In Smarty Jones and Ghostzapper, Eclipse Awards voters were faced with two clear and deserving choices for 2004 Horse of the Year. Now they have spoken.
How could you compare the two? Smarty Jones and Ghostzapper were both brilliant racehorses in 2004. No one was debating that fact. Both are Eclipse Award winners in their respective age groups. But voters were left to decide which deserved to be named Horse of the Year.
Nothing was at stake but a title. Smarty Jones had already been retired, money had changed hands, and his stud fee set. Ghostzapper is a homebred whose breeder/owner Frank Stronach stands stallions. His fee will be determined in part by what he does in 2005.
But there is only one Horse of the Year each season, like one Kentucky Derby (gr. I) winner (Smarty Jones) and one Breeders' Cup Classic (gr. I) winner (Ghostzapper).
Voters should have concentrated solely on what happens on the racetrack. This was not a vote on whether or not you thought Smarty Jones should have been retired early. You can't penalize the horse for that. This was not a vote on whether or not you like what Stronach's Magna Entertainment is doing with its acquired racetracks. You can't penalize the horse for that.
This is about one horse (Smarty Jones) who won six of seven starts including the Kentucky Derby and Preakness Stakes (gr. I). This is about another horse (Ghostzapper) who interestingly didn't make his first start of the year until the other candidate was through racing. Yet he won all four of his starts, including the Classic Powered by Dodge, in impressive fashion.
The voters decided, 175-95, Ghostzapper was the one. You don't have to agree but you can't disagree with the election process. The voters spoke.
At least this way, we have a Horse of the Year that is still in training. BY COMMITTEE
For many years, several champions were selected by committee, rather than by voters from the three sponsoring organizations. In particular, perhaps breeder should be returned to a committee.
This is not to say any of the winners were not worthy, but rather that many voters simply look at who led the money list with no thought to the actual size and scope of the breeding operations.
This is really not the fault of the voters. Those who cover the front and backsides of racetracks have no reason to immerse themselves in breeding, stallions, broodmares, sales, and farms.
But this industry relies on its breeders, who take the chance when mating a mare to a stallion and producing our industry's racehorses.
In 2002, Virginia Kraft Payson bred two champions, Vindication and Farda Amiga, yet her Payson Stud was not among the Eclipse Award finalists for breeder. For 2004, Aaron and Marie Jones bred two champions, Speightstown and Ashado, yet were not among the three finalists.
These two breeders, with relatively small broodmare bands, deserved to be among the three finalists. BALLOT BOX
This year, 171 members of the National Turf Writers Association received ballots and 150 (87.7%) voted. The Daily Racing Form
numbers were 70/79 (88.6%), while the National Thoroughbred Racing Association was 54/79 (68.4%).
It would be nice to think 100% of those who receive ballots would vote but that is only in a perfect world. The leaders of all three groups should undertake, however, to find out why some of their members did not take the time to vote for our sport's highest honors.
If ballots can be given, they can be taken away.