With 2013 now in the home stretch, I’m sure that most analysts and experts will hitch their cart (or ballot) to Will Take Charge for Horse of the Year in 2013. The blaze-faced chestnut certainly proved impressive, yet finishes slightly behind Mucho Macho Man in total earnings. (He also found himself slightly behind Mucho Macho Man in the Breeders’ Cup Classic.)
This racing fan and part-time blogger/handicapper has been following the career of another blazed-faced chestnut, Wise Dan. The connections’ decision not to run him in the Classic could have been the proverbial nail in Wise Dan’s repeat as Horse of the Year. However, the decision was made to put the best miler in racing on the biggest and most lucrative stage for milers – the Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile. It’s been said that the competition was not the same as it was in the Classic. I am increasingly intrigued at the strategy put forth at the beginning of a racing season with an obvious power horse like Wise Dan, Will Take Charge and others of their magnitude. The weight put into the stakes races and the grades for each stakes race, is remarkable and masterfully calculated by the owners and trainers. It helps as well when you have the top jockeys getting the mount on one of the most well-breed power racehorses in the country. With John Velazquez aboard Wise Dan, they were fierce and fearless barreling toward the finish line. John knew how to control the horse underneath him with precision and patience. Wise Dan’s loss to Silver Max was not only shocking but unexpected, and that’s what makes this sport so exciting. Wise Dan will finish 2013 with victories in six of his seven starts. His only loss was a second place finish on a wet Polytrack at Keeneland.
Yes, the Will Take Charge lobbyists, such as Gary West of ESPN, are saying that the field of Grade 1 winners in Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile were minimal compared to the competition Will Take Charge had to contend with in the Classic. Mr. West also goes on to point out that not only in the Breeders’ Cup but in most of Wise Dan’s perfectly placed stakes races were there little or no strong milers who could possibly defeat him. His biggest plug for Will Take Charge winning Horse of the Year is that in this year of racing there is a multitude of worthy and deserved would-be/could-be winners and therefore no horse should repeat with the honor. Traditionally, Horse of the Year accolades go to dirt racers. Only two exclusive turf milers, All Along in 1983 and Kotashaan in 1993, were named Horse of the Year. Will Take Charge did indeed have a variety of racing surfaces over the past year but also had 11 starts and finished first or second in seven of those races. There’s some numbers missing there. Some unaccounted for, maybe not-so-great, or just by a neck, finishes.
Wise Dan, on the other hand, had seven starts and seven finishes in the top 3. That’s 100%, my friends. In a game of probability and numbers, what’s wrong with a little complete domination? Somehow, the perfectly placed turf mile stakes races seem to make perfect sense once the numbers flush out. Wise Dan dominated the field in his specialty and proved to be the top of the food chain at his preferred distance (and analysts act like it’s a bad thing). Jennie Rees of USA Today also casts her opinion in favor of Wise Dan, by default, unfortunately, with the poor performances of Game On Dude and Princess Sylmar at the Breeders’ Cup. Without dismissing the competition, she takes particular note of Wise Dan’s performance at the Woodbine Million where he set a course record.
Brian Zipse (Zipse at the Track) wrote a concise yet witty comparison of the top contenders without giving away his choice. Here’s the link to his blog: http://www.horseracingnation.com/blogs/zatt/Who_is_the_2013_Horse_of_the_Year_123
My vote, if I could, would be for Wise Dan to retain the crown as Horse of the Year. Voting ends on January 3, 2014.
With discussion of Horse of the Year comes the discussion of the top jockey of 2013. With his fall at the Breeders’ Cup which ultimately sidelined John Velazquez’s 2013 riding season, Javier Castellano rose to the top of the earnings chart with approximately $26 million, followed closely by Joel Rosario with $21 million. Despite his injury, Velazquez will finish in third place. Rosario’s second place finish may be considered a remarkable accomplishment because he broke his foot in mid-season and was unable to race. Rafael Bejarano may not have finished on the top of the earnings chart (4th place) but there is no question that he dominated West Coast racing this year, winning riding titles at Santa Anita and Betfair Hollywood Park. No surprise thus far in the standings, until you reach the rider in the fifth spot. With an exceptional riding career at Aqueduct, 21-year old Puerto Rican rider Irad Ortiz, Jr. finds himself in the fifth spot between two future Hall of Fame riders: Bejarano and Jose Lezcano.
The baby-faced jock has been picking up (and winning) mounts for trainers like Steve Amsussen and 2013 top trainer, Todd Pletcher, this season. On December 26, Ortiz, whose younger brother Jose is an apprentice in New York, had nine mounts and finished in the money in four of them. Irad and his brother consistently finish in the top 3. Irad has only been riding since 2011 with his earnings were $2.8 million. As of today, his earnings in 2013 are a staggering $13.9 million. This is certainly a jockey to watch going into 2014. He is currently the leading rider at Aqueduct with 43 wins. However, I’m curious to see if he can ride on the West Coast. He’s been at the New York barns since his apprenticeship and arrival from Puerto Rico.
2013 may have been the year of the seasoned riders like Mike Smith and Gary Stevens but they may need to keep checking over their shoulders. 2014 is the Chinese Year of the Horse, but it also might be the year of the young jockeys to grab the reigns and fly!
I shall not close without mentioning the riding title at Hawthorne. You basically could have wrapped up the trophy in a big BLUE ribbon back in mid-November. Tim Thornton accumulated 20+ wins over his closest competitor Rafael Manuel Hernandez and 30+ over third-place finisher Israel Ocampo. Tim has raised his winning percentage significantly. He even stated that a 15% winning percentage is remarkable in this business. At the end of the Hawthorne meet, his winning percentage is 20%, total earnings at $1.1 million and a 48% chance of top 3%. A very impressive 2013 season for this talented and likeable rider.
I started writing this blog in October. My first racetrack to cover outside of Minnesota was Hawthorne Racecourse. I have continually been impressed with my brief interaction with Jim Miller on Twitter, and appreciate that he did not discard a rookie, female handicapper such as myself. I have learned a great deal about the jockeys, trainers, horses and connections in Chicago and find them all to have a genuine love and concern for this sport. I look forward to covering Hawthorne next year.
I appreciate the opportunities that have presented themselves to me this past year and intend to make each one successful in 2014. So, I begin 2014 with coverage at Oaklawn and Turf Paradise (following the Minnesota connections).
As promised, Minnesota’s own young racing star, Alex Canchari, will be my Jockey Feature next month in honor of his January birthday.
Todd Schrupp from TVG has one of the best “sign offs” in broadcasting: “Until next time, may all your photo finishes be winning ones.” I need to get one of those for this blog. I have trouble with conclusions – or maybe I just have trouble with “endings.”
- Opening Day at Santa Anita: December 26, 2013 (threecoltshandicapping.wordpress.com)
- Racing Dudes Poll: Who Will win Horse of the Year in 2014? What was the Moment of the Year? (racingdudes.com)