North American Thoroughbred Horse Racing StandingsAfter five seasons of meaningless fall baseball, the Cleveland Indians used a September surge to reach the playoffs, and the final week of the season was filled with "what if" scenarios involving wins and losses of not only the Indians but also the other teams in contention.
Talk of standings and magic numbers is part of the fun of the pennant race, and it's part of what makes Breeders' Cup prep season so much fun as well. I'm not a big fan of points systems in racing to determine championships (places in a starting gate Kentucky Derby Presented By Yum! Brands-style A-OK, natch), but standings I do believe in.
To that end, there is the weekly poll from America's Best Racing, which like Eclipse Award voting itself, does not provide much in the way of guidelines for voters other than basing rankings on who you expect could be Horse of the Year, but what qualifies as a Horse of the Year season/candidate is completely up to the voter.
There's some overlap among members of the National Turf Writers And Broadcasters and the ABR poll. NTWAB members do vote for Eclipse Awards but not all ABR poll members do. This is a good thing based on the votes of some who seem to lack any perspective for what makes certain races more difficult to win than others, but that's a topic for another time.
The matter at hand with one major Breeders' Cup prep weekend remaining and the Breeders' Cup World Championships now only weeks away is who can win a championship and who can't.
HORSE OF THE YEAR:
1. Game On Dude: The title is his if he wins the Breeders' Cup Classic regardless of what any other horse does. The Big Cap, Gold Cup, Pacific Classic, BC Classic four bagger would be impossible to deny even if Wise Dan wins out.
2. Wise Dan: He's on pace for a better year this year than last year but like last year, needs a Game On Dude loss in Classic and a Breeders' Cup win to get Horse of the Year honors.
3. Princess of Sylmar: She won't get my vote regardless, but the drum is beating for her to get Horse of the Year honors if both Game On Dude and Wise Dan lose Breeders' Cup, which seems unfair to me considering A) the onus is on more accomplished horses to do something she's not being asked to do, and B) she ran in races all year in which neither Game On Dude nor Wise Dan could compete. But, if the top two falter on November 2 then I could see her getting the prize. Assuming Wise Dan wins the Shadwell on Saturday at Keeneland, I'd vote for him under such a scenario with 4 Grade 1 and 2 Grade 2 wins. Obviously if Princess of Sylmar ends up in the Classic and wins then she's Horse of the Year regardless of what Wise Dan does.
I can't see any one besides one of these three horses winning Horse of the Year unless Royal Delta's connections call an audible and run in (and win) the Classic.
CHAMPION OLDER MALE:
1. Game On Dude is in the driver's seat here with 3 Grade 1 wins already. A good placing in the Breeders' Cup (without even winning) might be enough to secure the championship
2. Many tied with one Grade 1 each. I guess if Fort Larned, Ron The Greek, Alpha, Mucho Macho Man, or Cross Traffic wins the Classic then that might be enough to usurp Game On Dude since they'd be one of only two multiple Grade 1 winners in the division with a head to head score against Game On Dude.
3. Wise Dan: He won champion older male last year, which I thought was overkill. I voted for Fort Larned but prefered even Game On Dude to Wise Dan in this category last year. Turf and Horse of the Year is enough.
CHAMPION OLDER FEMALE:
1. Royal Delta: Having only two Grade 1 wins isn't ultra impressive, but the only females better than her are her juniors Princess of Sylmar and Beholder, so it's tough to look past her, and any older female who wins the Breeders' Cup still wouldn't have the resume Royal Delta has this year because she's already defeated horses like Authenticity.
CHAMPION THREE-YEAR-OLD MALE
1. Orb. I think I'm in the minority here, but even after all the racing since the Triple Crown season ended, he's still one of only two three-year-olds with multiple Grade 1 wins, and one of those two came in the most prestigious race in the world. He's on top for now, but his lead is tenuous.
2. Palace Malice: Has the most upside, and any respectable performance in the Breeders' Cup Classic puts him ahead of Orb, but as of right now I have to go with the multiple G1 wins that include the big one on top.
