Little Mike as Horse of the YearI said it once, and I'll say it again: It's a shame that Rachel Alexandra and Zenyatta put together their best seasons in the same year (2009) because either campaign was so much better than anything we've seen since, and both stack up well to the very best campaigns of the 21st century (Mineshaft in 2003, Saint Liam in 2005, Invasor in 2006, & Curlin in 2007).
I don't know which has been more diluted in recent years: The Horse of the Year award or the Breeders' Cup Classic's influence on it. A Classic winner hasn't gone on to win Horse of the Year since the aforementioned Curlin in 2007, and that streak is likely to continue this year with Fort Larned unlikely to get the necessary support, though I did vote him second for Horse of the Year and first among older males.
All that said, it is Horse of the Year, and someone has to win. That someone is Little Mike whose treble of the Breeders' Cup Turf, Arlington Million, and Woodford Reserve Turf Classic trumps what any other horse accomplished this year.
I try to remain consistent in how I vote for the award--especially given there has been no slam dunk since 2006-2007 when both Invasor and Curlin, respectively, were obvious choices. My recent HotY votes have gone to Curlin (2008), Rachel Alexandra (2009), Blame (2010), and Cape Blanco (2011), but I certainly understood why people leaned in Zenyatta's direction in 2009 and toward Havre de Grace in 2011.
Why weren't they the choices for me those years? Well, the big thing I remember going back to was asking myself, "Which races would I most like to win?" The owner accepts equine Eclipse Awards, so I think it's a fair question to ask with the caveat that I disqualify the Derby from answering this question since everyone wants to win the Derby, but I don't think its winner should be Horse of the Year every year.
In the case of 2012, I thought Little Mike put together the campaign I would most want as an owner: A Grade 1 on Derby day, the Arlington Million, and the Breeders' Cup Turf are tremendous prizes, and that they came at distances ranging from 1 1/8 miles to 1 1/2 miles while shipping all over the country makes it all the more impressive.
Little Mike has some marks against him, of course. Some of the losses were downright bad, and it's fair to say that Wise Dan dominated the Mile division more than Little Mike did his division, but I'm big on Grade 1 wins, and I like Little Mike's wins at that level better.
All three of my Horse of the Year finalists (Little Mike, Fort Larned, and Wise Dan) are returning for 2013, and with Wise Dan pointing to the Classic this could certainly be his year. Point of Entry was too good not to get a championship, but if Zenyatta could be denied HotY in 2009 then Point of Entry can deal with it in 2012.
My complete list of Eclipse Award selections:
Horse of the Year: 1st - Little Mike, 2nd - Fort Larned, 3rd - Wise Dan
Two-Year-Old Male: 1st - Shanghai Bobby, 2nd - Uncaptured, 3rd - Violence
Two-Year-Old Filly: 1st - Beholder, 2nd - Executiveprivilege, 3rd - Dreaming of Julia
Three-Year-Old Male: : 1st - I'll Have Another, 2nd - Bodemeister, 3rd - Dullahan
Three-Year-Old Filly: 1st - Questing, 2nd - Lady of Shamrock, 3rd - Grace Hall
Older Male: 1st - Fort Larned, 2nd - Game On Dude, 3rd - Shackleford
Older Female: 1st - Royal Delta, 2nd - Love And Pride, 3rd - Include Me Out
Male Sprinter: 1st - Trinniberg, 2nd - Shackleford, 3rd - Emcee
Female Sprinter: 1st - Groupie Doll, 2nd - Mizdirection, 3rd - Dust And Diamonds
Male Turf Horse: 1st - Little Mike, 2nd - Wise Dan, 3rd - Point of Entry
Female Turf Horse: 1st - Zagora, 2nd - Tapitsfly, 3rd - Marketing Mix
Steeplechase Horse: 1st - abstain, 2nd - abstain, 3rd - abstain
Owner: 1st - Oxley, John, 2nd - Reddam, J. Paul, 3rd - Fink, Morton
Breeder: 1st - Fink, Morton, 2nd - Fred & William "Buff" Bradley, 3rd - Jones, Brereton
Jockey: 1st - Dominguez, Ramon, 2nd - Velazquez, John, 3rd - Smith, Mike
Apprentice Jockey: 1st - abstain, 2nd - abstain, 3rd - abstain
Trainer: 1st - Romans, Dale, 2nd - Mott, Bill, 3rd - Pletcher, Todd