The debate over Horse of the Year is already underway with the connections and fans of both Blame and Zenyatta starting to make their cases. This is a rerun of last year when there was so much argumentation over Rachel Alexandra and Zenyatta.

The voters from the three organizations that determine HOTY will soon have to render their collective decision. From my perspective, this at first glance is a seemingly difficult decision because the proponents of both Blame and Zenyatta have some logical and telling points on their side. For instance, Zenyatta in 2010 ran in six Grade I races and won five of these and was second in a photo-finish to Blame in the Breeders’ Cup Classic. On the other hand, Blame won three Grade I races in 2010 and was second in another Grade I, but bested—if only barely– Zenyatta in their sole meeting.

The HOTY voters all come to the task with their individual preferences and biases. A few even said how they would vote (for Zenyatta) before the Breeders’ Cup Classic was run. Really, there are no quantified criteria in place for determining HOTY (though there should be), so the process is highly subjective. Logic and sentimentality go into the voting and out comes a winner.

The Heisman Memorial Trophy Award, or informally the Heisman Trophy, annually goes to the outstanding player in collegiate football, as voted upon by sports journalists, ESPN sports commentators, fans, and former Heisman winners. Like the HOTY award, it is something of a popularity contest combined with the supposed objectivity of experts. Oftentimes, the Heisman Trophy winner proves to be a bust in professional football, calling into question whether he was really the best college player.

In 1997, the Heisman Trophy winner was defensive back Charles Woodson of Michigan, who is still enjoying a fine career with the Green Bay Packers. In fact, he is the only primarily defensive player ever to win the Heisman. Woodson beat out the celebrated Peyton Manning, then a renowned quarterback for the University of Tennessee and now a certain future Hall of Fame inductee as a Super-Bowl winning quarterback for the Indianapolis Colts. The selection of Woodson over Manning in the Heisman Trophy race was widely criticized at the time, as Manning was considered to be one of the premier college quarterbacks in history. His record in the National Football League bears out this assessment. Whereas Woodson was and is an exceptional player, Manning was and is a great player.

Forty or fifty years from now, Peyton Manning will be remembered as storied players are remembered today, such as Jim Brown (who also did not win the Heisman Trophy), Gale Sayers, and Johnny Unitas. Charles Woodson has been an All-Pro but he will not go down in the annals of football the way Manning will. Where will Manning rank compared to Woodson on the best college and NFL players of their era? It won’t be close. Manning, in 1997 and now, was the obvious selection for the Heisman Trophy.

Returning to the issue of whether Blame or Zenyatta should be the 2010 HOTY, voters need to apply the Peyton Manning test. Forty or fifty years from now, which equine athlete will be most remembered? Blame will first and foremost be recalled as the horse that provided the great Zenyatta with her only loss, just as Upset was immortalized because he, well, upset Man ‘o War in Big Red’s only defeat. These names, Upset and Blame, seem almost eerily preordained.

Some of the leading Thoroughbred trainers commented in the wake of Blame’s Breeders’ Cup Classic win that the head-to-head competition between Blame and Zenyatta should weigh heavily in Blame’s favor in the HOTY voting. Seriously, guys, would you have argued in 1973 that either Onion or Prove Out, rather than Secretariat, should have been awarded HOTY because Onion bested Secretariat by a length in the Whitney and Prove Out beat him by 4 1/2 lengths in the Woodward?

Where will Blame be placed on the best racehorses of the 21st century as compared to Zenyatta?

Answer these kinds of big-picture questions HOTY voters and your choice will be as evident as Manning is a superior football player to Woodson.

The 2010 Breeders’ Cup Classic has a close parallel to the 1953 Kentucky Derby in which Native Dancer put on a furious drive down the very same Churchill Downs’ stretch that Zenyatta  roared down Saturday. Like Zenyatta, the immortal “gray ghost” came up a head short (to Dark Star) and thereby lost his first and only race and his chance at the Triple Crown. Native Dancer was wisely acclaimed HOTY.