3. Will Take Charge: Similar situation as Palace Malice. A Classic win certainly gets it done for him as champion and maybe a solid second behind Game On Dude as well (Farda Amiga-style from 2002). I definitely view Belmont+Jim Dandy as better than Travers + PA Derby, and PM holds the head to head edge as well.
4. Verrazano: If he were to win a Breeders' Cup race then he'd have three Grade 1 wins, and he'd get my nod over either Palace Malice or Will Take Charge with only one each. But since PM or WTC control their own destiny, I have V behind them.
CHAMPION THREE-YEAR-OLD FILLY
1. Princess of Sylmar: Her connections did a very sporting thing by taking on the champion older female for less money, and I'm willing to reward that with a championship following a season that also includes three other Grade 1 wins against her own generation. People are clamoring for a rematch with Beholder, but Princess of Sylmar's connections should feel no obligation to do so considering they were running in the summer when Beholder was on the shelf and coming back in a race that makes Uncle Mo's Timely Writer look like the Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe. The rematch can come next year.
2. Beholder: My mind is made up on Princess of Sylmar, but Beholder would probably get some love if she were to win the Breeders' Cup Distaff, which would tie the Grade 1 score at 4 apiece and give Beholder a 2-1 edge in G1s not restricted by age. BUT Princess of Sylmar has the head to head edge in a $1-million race and won at a 1 1/4 miles. The only tricky thing would be if Beholder wins a fifth Grade 1 in a race like the Cigar Mile or La Brea to close out the year.
CHAMPION MALE TURF
1. Wise Dan: This is one category that could be settled by Breeders' Cup no matter what, as Wise Dan could win his fourth Grade 1 among six graded stakes victories this weekend, and I can't see anything topping that among turf males regardless of what happens at Breeders' Cup. If he loses both starts to end his year, though, then that opens the door for a Breeders' Cup victor to sneak in the award.
t2. Point of Entry: Remember him? He beat eventual Dubai World Cup winner Animal Kingdom to start the year then ducked rain, Wise Dan, or both on Derby day before returning with a Manhattan win. He's one of the very best when right, and a Turf victory would give him three Grade 1 wins--same as Wise Dan if that one were to lose out.
t2. Big Blue Kitten: Two Grade 1 wins and a narrow loss in a third has him right there as well with a Breeders' Cup win and Wise Dan losses.
4. Little Mike. A Breeders' Cup Turf win would give him two Grade 1 wins this year, which probably isn't enough against Wise Dan's three, but he'd probably get some support, and his owner might run him back again anyway!
CHAMPION FEMALE TURF
1. Laughing: Slight edge to the East Coast talent here with two Grade 1 wins, but this is absolutely one race that will come down to the Breeders' Cup Filly & Mare Turf. Still, if chaos reigns then Laughing would be the one to get it.
2. Tiz Flirtatious: Has just the one Grade 1 win, but two other graded stakes put her in a position for the Eclipse with a Breeders' Cup win
t2. Marketing Mix: Similar boat to Tiz Fliratious with just the one Grade 1 win, but she's beaten males and a Breeders' Cup gets it done for her.
t2. Dank: Won the Beverly D. in very impressive fashion and somewhat out of site/mind since. But she's targeting the BC and a win would get her the championship without a doubt.
5. The Fugue: I have her so far down because I think any of the above four winning a Breeders' Cup race would make them champion even if The Fugue were to win the Breeders' Cup Turf. However, if one of the above four falters and The Fugue wins the Turf then she'd get the championship.
t5. Moonlight Cloud: The same could be said for Moonlight Cloud if she were to win the Mile. I have her tied with The Fugue because I'm not sure which direction people would lean if both win and the top four all lose.
SPRINTERS & 2yo of either sex
All four of these divisions will come down to the Breeders' Cup.
For more insight into Breeders' Cup prep season, check out the Brisnet.com Bullet Train to the Breeders' Cup video below w/ me and Sean Feld