On Track with Johnny D: It’s Complicated

Debate surrounding 2016 Horse of the Year honors likely will extend beyond Jan. 21, when California Chrome’s connections triumphantly occupy center stage at Gulfstream Park’s Sport of Kings to accept the coveted golden Eclipse statue synonymous with that distinction.


How do I know California Chrome will win the Horse of the Year vote? Because the pollsters say it’s so! And, as we know, they’re never wrong! Sheesh.


Actually, this time I’ll rely on personal opinion and common sense to make the call because, without a doubt in this feeble noggin of mine, California Chrome is the 2016 Horse of the Year.


‘What about Arrogate?’ you ask. How could a horse have been more impressive?


One can’t. But the Horse of the Year award goes to the top runner through all of 2016 and not to a horse with just a pair of exceptional races in August and November.


Arrogate’s a beast. Scary good, in fact. He whipped ‘Chrome on the square going a mile and one-quarter at Santa Anita in the Breeders’ Cup Classic. He also shook staid Saratoga horseplayers shoeless when he won the Travers in stakes and track record time. Unfortunately, the Travers was only his fourth 2016 start and first stakes outing of the season and it came nearly eight months into the year.


By Travers time, ‘Chrome already had won five stakes races, including two Grade 1s—the Dubai World Cup (BTW the world’s richest race), and the Pacific Classic. He added the Grade 1 Awesome Again to his seasonal resume in October. Detractors will knock ‘Chrome’s closest pursuers in those races (Dortmund, twice, Beholder, Mubtaahij, Storm Belt and Imperative), but those nearest to Arrogate in the Travers (American Freedom and Gun Runner), aren’t any better.


‘Chrome’s early 2016 accomplishments clearly eclipse (no pun intended) Arrogate’s.


So, where’s the beef? And I don’t mean hamburger. You know, ‘beef’ as in dispute or disagreement. How in the world is California Chrome not a unanimous choice for Horse of the Year?


I suppose, like the Electoral College, it’s more complicated than I realized. Americans appreciate champions wrapped in convenient, tidy packages with pretty bows. It’s how we’re wired. We thrive on concrete resolution. A winner and a loser. The regular season is for fools. Emerge there unbeaten and then fall short in the playoffs or championship game and it’s, ‘Sorry ‘bout it. Scoreboard. You lose!’


In professional football, the winner of the Super Bowl hoists the Lombardi trophy, visits the White House and goes to Disneyland. The loser can look forward to a long off-season and, historically, an even longer next season.


A best-of-seven games World Series, decides Major League Baseball’s crown—a World Championship–even though no team outside of North American is involved. Still, it’s the Series winner that claims the title, even if every hundred years or so it happens to be the Chicago Cubs.


The NBA title, too, resides with the playoffs and NBA Championship series survivor.


The Masters’ green jacket fits the guy who takes the least swings Thursday through Sunday. Period.


Boxing, wrestling and MMA championship belts wrap around waists of whoever’s left standing following something between a ‘tap out’ and a ten count.


Arrogate emerged from the Breeders’ Cup Classic—billed as the sport’s championship event—as a definitive winner. Shouldn’t that victory automatically coronate him as Horse of the Year?


You’re not paying attention. Arrogate is the champ, but he’s not Horse of the Year. Racing isn’t like other sports. When it comes to year-end awards we prefer to complicate matters.


This year, for example, which horse would you honor as top Older Dirt Male? Correct, it’s California Chrome. Arrogate’s a three-year-old, so he’ll be a unanimous choice in that division.


Remember how the voting went last year? American Pharoah won top 3-year-old honors and became the first horse since John Henry in 1981 to be a unanimous choice as Horse of the Year. And which horse won top Older Dirt Male? Didn’t think you’d remember. It was Honor Code.


California Chrome deserves 2016 Horse of the Year honors based on achievement, and as appreciation for what he did January through October. In a season highlighted by tremendous individual performances, ‘Chrome was a pillar of consistency from Santa Anita in January, to Dubai in February and March, to Del Mar in July and August, and, finally, back at Santa Anita in November. Each time, in victory and a lone defeat, he treated us to his very best.


We’d be fortunate to have another just like him in 2017.


Race On!

On Track with Johnny D: It’s Complicated

On Track with Johnny D |

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