Top contenders for Horse of the Year head into Breeders’ Cup with a lot at stake – Press Enterprise
The past three Horse of the Year contests have been about as suspenseful as a New York Jets football game.
Just like Jets fans know their team’s fate well before kickoff, horse racing fans knew Gun Runner (2017), Justify (2018) and Bricks and Mortar (2019) were favorites to take home the most coveted of the Eclipse Awards before the Breeders’ Cup.
This year, the Horse of the Year race is not so clear cut heading into the 37th Breeders’ Cup World Championships at Keeneland Race Course in Lexington, Ky., on Friday and Saturday, Nov. 6-7.
Flip a coin.
Improbable, Maximum Security, Tiz the Law, Authentic and Swiss Skydiver are all strong contenders for the award, as are Tom’s d’Etat, Monomoy Girl and By My Standards to a lesser extent. (See below for Art Wilson’s handicapping of the top contenders.)
“It appears to me that the number of Horse of the Year candidates going into this year’s Breeders’ Cup is much larger than in most years,” horse racing historian Jon White said via email. “Consequently, I think the Classic will play a significant role in determining which horse does end up being voted Horse of the Year.”
White, who serves as morning-line maker at Santa Anita and, for the first time, at this fall’s Del Mar meet, believes five of the Horse of the Year contenders are slam-dunk winners if they add the Breeders’ Cup Classic to their 2020 resumes.
“Improbable currently is ranked No. 1 (in the latest National Thoroughbred Racing Association Top Thoroughbred Poll) and Maximum Security is No. 2,” White said. “If either of them wins the Classic, I believe it’s a slam dunk that they will be voted Horse of the Year.”
White believes if one of this year’s 3-year-old standouts — Authentic, Tiz the Law or Swiss Skydiver — wins the Classic, “I would rate them as a slam dunk for the Horse of the Year title, like Improbable and Maximum Security.”
Tom’s d’Etat is ranked fourth, Monomoy Girl fifth and By My Standards sixth in the latest NTRA poll.
“If one of them wins the Classic, they no doubt will garner much Horse of the Year support, but I don’t think they would be a slam dunk,” White said.
Swiss Skydiver was cross-entered in the Classic and Distaff when Breeders’ Cup pre-entries were announced Wednesday, Oct. 28, but her trainer, Kenny McPeek, has since said the standout filly will be entered in the Distaff on Monday, Nov. 2 when post positions are drawn unless there are some late defections from the Classic.
The daughter of Daredevil has raced nine times at nine different track this year, winning five times while running against the boys twice. She won the Preakness Stakes, outdueling Authentic in the stretch on Oct. 3, and finished second behind Art Collector in the Blue Grass Stakes at Keeneland on July 11.
If she won the Classic, she’d be a Horse of the Year cinch. If she wins the Distaff and there’s a surprise in the Classic, she could easily win Horse of the Year. Either way, she’d earn much support for the award.
Monomoy Girl is going in the Distaff, and if she wins and there’s an upset in the Classic, she also could gather many votes for Horse of the Year. She’s a great story, having missed all of 2019 because of a mild bout with colic and a pulled gluteal muscle.
There are no turf standouts or top 2-year-olds who appear to be Horse of the Year contenders this year.
Bricks and Mortar, last year’s Horse of the Year, won the Breeders’ Cup Turf in a photo over United at Santa Anita last fall. The last 2-year-old winner of Horse of the Year was Favorite Trick in 1997.
HORSE OF THE YEAR RACE
Handicapping the contenders:
Improbable: He’s put it all together this year.
Maximum Security: As consistent as they come.
Swiss Skydiver: Remarkable campaign for filly.
Authentic: Gave Baffert 6th Derby victory.
Tiz the Law: Only one hiccup in 2020.
Tom’s d’Etat: 7-year-old has put it all together.
Monomoy Girl: Feel-good story of the year.
By My Standards: Second to Improbable in Whitney.
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