Tuesday, November 10, 2009

The Horseman's Dilemma

I've been following all the post-Breeders Cup Horse of The Year discussions with keen interest. Obviously, I don't really have a horse in the race, so to speak, but I'm very curious to see how and or if the racing industry will resolve the HoTY dilemma.

I've seen strong arguments made for two of the options. (1) Choose either Rachel or Zenyatta and (2) Having these two fillies share HoTY honors. Let me say that I think that there's even a discussion is great, but I think it needs to resonate more strongly out into the larger racing community to really have an impact.

If one horse is chosen over the other--and with no races of the match or any other variety imminent--then there will always be question marks...and maybe that's good for the sport in the same way baseball aficionados debate past and present favorites. These sorts of discussions bring out the most arcane bits of knowledge and allow for much fun speculation, but I don't think it serves the greater good of racing.

I'd imagine that most everyone in the industry would agree that having a few stars that really captivate the public is important to all of horse racing. Whether it's Secretariat or Seabiscuit, Rachel or Zenyatta, Mine that Bird or Smarty Jones...some horses just really make an impression on people. The pull of these special animals reaches beyond the few weeks in May and June that encompass the Triple Crown races and keeps us all involved in the entire race season. But these horses are the exceptions, not the rule. The fact that Rachel and Zenyatta were both trending topics on Twitter (when the BC 09 was not) is somewhat of a testimony to the fact that regardless of what these two fillies are running in, people will pay attention.

Look, I get that there are not two Heisman trophies or two World Series champions. But this is different. Best actress Oscars have been shared (Katharine Hepburn and Barbra Streisand) with no "watering down" of the award and I think a shared HoTY award, for two fillies who are likely to go down in history as among the best Thoroughbreds ever--of either sex--is a win-win for the industry as a whole. How can you possibly lose with two such outstanding equine athletes? And this still allows for debate and talk of match races or other meetings between Zenyatta and Rachel...but it also recognizes that in 2009 there were two exceptional horses who were (sometimes literally) head and shoulders above the crowd.

Someone wrote on a blog or column that naming the worthy Zenyatta over the equally worthy Rachel would be a sort of just dessert for the Jacksons--their Curlin beat Zenyatta for HoTY in 2008. I guess, but why would you want to punish owners like the Jacksons and Moss'? I mean what's worse than receiving the "make up award?" You know what I mean...like giving Dame Judi Dench the Oscar for Shakespeare in Love as a "make up award" for her being robbed of a well-deserved Oscar for Mrs. Brown. Now I think Judi Dench is pretty much always damned brilliant, and probably deserved and Oscar for both performances, but we all know the SiL Oscar was a sort of backhanded apology for the earlier injustice.

My point? I'd have to believe that the connections of both horses would be just fine sharing HoTY honors for their lovely charges. I think horse racing shoots itself in the foot--especially in the eyes of the more casual fan--if it chooses one or the other rather than both. And let's face it, gaining more fans of any ilk, casual or not, has to be among the top concerns for the horse racing industry. Any sport's leadership would be considered fortunate to have two such popular stars in it's stable...let's give both Rachel and Zenyatta their due and be thankful we've all had so many opportunities to see their magnificent races.

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