This year as with last year a reasonable case can be made for awarding Horse of the Year to either of a pair of standouts. 

HOTY is presently decided by an election based upon whatever personal criteria each voter decides to apply.  For a sport that prides itself on the winner being the first horse to reach the finish line, it is inconsistent to have HOTY decided by a vote.   An uncomplicated and transparent procedure for determining HOTY that incorporates unambiguous metrics would let owners and trainers know the point allocations in advance, so they can plan and adjust their horses’ races accordingly.  One might not agree with the point values, but one would certainly understand the rules.

The following point-based proposal replaces subjectivity with objectivity.  While it rewards a horse’s body of work over the entire calendar year, it also bestows bonus points for extraordinary achievements, such as winning the Breeders’ Cup Classic.  This is not a hard and fast recommendation, but rather, is a work in progress.  The details could be tweaked as need be by an expert panel comprised of representatives of the three HOTY voting groups and the metrics can be back-tested against previous HOTY outcomes.

PROCEDURE FOR DETERMINING U. S. HOTY                         

Points For: 

Race Type                                                      Win                       Place                     Show

Grade I and Group I                                        20                            10                              5       

Grade II and Group II                                    10                              5                               0       

Grade III and Group III                                  5                               0                               0

All other race classifications                         0                               0                               0


Points accrue for races conducted during the relevant calendar year, beginning January 1 and ending December 31.  A horse based anywhere in the world is eligible for U. S. HOTY as long as it has competed in at least two Grade I races in the USA during the current calendar year and has won at least one of these.  If this standard is met, Group races outside the USA shall contribute points toward HOTY.

Award 50 bonus points for winning the American Triple Crown.

Give 20 extra points for winning the Breeders’ Cup Classic or the Breeders’ Cup Turf.

Add 10 points each time a filly or mare wins against males in a Grade I (or Group I) race.

Add 10 points for a horse that has won Grade 1 races on two separate racing surfaces (any combination of dirt or synthetic or turf).

In the event that horses have exactly the same point total, the tie breaker shall be the best record in head-to-head meetings during the current calendar year.  If there were no such meetings or the horses split evenly, the horses shall be declared Co-Horses of the Year.

The suggested point system in 2009 would have yielded 150 points for Rachel Alexandra and 120 points for Zenyatta.   After the running of the 2010 Breeders’ Cup, Zenyatta had earned 120 points and the next closest competitor was Blame with 95 points.

(Note:  To illustrate, in 2010, the calculations would have been as follows:  Zenyatta won five Grade 1 races (100 points), was second in a Grade 1 race (10 points), and won Grade 1 races on both dirt and synthetic (10 points) = 120 points.  Blame won three Grade 1 races (60 points), was second in a Grade 1 race (10 points), won a Grade 3 race (5 points), and won the Breeders’ Cup Classic (20 points) = 95 points.)

Copyright © 2010 Horse Racing Business

Originally published in the Blood-Horse.  Reprinted with permission.


  1. Susan Barry says

    My problem with your system is the generic use of the “loss’ . I saw Blame’s JCG 4 and 1/2 length loss to Haynesfield which his trainer breezily dismissed as an off-day for Blame. I did not see Zenyatta’s loss in the BC, which is good, because I surely had more objectivity when I saw the replay and then studied the photo finish. Blame’s loss was a CLEARcut one. His win in the BC was NOT a clearcut one. By definition a PHOTO FINISH is used when the two horse are too equal at the finish line to quickly determine a clearcut winner. Examination showed the two horses chests were dead-heated, Zenyatta’s foreleg was in front, but Blame’s neck and head was fully extended out when the wire came, and Zenyatta’s were not.
    I have an additional factor no one appends to the debate I guess because no horse has ever qualified for it. In a still-perfect record Zenyatta, taking the tough road of a closer, has NEVER ONCE failed to catch WHOEVER the lead horse is. Blame failed notably to do so.

    Such supporting comparisons as the number of Graded Stakes and whether both horses passed the same top crop of world horses,(yes, and only Zenyatta passed two consecutive years of them) are important. But I believe HOY should be reserved for something more even.

    —- for a bigger-than-life horse who achieves– but then goes beyond–the numbers, transcending any ONE dirt-turf or distance classification or Juvenile/Older/Filly/Male category. Of course one with such intangible superstar altitude rarely appears.

  2. Susan/

    Are you saying that we have to look at losses and then decide whether one loss is as bad as another? This is impossible.

  3. Susan Barry says

    I’ll try to be brief this time, especially since I didn’t edit my typos.
    Of course I understand it would be crazy-making and useless to routinely do so. I meant, in this particular comparison of two horses’ closing ability to catch the lead horse, I differentiate between a clear-cut, outright loss and one so close as to need photographic verification of the winner.

  4. These basic guidelines are good but how do you plan to account for differences in divisions? A two year old Grade I should never have the same point value as something like the JCGC. And the Apple Blossom should not be given equal weights with the Stephen Foster. Your system would make it very easy for a good two year old to be horse of the year, and I just don’t think that’s valid.

  5. I’ve been a proponent of a point system for HOTY for a long time, but I doubt if the Turf Writers will give up their votes easily. Too much ego involved.

