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Saturday, November 14, 2009

Gaining Momentum?

Is it possible that a movement to honor both Rachel Alexandra and Zenyatta as co-Horse of the Year Eclipse Awards is gaining momentum? The Saratogian’s Jeff Scott and the New York Post’s Ray Kerrison may have been the first mainstream journalists to suggest thinking “outside the box” and putting a joint option on the final ballot or just outright declaring the two co-winners, but their voices have now been joined by a number of other revered turf writers, including Steve Haskin at The BloodHorse who rightly recognizes:

“I realize I’m talking from the heart and not being analytical or realistic at all, but the campaigns of 5-year-old Zenyatta and 3-year-old Rachel Alexandra are so far removed from each other, and orchestrated with such different goals in mind, they cannot be compared, despite all the analysis and statistics. Therefore, the Horse of the Year award in this case should be voted on with the heart, and the heck with all the meaningless statistical comparisons. That means there is only one course of action: give it to both of them and make everyone happy. Why not? Who is it going to hurt?”

Now, the Daily Racing Form’s Steven Crist has weighed in:

“The question is whether an option to crown co-champions should be added to the Eclipse ballot....It's at least worth consideration. Regardless of your preference, there is no denying that both Rachel Alexandra and Zenyatta accomplished entirely different but genuinely unprecedented things that will land them both in the Hall of Fame and stamp them as among the greatest fillies and mares of all time. Neither deserves to lose the title, and there is no rule that one of them has to: One of the virtues of the Eclipse system is that it has no ancient rules and bylaws, and the voters can pretty much do what they want.

If it turns out in the weeks ahead that a majority of the voters favor a joint award, why deprive them of that choice?”



the Source of the James said...

It's sorta like kissing your cousin, but it's probably the only way for the award to have any credibility at all this year.

Fans of either horse simply will not accept the other one winning without feeling that "the fix" was in.

Anonymous said...

Absolutely. Let us have a say in HOY. Fans should be allowed to vote, and as has been suggested, donate a dollar for our vote to benefit the racers who didn't
do so well at the track and need a new home.

rachel's alter ego

the Source of the James said...

Sure, but the problem with the "popular vote" concept, is that the result will be based entirely on emotion and will be just as flawed as the market driven results we see today.

Look at the way the Rachael supporters have been trashing the Breeders Cup this past week, for example. The pro-Zenyatta camp isn't going to forgive that if Z isn't top horse, and I'm sure the RA camp is going to be pretty angry too.

Whatever happens, HoY is going to divide the horse racing community.

Perhaps it's best to put HoY on hiatus for a year and yet both camps enjoy the moment without rancor and avoid the division that can only hurt the sport going forward.

SaratogaSpa said...

To me it reeks of political correctness run amok once again. It this now a Youth Soccer game where everyone gets a medal at the end of the season? Jeez..just let the eclipse voters vote for a winner and be done with it. The sport will be better off with one winner will lead to more debate, more controversy, more news-just what every sport craves.

Valerie Grash said...

Why is it so inconceivable that both are equally worthy of the title? It’s not like there haven’t been co-Horses of the Year in the past. Is it really worth all the vitriol? Can’t we just be more constructively promoting the sport with co-champions instead of wasting our time with unnecessary infighting?

I don’t agree with giving the fans a vote if money is involved, but certainly something along the lines of fans participating as they do in the European Cartier awards should be developed for the future: points earned in group races, plus votes cast by journalists and fans.

The co-Horse option doesn’t strike me as political correctness, and one winner will not make the sport better off, I’m afraid. Instead, it will simply exasperate the divisiveness already prevalent between the East and West coast, the same issues that have fueled rivalries dating back to War Admiral and Seabiscuit (and beyond)—with the big difference being that then horse racing was one of the top spectator sports in this country, and now it is so far out on the fringe even we die-hard fans fail to realize just far out of the mainstream it has gotten. In the not-so-distant-future, even the Kentucky Derby will fail to garner any mainstream media coverage or interest.

The “debate” that is occurring over this issue isn’t debate—it’s primarily driven by coastally-based bias and personal animosity towards personalities. And that’s not “news.” It’s simply more evidence of horse racing’s dysfunctional status—a hot mess that the mainstream media has ZERO interest in, unless PETA-driven stories about breakdowns are involved.

440yards said...

Call me crazy, but I do not see an East coast/West coast rivalry as a negative thing. In fact, I will go so far as to say it is exactly what the sport needs. Rivalries attract attention, create interest, and generate passionate fans. The NBA has the Eastern and Western conferences. The NFL has the American Football League and the National Football Conference. The NHL has an Eastern and Western Conference, and the MLB has the American League and National League. What would the world be like without Chevy and Ford, Duke and North Carolina, Muhammad Ali and Joe Frazier, the Red Sox and Yankees, Federer and Nadal or the Spurs and Lakers?

The Breeder’s Cup is no different. In the last several years, the Breeder’s Cup has gone to great lengths to create a rivalry between “The Home Team” and “The Euro Invaders.” The Horse of the Year debate is attracting attention, creating interest, and generating passionate fans. I cannot remember a time when there was so much attention, interest, or passion.

