I'll Have Another
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I'll Have Another
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Kate Hunter

HOY Analysis: Traditional Vs. Unconventional

Steve Haskin breaks down the three finalists for 2012 Horse of the Year.

Forget the old apples and oranges comparison. At least they're both fruits and both round. The 2012 Horse of the Year ballot is more like escargot and cheeseburgers. It all depends on your taste and which is bluer, your blood or your collar.

There is the classic traditionalist, I'll Have Another , staring at the gates of the pantheon, and the unconventional Wise Dan, seeking fame and glory in less-publicized one-mile grass races. You can also throw in your average Joe, Fort Larned , who appears to be merely the filler, despite taking home the prestigious Breeders' Cup Classic (gr. I) and Whitney Invitational Handicap (gr. I) prizes.

Wise Dan appears to be getting all the love and is probably the favorite to win the award, but to those who have refused to jump off the I'll Have Another bandwagon, the choice is a no-brainer. Their thinking is that I'll Have Another's three grade I victories and one grade II in approximately three months far outweigh Wise Dan's three grade I victories and one grade II in approximately three months.

I'll Have Another transcended the sport and broke into the mainstream public and media with his victories in the grade II Robert B. Lewis Stakes and grade I Santa Anita Derby, Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands, and Preakness Stakes. And he was, after all, undefeated in 2012. Along the way, he defeated top-class 3-year-olds Bodemeister , Paynter , Union Rags , Dullahan, and Creative Cause , while Wise Dan's closest pursuers in the Shadwell Turf Mile Stakes (gr. IT) were 100-1 and 48-1, respectively, and the runner-up in the Ricoh Woodbine Mile Stakes (gr. IT) had never even run on grass before.

Also, many believe the runner-up in the Breeders' Cup Mile (gr. IT), Animal Kingdom , was the better horse, having encountered a nightmarish trip and having only one race in 17 months. And they state that Wise Dan might not even be the most accomplished grass horse, with Little Mike winning the grade I Woodford Reserve Turf Classic Stakes, Arlington Million, and Breeders' Cup Turf, the last named defeating budding superstar Point of Entry  and last year's BC Turf winner St Nicholas Abbey.

Their case is that there is no rule that says Horse of the Year must be decided in the second half of the year, especially when one's credentials include two classic victories over a horse who had the credentials of a champion himself. Although many deserted him for a variety of off-track reasons, his true fans remained loyal, as futile a gesture as it may seem.

Wise Dan's legion of fans marveled at his victories, which also included a romp in the Ben Ali Stakes (gr. III) on Keeneland's Polytrack early in the year. That was followed by a head defeat at 4-5 in the Stephen Foster Handicap (gr. I). His Horse of the Year quest began in earnest with a brilliant score in the Fourstardave Handicap (gr. IIT) at Saratoga Race Course.

His three remaining victories all were stunning visually, and racing fans gravitated toward him, looking for any resemblance of an equine hero, especially following the untimely departure of our leading 3-year-olds. Winning the Breeders' Cup Mile was the proverbial icing on the cake and it is his image that appears freshest in people's minds.

Fort Larned, although a big longshot to win Horse of the Year, certainly is deserving of being one of the three finalists. He won the Cornhusker Handicap (gr. III) and Whitney in brilliant fashion, and showed his courage under fire, out-battling Mucho Macho Man  the length of the stretch to win the Classic. He also threw in victories in the grade III Skip Away Stakes at Gulfstream Park and the listed Challenger Stakes at Tampa Bay Downs for good measure.