intangaroo will be an also-ran in perhaps the most keenly contested and disputed category among the 16 to be decided, despite the fact that she won the Grade I Santa Monica Handicap on Santa Anita’s synthetic surface, the Grade I Ballerina Stakes on Saratoga’s traditional dirt, and the Grade I Humana Distaff on the storied sod at Churchill Downs.
Indian Blessing, the female 2-year-old champion of 2007, also won three Grade I races as a 3-year-old last year, her most recent the La Brea Stakes at Santa Anita on Dec. 27. Ventura’s body of work was much less accomplished, but her breathtaking victory over Indian Blessing in the Breeders’ Cup Filly & Mare Sprint at Oak Tree last Oct. 25 at age four wowed the electorate, which consists of constituents from Daily Racing Form, the National Thoroughbred Racing Association, and the National Turf Writers Association.
Ventura and Indian Blessing wowed Gary Sherlock, too, but not enough to sway his opinion that Intangaroo deserves the Eclipse Award. Did I mention that Sherlock trained her?
Objectivity aside, Sherlock makes a good case, although he’s beating the proverbial dead horse.
"In any other year, Intangaroo would win an Eclipse Award as outstanding female sprinter," said Sherlock, who turned 63 on Jan. 1. "Of the four Grade I sprint stakes for fillies and mares run in this country, she won three of them, and at three different race tracks.
"I’m not doing the voting, so right off, it really doesn’t matter what I feel, but in most years, Intangaroo would have won." As it is, the daughter of 2002 Breeders’ Cup Sprint champion Orientate was purchased as a broodmare for $1.8 million by Frank Stronach at the Fasig-Tipton Selected Mixed Sale last November. Indian Blessing could make her next start in a rematch against Ventura in the Santa Monica Handicap on Jan. 31, or pass that race and wait for the $2 million Golden Shaheen in Dubai on March 28.
"I think they will give the Eclipse to Indian Blessing," Sherlock said. "I feel there should be a separate category for 3-year-old filly sprinters. Indian Blessing won three Grade I’s, but she beat up on 3-year-old fillies in short fields.
"She ran great in the Breeders’ Cup, but winning an Eclipse Award is not supposed to be based a one-day deal. I don’t think Ventura should get it at all, because she didn’t win any Grade I races on (conventional) dirt.
"You could vote for Indian Blessing if you consider beating 3-year-olds all year is better than beating older horses all year. I won three Grade I’s against older horses and gave them weight, too. Had Indian Blessing run in the Humana or the Ballerina, it would have been a different story, but she didn’t, because she was a 3-year-old. That said, I think she’ll win the voting."
Horse of the Year finalists are defending champ Curlin, Kentucky Derby and Preakness winner Big Brown, and the undefeated filly, Zenyatta, winner of her nine career starts with relative ease.
"My vote goes to Curlin," Sherlock said. "The award isn’t for Horse of the Day. Curlin didn’t have to win the Breeders’ Cup at Oak Tree. He did enough before that to win Horse of the Year. I don’t care how good Zenyatta is, if she didn’t beat males, she doesn’t deserve to get Horse of the Year. If she’d have run anywhere and beat the boys, then I’d give her the title.
"I think she’s fantastic and might have won the Classic if they’d have run her, and then she definitely would have been Horse of the Year. But you have to step up and do that. You can’t do it by beating fillies.
"Curlin went to Dubai (winning the World Cup last March) and continued to race after that. Some horses go there and don’t run at all after such a demanding trip. I don’t think Big Brown is in the same category as Curlin. He won the Derby and he’s a great horse, but for me, it’s all Curlin."
Not to mention Intangaroo.
• Off the Kentucky Derby trail: One-hit sensation Point Encounter, out with a soft tissue injury, according to trainer Carla Gaines; Believe in Hope, turned out for six weeks by trainer Ron Ellis because of a lackluster attitude; and Majormotionpicture, overcoming hind end issues for trainer Mike Machowsky.
• Chocolate Candy didn’t beat much in the California Derby, but won like the mile and a quarter of the Derby would be no problem. Trainer Jerry Hollendorfer has been high on him from the get-go.
• Lookalikes: Bill Hartack and Audie Murphy, and Stan Van Gundy and Kiaran McLaughlin.