Secondly, I have been outspoken about my support for Zenyatta as Horse of the Year. In a couple of words, it’s fun. It’s fun to study the statistics. It’s fun to analyze the angles. It’s fun to debate the detractors. And, when the honorees are announced, if Rachel Alexandra takes the cake, I’ll let out a sigh and be grateful to have witnessed such a wonderful year of horseracing. How absurd to think that I would abandon the sport as an upset and bitter fan who was driven away by the divisiveness of a rivalry. Come on!

Valerie Grash said...

440yards, I appreciate your obvious passion—but totally disagree with you on many points, not the least of which is Zenyatta. But, that aside...

An East Coast/West Coast RIVALRY only works if horses from each actually run against one another, not if everyone stays on their side, sticking their tongues out at one another and claiming superiority for their horses. I have no problem with rivalry—but this Horse of the Year debate is being driven by personal BIAS, which is something completely different.

And, no offense, but there is no comparing team sports with individual race horses, and I don’t understand why that keeps getting thrown into the mix. The NBA, NFL, NHL and MLB have divisions/leagues to cluster teams with REGIONAL rivalries—that’s why the Pittsburgh Steelers, Cleveland Browns and Cincinnati Bengals play (and hate) one another, not because the league is trying to establish a daily dislike by Pittsburgh fans for the Arizona Cardinals. Who cares what the American Conference/League teams are doing until you get to the championships? That’s not rivalry—that’s when you show support for your team. Rivalries are built up with multiple, head-to-head competitions.

Thus, my point—what do TEAM rivalries have to do with individual race horses? We don’t have the Churchill Downs team trying to beat the Hollywood Park team. It’s a complete oversimplification to compare professional team sports with horse racing. The more accurate comparison would be with professional tennis or golf (or even NASCAR), where individual athletes compete in tournaments to earn points and are ranked in standing. Is there only one world tennis championship? There’s Wimbledon, the US Open, the French Open...same thing for golf, with the PGA, Masters, US Open, British Open...

And how well has that “Home Team vs. Euros” worked for the Breeders’ Cup? Last I looked television ratings were down again this year. As for the Horse of the Year debate creating interest—only among the small number of fans who still follow the sport. I still have scrapbooks full of clippings from the debate about whether Affirmed or Spectacular Bid would win—THAT was a debate that got mainstream press coverage. I remember the most recent “Golden Age” of racing—the 1970s, and, believe me, today is NOTHING like then.

I’m glad you and I are passionate fans, 440yards, but there are some things not worth fighting about—and the fact that we witnessed—nay, were BLESSED—with TWO phenomenal future Hall of Fame race horses this year is something we should be celebrating, not fighting about. And, I read a lot of forums, boards and blogs—it is NOT respectful or real debate. Typical of an age dominated with dumbed-down news, talk and reality programs, all we get are people picking and choosing facts to bolster their pre-determined conclusions, and inflammatory speak. That’s not beneficial.

I guess we'll just have to agree to disagree on this point.

Teresa said...

Val--there is a year-end tournament for both men and women in tennis; the men's happens next week in London. Only the top 8 singles players qualify to get in. The tournament counts in the ATP standings and a champion is named at the end of the tournament. The women have something similar.

Valerie Grash said...

Thanks, Teresa! :) I stand corrected.

Anonymous said...

Sharing the Horse of the Year award between Rachel and Zenyatta is a brilliant plan! There's always going to be some who aren't happy with the way things turn out, but I beleive the vast majority would love this decision. Plus it could be used as a great marketing tool for the sport. When was the last time we hare co-horses of the year? And with both candidates being fillies/mares the appeal just gets better and better. When I discuss Horse Racing with non-intereseted parties they always pay attention and in-fact, become interested when they hear about the "girls beating the boys".

SaratogaSpa said...

Val-I don't see a pure east coast/west coast bias. I see 2 wonderfully gifted horses and fans who are divided on just who is the best. Like Mantle or Mays, Russell or Chamberlain, this is great for the sport, not bad.
Who knows maybe time will prove I am wrong, but it sure seems to be a good thing

the Source of the James said...

It would be great for the sport if not for the fact that Americans are not only poor losers, but incredibly poor winners too.

If the comments we see on Bloodhorse.Com etc are any indication, there are going to be heck of a lot of fans out there not only rubbing it in, but using HoY as a means of trashing the other horse.

I think that's one reason people are so passionate about this, because they know what's coming if their horse doesn't "win".

Anonymous said...

The owners chose not to race Zenyatta and Rachel together. They made their beds; let the owners lie in them. My thought is that dual honors will drive more people away than it will attract. 440yards has a point.

440yards said...

When Tiznow won Horse of the Year in 2002, it was written, “Sometimes, it is a fine line that separates a championship season from merely a good, solid campaign. Sometimes, it comes down to a simple ‘yes’ or ‘no’ decision.”
Neither Zenyatta, nor Rachel Alexandra ran merely a good, solid campaign. They both ran a championship season. However, it was Mr. Jackson who said “no” on November 7th. The line, though it be fine, must be drawn.

Pickster said...

Both Rachel and Zenyatta have done so much good for racing this year. One of the biggest issues racing was facing was the lack of interest in the sport and these two have put alot more attention on the sport. I believe they are both worthy of the award and therefore should both win.