If you've had enough of presidential campaigns and elections, you might want to try your hand at predicting the winner of Thoroughbred racing's Eclipse Award for Horse of the Year.
The two candidates are Stronach Stables' Ghostzapper, undefeated in 2004 and brilliant winner of the Breeders' Cup Classic – Powered by Dodge (gr. I), and Someday Farm's Smarty Jones, who captured the hearts of America with his victories in the Kentucky Derby (gr. I) and Preakness Stakes (gr. I).
To get a sample of how people in the racing industry are thinking, bloodhorse.com polled a number of horsemen, officials, and journalists. Below are their selections and comments, followed by the final count:
- Laura Hillenbrand, author of "Seabiscuit, an American Legend"
-- "Smarty Jones was fast, game, versatile, and honest. His performances were brilliant. He took everything that his rivals and outrageous fortune could throw at him, and but for a few feet at the wire of the Belmont (gr. I), would have gone out an undefeated Triple Crown winner. In the spring, I couldn't imagine that anything could happen between June and November that would shake my conviction that Smarty deserved the title. But Ghostzapper takes my breath away. His victory in the Classic was effortless, suggesting that he is the kind of supernatural talent that we see once in a generation. Smarty Jones was wonderful, and would have had my vote in almost any other year in recent memory, but Ghostzapper runs like a horse for the ages. I would give it to Ghostzapper."
- Richard Migliore, jockey
– Ghostzapper, no doubt about it. He breathes a different air than the other horses. The way he can sprint and run long, he's just spectacular. I think he's one of the best horses we've seen in a long time. He's just a phenomenal horse. You're talking about a different dimension. You're talking the legends of the game, like Dr. Fager and horses like that. There's no doubt in my mind he's that kind of horse. I was a big Smarty Jones fan, and I still am, but no horse has done nearly as much as this horse has. He's spectacular."
- John Fort, managing partner of Peachtree Stable, owner of Kentucky Derby runner-up Invisible Ink
– "Smarty Jones. He was fun and exciting. Plus he has a huge fan base and was good for racing. Racing fans, the press, professional horsemen...we all know horses like Ghoastzapper, but there is a whole other group of people who number in millions that know Smarty Jones. Whatever he did, it was good enough to excite the people. This is very important. Let's not just judge our industry by our own standards. Let the public vote. They would vote for Smarty Jones. If he is Horse of the Year to them, that should be good enough for us. Remember the fans select the All Stars in baseball."
- Richard Violette, New York trainer
– "Horse of the Year is like the debate over Most Valuable Player in baseball. It's open to interpretation. If I were voting, I'd vote for Smarty Jones. I think he did the most for racing, and I think you have to plug in the impact on the industry. Ghostzapper was the fastest horse, but Smarty Jones was a fast horse, too. Would Smarty Jones have improved enough to beat him? There are all kinds of arguments you can make for and against. Smarty Jones had
to run the first Saturday in May and had to run two weeks later and three weeks after that. And he had to run three weeks before the Derby, and had to run one-two to get in the Derby. His racing calendar was picked for him; it wasn't a selected process. It's a lot easier to wait until your horse is on all eight cylinders and pick your spots to get to the races in the fall. And that's a significant advantage. You don't have that luxury on the Triple Crown trail."
- Billy Turner, trainer of Seattle Slew
-- In my mind, the race that Ghostzapper ran in the Classic was one of the greatest performances I've seen by a racehorse in my lifetime. I was stunned by that race. If he'd been out there with not much in the field that would be one thing, but that was a very good field of horses, and the way he laughed at them made me a real believer. When you run your last quarter going a mile and a quarter in the same time you run your first quarter, that is something we see very, very rarely on the dirt in this country. Off that race alone I would vote for Ghostzapper."
- Charles Kidder, breeder and co-owner of Stellar Jayne
-- "I'd have to go with Smarty Jones. Ghostzapper only ran four times. Smarty Jones ran at more racetracks and was undefeated until the end and just missed the Triple Crown. He excited everybody."
- Mike Sellitto, agent for Jose Santos
– "Ghostzapper in a landslide. He was by far the best horse. I give Smarty Jones no chance. If he had run the whole year it might have been a different story, but Ghostzapper was the best horse."
- Bill Mott
, Hall of Fame trainer – "Ghostzapper. Sometimes, the last one you see is the one that sticks in your mind. I can see making a case for Smarty Jones, but you have to go with which one you think is better. Ghostzapper is a hickory little horse. Even when he went head and head with Saint Liam, they were dogging it out and he was game. Then he drew away from everyone in the Classic."
- Satish Sanan, Florida owner and breeder
– "I'd vote for Ghostzapper. I just think he's the best horse this year. I know the Kentucky Derby and the Preakness and all the hype of the Triple Crown carries a lot of weight, but if you look at what Ghostzapper has accomplished from seven furlongs to a mile and a quarter, I think he deserves to be Horse of the Year."
- Bob Baffert, multiple classic-winning trainer
-- "It's too bad you can't give it to both horses. Each one was a horse of half a year. I think Ghostzapper was delicately campaigned. People don't realize what Smarty Jones did as a 3-year-old, and that what got him was the rigors of the classics. If someone asked me which campaign I'd rather have I'd say Smarty Jones. If I had a vote I'd vote for Smarty Jones. He was forced to run in the races he did, and they ganged up on the poor horse in the Belmont. Not only did he win the Derby, he took everybody's breath away in the Preakness. That was a goose bump kind of race. But if Ghostzapper ran against Pico Central in the Cigar Mile and beat him, then I'd give it to him."