    My own point system is much simpler than yours. Only G1 races run in the U.S. in the current year count towards HOTY. The winner gets +10, second gets +8 and third gets +6. Races that are restricted by age, gender or are run at less than 1 1/8 miles are discounted -2 for each restriction. The BC Classic gets a bonus of +2 as the championship race of the year. There is no penalty for track surface (ie. dirt, turf and synthetic are all counted equally).

    Besides being a much more fair and objective way of determining HOTY, any point system similar to yours or mine also encourages owners to race their horses more often as it would be very difficult for any horse to get HOTY with just a few races (even if all are wins). And fans could follow along throughout the year very easily.

  6. Constructive says

    Leaves unanswered the question of strength of competition.

    Winning multiple graded races against foes who can’t seem to win anything isn’t as tough as winning against foes who can.

  7. And under this system, Easy Goer is HOTY over Sunday Silence. No mechanical system works; give it up.

  8. Bill Shanklin says

    To Disgusted,

    You apparently missed part of my narrative: “An uncomplicated and transparent procedure for determining HOTY that incorporates unambiguous metrics would let owners and trainers know the point allocations in advance, so they can plan and adjust their horses’ races accordingly. One might not agree with the point values, but one would certainly understand the rules.”

    Had the owners of Sunday Silence known the HOTY rules (points allocated) in advance they would have been aware that Sunday Silence trailed Easy Goer by five points. Therefore, they could have adjusted their colt’s racing schedule accordingly, in this case by running in an additional race.

    I do think that you raise a good point. My system could be tweaked to account for examples like the one you provide with Sunday Silence and Easy Goer. For instance, if the two top vote getters are within so many points of one another, say, 10, then the horse with the better head-to-head record would prevail. This need for a specific kind of tweaking would show up once the system is backtested, as I said it should be. In other words, the system would and should be empirically backtested to refine it.

    I have spent a great deal of time in my career grading university students. If I had graded them without a clear advance written delineation of what constituted an A, a B, etc. the complaints would have been numerous and legitimate. The HOTY voters have no written criteria for making their decision.

    To Constructive,

    A Grade I race has already been evaluated for the level of competition over several years. That is why it deserves a Grade I label. It is a slippery slope to speculate whether the field in one Grade I race is better than in another Grade I race. That is part of the mess that college football has on its hands…trying to evaluate strength of schedule…in selecting which teams will play for the national championship.

    Thanks to both of you for your comments.

  9. Villanova played Georgetown three basketball games in 1985 and lost two. Villanova was national champion. Head to head confrontations are not always the be all and end all.

    Easy Goer had a good argument to be 1989 Horse of the Year, even though he lost 3x to Sunday Silence. He won more Grade 1’s and easily beat Sunday Silence by 8 lengths in the test of champions at a mile and a half.

  10. If a horse wins the BC Classic said horse get’s horse of the year? Well why didn’t Zenyatta win last year? Don’t care what you guy’s say, the racing fans know who is horse of the year. Queen Z! If not, racing will cut off its nose the spite it face.

  11. Mike in SB says

    I agree that there should be a point system for Horse of the Year, and all division championships, but I think the biggest problem is that horses so rarely face each other today on the track. Getting points for a Grade 1 win could lead to horses avoiding each other and just picking the easiest Grade 1 race. Your system would be great with a lot fewer Grade 1 races, maybe only 8 or 9 for each division spread around the country. This would force horses to face each other more often, which would not only show who is the better horse but would be good for racing.

  12. Susan,
    I couldn’t agree with you more.

  13. An objective points system might have the positive effect of getting horses to run more, and then a subjective voting system would take into account the competition and win/loss margins. Split it 50-50. Would that work?

  14. Bill Shanklin says


    Your suggestion is a good one to combine a point system with some leeway for judgment, within parameters.

  15. First of all, there is no such THING as “U.S. Horse of the Year”. Secondly, an Eclipse Award winner need not have ever raced in the U.S.

    Finally, a point system should be made to circumvent fluke results such as that of 2009.

  16. Laub, I must not understand your comments. To the best of my knowledge, the Eclipse Awards originated in the US — Europe has the Cartier Awards, I believe, and Japan must have its own awards, as does Canada and Australia. Secondly, when has a horse who has NOT raced in the US at least once ever won an Eclipse award?

  17. Linda / Maryland says


  18. Donna from Maryland says


  19. Actually…there is a requirement that Eclipse Award winners for American Horse of the Year…have raced at least once in I believe North America…in order to be considered…

    2009 was not a fluke result…there was a good case for both horses to win just as there is this year…

    I too support a point system…

  20. i have developed a point system that rewards 2 yr olds, 3 yr olds, and older different values. also have slightly lower values for races restricted to fillies/mares. i have it for all graded races and non graded…but thought i should keep it simple for the racing public and just limit it to grade 1 races. no bonus pts…but do have higher values for breeders cup races, arc de triomphe, world cup dubai races, triple crown, kentucky oaks and etc… my system had blame slightly in front of zenyatta and smiling tiger nipping big drama. other than that, had all of the other eclipse winners. it is interesting to go back in time and see how many more points horses like sunday silence and easy goer would have had from the system. you can actually rate the horses from the past, to ones you see today. i agree with you that our current horse of the year voting system doesnt have any structure to it. it needs to be well defined to make sense to all fans and horsemen.