Jan 13th 2010 08:30 am |
On Monday night, the much anticipated 2009 Horse of the Year winner will be revealed. Whatever the result, people will be unhappy. As some have said and what I agree with is, the HOTY award doesn’t really matter in the long run. Both Zenyatta and Rachel Alexandra are going to be remembered for what they did on the track, not for winning (or losing) Horse of the Year. As a fan, my only interest is this: if Zenyatta losing HOTY increases the chances she races again, then I am hoping Rachel Alexandra wins (an idea I tweeted last Thursday).
As we draw closer to the big night, I have been doing some research on the early history of the Eclipse Awards. In 1972, the second year of the combined vote* to determine the “official” end of the year awards, the Horse of the Year brought with it some hand wringing and gloomy scenarios for the sport of kings. As most of us know, Secretariat was voted Horse of the Year for his dominant 2-year-old campaign. In 2010, we don’t think twice about Secretariat winning Horse of the Year in 1972. However, the view from January 1973 was not so clear, evident in the two selections below.
A letter to the editor printed in the New York Times on January 7, 1973, voiced this opinion on Horse of the Year:
“I am deeply disturbed over the results of thoroughbred racing’s consolidated poll for 1972. Denying La Prevoyante the horse of the year crown is a marked injustice. Here is a filly, a member of the so-called ‘weaker’ sex who, in her first year of competition, did what every owner, trainer, breeder, and other concerned parties fleetingly dream of — she went unbeaten, unsurpassed, en route to closing out the season with a perfect record of 12 impressive and exciting triumphs in as many starts…
“…It’s not that Secretariat isn’t worthy of the award, but La Prevoyante, never defeated, reached that sparsely populated plateau of total supremacy over all who opposed her…
“…The only solace I can garner from this year’s unfair outcome is that by naming Secretariat horse of the year, [his sire] Bold Ruler receives a most fitting tribute less than a year after his death.”
A few weeks later, on the other side of the country, columnist John Hall from the Los Angeles Times used the occasion of Secretariet’s Horse of the Year award to opine about the decline of American thoroughbred racing and the lack of thoroughbred “stars.” He wrote this on the day of the Eclipse Awards ceremony held at the Century Plaza Hotel in Los Angeles on January 26, 1973:
“…There will be trophies for just about everything — all the good horses and all the good people of 1972. From Secretariat, Horse of the Year, to Soothsayer, the steeplechaser, it will be grand.
“One notable not-so-grand is obvious, though. Out of nine awards being presented, there isn’t a Kelso or an Exterminator or a Native Diver or an Armed in the house.
“It is another sign of horseracing’s ever-growing dilemma. No established box-office stars in competition on the tracks. They’re all down on the farm making big money babies.
“If you’ve been paying any sort of attention lately, you know that thoroughbred racing has become a sad case of here today, gone tonight. Win one big stakes and run for the farm. Who wants to risk injury or embarrassment in further competition when a name stallion can collect as much as $40,000 in stud fees?…
“…Box-office bigs such as Kelso and Exterminator, in sharp contrast, raced to age 9. Armed and Native Diver, the Hollywood Park Hall of Farmer, were still running at 8.
“‘The reason is simple enough,’ said Frank Kilroe [Racing Secretary at Santa Anita]. ‘They were geldings whose only value was on the race course.’
“It’s something the Century Plaza gang [the attendee of the Eclipse Awards ceremony] might think about tonight once the black ties are loosened, the tuxes are put back in the trunk and the ball is over. One of these days, there may be no party.
“When Secretariat, a 2-year-old, is Horse of the Year in the entire throughbred world, you get the idea the ship is sinking. A 2-year-old?”
In hindsight, it sounds crazy to say Secretariat winning the Horse of the Year in 1972 signaled doom for the racing industry. Today, it’s hard not to think of Secretariat as a two-time horse of the year winner and one of the greatest ever but, in early 1972, he was just another two-year-old with tremendous potential.
SOURCES, NOTES, AND OBSERVATIONS
“Mailbox: A Vote for La Prevoyante,” New York Times, January 7, 1973
John Hall, “Kelso, Anyone?,” Los Angeles Times, January 26, 1973
* The three entities whose combined voting to make up the Eclipse awards were Thoroughbred Racing Association, Daily Racing Form, and National Turf Writers Association. Who said racing can’t come together?
A tidbit that I left out: The Sport and Turf Digest, a publication that had been conducting a Horse of the Year poll since 1936 but were not included in the Eclipse balloting, voted Key to the Mint as the Horse of the Year for 1972. It’s safe to say that Secreatriet’s 1972 HOTY title was anything but unanimous.
I was really bummed to hear the news on Sunday morning that the racing archive of Jim Conti (aka partymanners) was shut down by YouTube. His collection of nearly 2000 race films were removed after – what appears to be – a false claim of copyright. You can read Mr. Conti’s version of the story at Equispace. This is a real loss for race fans.
THANKS FOR READING AND GOOD LUCK!