- John Adger, manager of Robert McNair's Stonerside Stable
-- "For me, it would be Ghostzapper. I just think he's the best horse. Maybe you have to go back to Dr. Fager, but rarely have I seen a horse who has the highest sprinting Beyer and the highest Beyer over a distance of ground. To beat that quality of horses going a mile and a quarter for the first time, I just think he's got to be the best horse. I certainly think the world of Smarty Jones, but for sheer brilliance, you have to go with Ghostzapper. His race in the Classic was fantastic."
- Allen Jerkens, Hall of Fame trainer
– "I guess you'd have to go with Ghostzapper. I just think he was the best horse and he had the highest speed figures. I have nothing against giving it to the two of them."
- John T.L. Jones Jr., owner of Walmac International in Kentucky
– "I'd vote for Ghostzapper. He set the record in the Breeders' Cup Classic, and when you look at who's run in it, I think that's pretty impressive. Nothing has touched him in all his races except one. Smarty Jones is the people's choice and got more press, but for sheer ability, you have to go with Ghostzapper."
- Tony Everard, farm trainer and owner of New Episode Farm in Florida where Funny Cide was broken
– "I like Smarty Jones. He was a wonderful horse, kind of like Funny Cide, and he created a lot of wonderful things for the horse business. If I were voting for Horse of the Year I'd have to go with Smarty Jones. Ghostzapper is a wonderful horse, too, but the Kentucky Derby is the toughest race for 3-year-olds and it takes a powerful horse to win it -- a horse who has to take so much pressure and stay sound."
- John Nerud, owner, breeder and Hall of Fame trainer
-- "The Horse of the Year to me is Ghostzapper. He ran a great race in the Breeders' Cup and he won grade I stakes this year from seven furlongs to a mile and a quarter. I wouldn't vote for Smarty Jones, because he threw in the towel too quick."
- Kenny McPeek, Kentucky trainer
-- "Ghostzapper's performance in the Classic was awesome. He's the best horse in the country and he'd be who I vote for. Frankel's done a great job with him. I love Smarty Jones and I love the story, but I think it was a weak group of 3-year-olds."
- Mike Mooney, director of communications at Hollywood Park
-- "Ghostzapper. He's done it all and he's very versatile, sprinting and routing, and was so convincing in the Classic. He was pretty awesome."
- Mike Lakow, racing secretary for New York Racing Association
-- "I'd have to say Ghostzapper. I wish Smarty Jones had run past the Belmont. I'd like to say Smarty Jones, but Ghostzapper beat a tremendous field, and I'm just not sure just how good those 3-year-olds were that Smarty Jones was beating. Ghostzapper won the biggest race of the year other than the Derby, and he did it very impressively. Personally, I believe Ghostzapper is the best horse from three-quarters to a mile and a half. I wish I can say Smarty Jones, because he brought fans into the game, but horse against horse, I just feel Ghostzapper was the better horse."
- Ron McAnally, Hall of Fame trainer
-- "I think Bobby's horse (Ghostzapper) deserves it. He hasn't been defeated and he's definitely the Horse of the Year. No question about it."
- John Ward Jr., trainer of Kentucky Derby winner Monarchos
-- "I've got to fall in the Ghostzapper column. I thought he was brilliant in the Breeders' Cup and I thought he was brilliant in his other races as well. I believe he was the most brilliant horse we've seen this year. And it wasn't a matter that he couldn't do it earlier. He never was given the opportunity at the distance."
- Ed Bowen, author and president of the Grayson-Jockey Club Research Foundation
-- "The importance of the Triple Crown means that any horse that wins two of the three is a serious candidate for Horse of the Year. However, Ghostzapper's ability to put together a series of major victories, showing both brilliance and dominance in two of them and supreme courage in another, sways the vote his way, in my opinion."
- John Sikura, owner of Hill 'n' Dale farm in Kentucky
-- "Ghostzapper. He turned in a dominating performance against a full-fledged field of stars from around the country. He also earned an immense speed figure in his previous races. I don't see another horse you can put up as a candidate. If the Breeders' Cup is to be a true world championship you must attend and win. Ghostzapper set a track record and turned in the best performance of the day."
- Joe Hirsch, former columnist for Daily Racing Form
-- "Ghostzapper deserves it. The early retirement of Smart Jones affected my decision, and Ghostzapper is a very nice horse."
- Tony Allevato, executive producer of TVG
-- "Smarty Jones. He won six races this year and was second in the Belmont for the Triple Crown. He earned more money and did more for racing than any other horse, and to me that's what Horse of the Year is all about. Ghostzapper basically won two races. Smarty Jones single-handedly put racing on the map this year, more so than the movie 'Seabiscuit.' Everybody talked about 'Seabiscuit,' but Smarty Jones had a bigger impact on racing than that movie did. And it's not like he was two for 12 going into the Derby. He was undefeated, and in my opinion, is one of the best horses to come around in the past 20 years."
- John Toffan, owner of Came Home
-- "It's a tossup between Ghostzapper and Smarty Jones, but if I had my way I think I'd go with Smarty. He was undefeated until the Belmont, he won impressively every time, and other than, in my opinion, a bad ride in the Belmont, he would have won the Triple Crown. Ghostzapper is a fabulous horse who came on at age four, but I think the other guy did more."Results of 25 people polled: Ghostzapper--18 votes; Smarty Jones--7 votes.