Would the Florida Marlins be champions of baseball without winning the World Series?
Would Tampa Bay be king of football without winning the Super Bowl?
Would the New Jersey Devils be hockey’s best without winning the Stanley Cup?
Nah. But Mineshaft will be Horse of the Year without winning, or even running in, the Breeders’ Cup Classic, considered racing’s crowning race.
That’s because in the eyes of many, the system designed to establish a definitive champion is flawed. Thus, as many as five horses that did not run in Breeders’ Cup races this year are likely to be divisional champions, including Mineshaft as top older male and Horse of the Year. Trailing in the voting would be Pleasantly Perfect and Medaglia d’Oro, the one-two finishers in the Classic.
The other four non-Breeders’ Cup participants that could win divisional honors are Empire Maker, 3-year-old male; Composure, retired since March due to injury, 3-year-old female; Ruler’s Court or Eurosilver, 2-year-old colt; and Azeri, older female.
Aside from Mineshaft, the only unquestioned champion is Halfbridled as 2-year-old filly.
The Eclipse Award for top trainer should go to Bobby Frankel based on the performances of his horses throughout the year. They won a record 23 Grade I races and earned some $18 million in purses, another record. But Richard Mandella is certain to receive his share of votes for winning an unprecedented four Breeders’ Cup races in one day, even though his horses earned about half the prize money of Frankel’s on the year.
If voters are weary of voting for Frankel, who has won the Eclipse three consecutive years, Mandella provides a welcome alternative, despite a shortcoming in statistics.
"That happened to me after winning (the Eclipse Award) three years in a row (1997-99)," said Bob Baffert. "Because Frankel has won it three years in a row, voters will be looking for an excuse to give it to somebody new. I don’t think voting will be based on objectivity, but more on personalities. With me, I should have won four in a row, but they gave it to Frankel because he was the new kid on the block."
Baffert favors a point system to determine champions in all categories.
"I think they ought to change the whole system because it’s really flawed," said the trainer of three Kentucky Derby winners, who’s a sure-fire future Hall of Fame member. "Establish a point system, make the horses run to earn points, and the trainer whose horses have the most points wins. A horse like Pleasantly Perfect cherry-picked his way (to winning the Classic) and came into the race fresh. But Mineshaft will get Horse of the Year."
Addressing the other divisions, Baffert had no reservations about Halfbridled, the undefeated miss who won the Juvenile Fillies.
"Halfbridled will get 2-year-old fillies and (Juvenile winner) Action This Day will get 2-year-old colt," Baffert said. "The others (Eurosilver, Birdsong, Ruler’s Court) didn’t come so they don’t deserve it, and they weren’t a slam-dunk to win it anyway. In the Sprint, I think (Sprint winner) Cajun Beat should get it. Aldebaran never won going six furlongs. He can’t sprint. He’s a seven-eighths horse. If the Sprint would have been seven-eighths I would have had Congaree in there. Congaree’s a better sprinter than Aldebaran. If they’re going to give it to Aldebaran, then give it Congaree. He beat Aldebaran bad going seven-eighths (in the Grade I Carter Handicap).
"As far as the Europeans winning on the turf, I don’t really follow them, but it’s tough to give it to a horse that won only one race in this country (alluding to Filly & Mare Turf winner Islington, Mile winner Six Perfections, and High Chaparral, who dead-heated with Johar in the Turf).
"Composure (who was trained by Baffert before her retirement) should probably get 3-year-old filly but I don’t know if they’ll give it to her. Either her or Bird Town I guess. Older filly or mare should be Azeri. Even though she missed the Distaff, she ran against tougher competition.
"Funny Cide should get 3-year-old for showing up in the Classic. He helped the day. He didn’t duck or dive; he just showed up.
"The trainer, I would give it to Frankel on the year he had."
THE HOMESTRETCH: Don’t look for Patrick Valenzuela when Santa Anita opens its winter/spring meet on Dec. 26. The oft-suspended jockey, who became the first rider since Chris McCarron in 1983 to win all five Southern California titles in the same calendar year-Santa Anita winter/spring, Hollywood Park spring/summer, Del Mar, Oak Tree and Hollywood autumn-will serve 13 days that had been on appeal. The 40-year-old rider’s ban will run from Dec. 26 through Jan. 10 . . . Nighthawk Security Systems, which specializes in surveillance technology, demonstrated operation of digital cameras that monitor activities to California Horse Racing Board members at their October meeting. From as far as 1,500 feet away, the cameras were able to zoom in and provide remarkably vivid, close-up pictures of individuals in the barn area as they walked through shed rows and approached horses in stalls. Following the presentation, Commissioner Alan Landsburg said, "I think we’re looking at the future and each step we take in this direction brings us greater integrity." Also at the meeting, a proposal to continue an experiment involving the vet’s list at the 30-day Hollywood Park meet that begins today and runs through Dec. 21, failed to receive Board approval. When a horse is scratched from a race for veterinary reasons, it goes on the vet’s list and cannot race again until it comes off. CHRB policy requires horses to remain on the list for a minimum of five days. Hollywood, which has experienced an unusually large number of scratches in recent years, received permission from the CHRB to increase the minimum to 10 days for its spring/summer meet earlier this year. This resulted in a 43 percent decrease in vet scratches, supporting Hollywood’s contention that the real reasons for the scratches had nothing to do with the health of the horses. The major horsemen’s organizations opposed Hollywood’s proposal, indicating it would be an unfair burden on horse owners and lead to even shorter fields.