Unlike many of the previous year with Curlin, Rachel Alexandra, and Zenyatta, the race to be named 2011 Horse of the Year in 2011 is a highly competitive affair with several legitimate contenders. Havre de Grace has put herself in the driver's seat with her recent win in the
Whitney Woodward (good lord, I did this several times; it's too early!) and she controls her own destiny from here on out. A couple of wins to close out the year, including one in the Breeders' Cup Classic, and the title of Horse of the Year is likely to be hers. A stumble along the way, especially in Kentucky, would open the door for a host of contenders.
Below Is a look at some of the contenders for Horse of the Year honors. Some of these horse are much more legitimate contenders than others, but given what we've seen at the stakes level this year, major chaos is still a possibility.
Havre de Grace: 5-4-1-0
Won G1-Apple Blossom
Won G3-Azeri (defeated Blind Luck)
2nd G2-Delaware Handicap (beaten by Blind Luck)
Havre de Grace was already having an excellent season prior to her win in the
Whitney Woodward. But her victory at Saratoga vaulted her to the top of the serious contenders for Horse of the Year. It also separated her (for the time being) from her rival, Blind Luck. If both were to go to the Breeders' Cup and race/win different events, Havre de Grace would hold a distinct edge in the race to HOY.
Blind Luck: 6-3-3-0
Won G2-Delaware Handicap (defeated Havre de Grace)
Won G1-Vanity Handicap
Won G2-La Troiene
2nd G3-Azeri (beaten by Havre de Grace)
2nd G2-El Encino
Before the Whitney, I had Blind Luck ranked above Havre de Grace, if only by a slight margin. The overall record between the two rivals, under a variety of different weight conditions, tilts ever so slightly in the favor of Blind Luck. But Havre de Grace's win in the
Whitney Woodward (too many "W" races) cancels that advantage out, also ever so slightly.
I don't know what the connections are planning with Blind Luck, but if they want to have a serious run at Horse of the Year, they are going to have to "one-up" Havre de Grace. That might only be possible by targeting the Classic, or winning the Ladies' Classic and hoping Havre de Grace performs poorly at Churchill Downs. In once scenario, they control their own destiny. In the other, they are at the mercy of Havre de Grace.
Stay Thirsty: 5-3-1-0
Won G2-Jim Dandy
2nd G1-Belmont Stakes
12th G1-Kentucky Derby
7th G1-Florida Derby
Stay Thirsty's back-to-back wins at Saratoga gets him into the HOY mix, but he's still got some work to do from here on out (as do all contenders). His next start will likely come in the Jockey Club Gold Cup, followed by the Breeders' Cup Classic. Sweep those two races and HOY honors are likely his. (There seems to be a trend developing, one that requires each horse to win out.)
Won G1-Whitney (hey, the right "W"!)
Won G1-Met Mile
3rd G3-Charles Town Classic
3rd G2-Gulfstream Park Handicap
I'd probably rank Tizway a notch above Stay Thirsty in the HOY race, due to his consistency throughout the year. Like everyone else on the list, he probably can't win top honors without sweeping the rest of the year, including the Breeders' Cup Classic.
Cape Blanco (IRE): 2-2-0-0 (North American starts)
Won G1-Man o'War
Won G1-Arlington Million
This is the first "out-side-the-box" HOY contender; I don't think Cape Blanco is a likely winner, but in the chaos scenario he could work his way into the mix. If the other contenders were to stumble (and we were to see high price upsets in New York, California and Kentucky), AND Cape Blanco were to win out in the Hirsch and the Breeders' Cup Turf, I think he'd have to be a serious contender for the title. Again, lots of things need to break right for it to happen, but if this Irish runner is able to sweep arguably four of the biggest turf races in North America, he will have proven his class.
It's Tricky: 6-4-1-0
Won G1-Coaching Club American Oaks
4th G2-Gulfstream Park Oaks
Royal Delta: 5-3-0-1
Won G2-Black-Eyed Susan
3rd G1-Coaching Club American Oaks
These two fillies are real longshots and would require major chaos from the other contenders, but I thought they deserved to be singled out for solid seasons so far in 2011. You could also throw in a host of other names - Shackleford, Twirling Candy, Uncle Mo, etc. None of those are serious contenders at the present time, but if they were to notch big wins from here on out, they could work their way into the conversation (if everyone else falls apart, and even then, they are longshots). But they aren't likely HOY winners at this point in time.
As in many years, the Breeders' Cup will go a long way to ultimately deciding which horse is named Horse of the Year.
Who's your favorite for Horse of the Year at this point?