Horse of the Year for 2016 comes down to a choice between the 3-year-old Arrogate and the 5-year-old California Chrome. The parallel between 2016 and 2010 is striking, when the voters selected between Zenyatta and Blame.
In 2010, Zenyatta had a record of five Grade I wins and a second-place finish to Blame in the Grade I Breeders’ Cup Classic. Blame, by contrast, in 2010 had three Grade I wins, one Grade III win, and a second in a Grade I race.
Horse of the Year voters cast 128 first-place votes for Zenyatta, 102 for Blame, and five for Goldikova. Therefore, Zenyatta received 54.5% of the first-place votes to 43.4% for Blame. Had Zenyatta not lost to Blame in the Breeders’ Cup Classic, she no doubt would have received almost all of the first-place votes.
In 2016, California Chrome was the winner of five of six races and finished second by a neck to Arrogate in the Breeders’ Cup Classic. California Chrome won three Grade I races: the Awesome Again, the Dubai World Cup, and the Pacific Classic. He also won two Grade II races and a handicap in Dubai in preparation for the Dubai World Cup. In comparison, Arrogate ran second in a maiden special weight in his first career start and then won a maiden special weight. Thereafter, he won two optional claiming allowance races, the Grade I Travers, and the Breeders’ Cup Classic.
Based strictly on past performances, California Chrome has the better portfolio for 2016, just as Zenyatta did in 2010 when voters designated her Horse of the Year. A more nuanced look, however, provides an important distinction between 2010 and 2016. When Zenyatta lost the Breeders’ Cup Classic for her only career defeat, she was closing on Blame in the final strides and came up just short by a nose. California Chrome, on the other hand, had the lead in the Breeders’ Cup Classic in deep stretch when Arrogate caught him and prevailed by about a neck.
Whereas a strong case can be made that Zenyatta was the better horse in the Breeders’ Cup Classic, the same case cannot be made for California Chrome. If the 2010 Classic had been slightly longer, Zenyatta would surely have won, but in 2016 Arrogate looked as though he would have extended his lead had the race been another furlong or another mile.
Such subjectivity and nuance aside, the title “Horse of the Year” denotes a record of superior achievement over a 12-month period of time.
Comparative past performances for these two exceptional racehorses in 2016 demonstrate that California Chrome was, based on the facts, Horse of the Year for the full scope of the 2016 calendar–competing in stakes races in the United States and Dubai from January 9 through November 5–whereas the late-developing Arrogate was not a factor until late August when he won the Travers Stake.
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