I, like a lot of you have followed the horse of the year chatter in thoroughbred racing. In harness, it's easy and it usually is. There are no set rules or criteria for our voting, and Rock n' Roll Hanover is the horse. If he is not voted HOY in harness I am pretty sure Fed Ex messed up on sending the ballots out, and they got re-routed to the planet Zoltar. In thoroughbred racing, as seems to be par for the course, the debate is about as clear as a mud milkshake.
As this article says, there are no "rules" per se. But as Steve Crist and others note, there is a fall-back dogma.
“There have never been any rules for it or guidelines,” Crist said. “If you look at the history of the thing, it’s usually the best horse in the open division, and the times people have gone elsewhere are because there was no standout horse in that division.”
Indeed, male dirt horses dominate Horse of the Year voting. And when a season lacks an older-male dirt horse, voters have as an automatic default the year’s 3-year-old champion.
This to me, is striking. In harness racing, for example, we would never do this, ever. There is no litmus test or dogma, or fall-back plan based on what others say to do; we generally vote for who is the best horse, or "superstar" of the year. That can be a two year old filly, older male, older female, whomever.
People have spoken at length about HOY this season and have given us stats, strength of competition and all the rest. That's great (although I have purposefully stayed away from it here, because often times it polluting). But I wonder, should Zenyatta lose the HOY vote again this year, if this does not expose that our sport is doing something wrong in their HOY dogma above - eliminating the common sense horse.
Zenyatta is a superstar, and even her detractors note that. She retired the highest money winning mare in history, tied for the most grade 1's by a mare in history, she's the first mare to win the Classic and first mare to come second in the Classic, in that races' history. She is a dual surface mega-winner and is 19 for 20 with one second over three seasons.
Throwing everything else out, and all the other debate out the window: Does it make common sense to anyone that she would go zero for three in HOY voting, with that resume?
I think what we might be seeing here with the general public (where Zenyatta wins polls by a 3 or 4-1 margin) is not an indictment of voters - people who vote for Blame are not stupid. Read one paragraph of a Steve Crist or Beyer book to figure that out - but an indictment of the dogma of the process itself.
A horse with that resume (or ball player or quarterback for that matter), should at least have one MVP, or HOY Award, don't you think?
People ask for stars in horse racing, and they believe the general public will latch onto a horse and make this sport a better one. I agree with that to some extent. Well, what does it say to the general public when the biggest star in racing in the modern era is not even a one-time Horse of the Year? Dogma or no dogma, stat or no stat, Beyer figure or no Beyer figure, it makes little sense to me.