Copyright © 2010 Horse Racing Business


  1. You hit the nail on the head. Someone told me that because Blame won, he’s better than Zenyatta. My retort was, “Well, then Onion must be one of the greatest horses of all time!” Seriously, if Zenyatta gets screwed out of the title again (deserved it in 2008, should have shared it in 2009) that will explain exactly why the sport is having so much trouble.
    Seriously, all the Andy Beyers of the world; how long have you been lamenting the decline of the sport? And then a superstar stepped up, one who reached autistic children, helped a woman through a battle with cancer, brought tears to countless eyes with her wins and her only loss, caused a record-breaking number of people to show up for the Breeder’s Cup AND tripled TV viewers… And the only thing you can do is find reasons to claim her accomplishments aren’t real?
    I’m 16 right now, and I plan to be a jockey someday. And if I’m lucky enough to win a big race, and I’m asked what got me into horse racing, my answer will be Zenyatta, with the added back story that my dad went to middle school with Jay Privman and set his hair on fire at their graduation. And I’ll say how Zenyatta has a place in my heart that no one, horse or human, can take.
    And if she doesn’t get horse of the year, I’ll say how that was the biggest injustice I’ve ever seen.
    Zenyatta isn’t just horse of 2010… She’s horse of 100 lifetimes. I’m only 16, but there won’t be another horse like her even in MY lifetime.
    There will only ever be one Zenyatta.

  2. You are so right! I hope the voters will remember the Peyton Manning injustice, which I did not know about. Remember the Native Dancer stretch drive as well!

  3. Native Dancer did not win HOY in 1953 (his 3yo season), and Zenyatta should not win in 2010.

  4. Bill Shanklin says

    Native Dancer raced three years–as a 2-year-old, 3-year-old and a 4-year-old. He was HOTY in his 2-year-old and 4-year-old seasons. Zenyatta, on the other hand, has never been HOTY although she is a 6-year-old and has won two Breeders’ Cup races (the BC Classic and the BC Ladies’ Classic and was 2nd by a nose in another BC Classic). She won five Grade I races in 2010 to Blame’s three. She has the edge on Blame quantitatively and qualitatively. The folks promoting Blame cannot produce hard evidence that his record in 2010 is superior to Zenyatta’s.

    Last year, we were told that Rachel Alexandra deserved HOTY because of her entire record during 2009, even though she did not compete in the BC Classic won by Zenayatta. By that standard, Zenyatta’s five Grade I wins in 2010 is superior to any American horse in 2010.

    The connections of both Blame and Zenyatta are class individuals and it is too bad that one group has to be disappointed.

  5. “The folks promoting Blame cannot produce hard evidence that his record in 2010 is superior to Zenyatta’s.”

    2010 US Grade 1 winning horses beaten by Blame: Quality Road x2 (3 G1s), Lookin’ at Lucky (2 G1s), Haynesfield x2, Paddy O’Prado and Zenyatta (5 G1s).

    Total 2010 US G1s won, or defeated winner of: 15

    2010 US Grade 1 winning horses beaten by Zenyatta: .

    Total 2010 US G1s won, or defeated winner of: 5

    Those are hard facts Mr. Shanklin, and they are indeed stubborn things.

  6. Bill Shanklin says

    Zenyatta beat all of the Grade I winners you listed save Blame. She traveled across country and just missed running down Blame on his hometown track. In addition, she was undefeated against her gender in five Grade 1 races in 2010. Blame was beaten in 2010 in a Grade I. Moreover, the easy way out for Zenyatta was to run in the Ladies’ Classic, but instead she took on males in the BC Classic. Like Rachel Alexandra last year in the Preakness, Woodward, and Haskel, a filly or mare beating males in Grade I races is considered extraordinary. Much of the intrigue of horse racing is in debates like these…or such as whether Foolish Pleasure was really better than Ruffian, even though he ostensibly beat her in a head to head matchup. Thanks Reality for the banter.

  7. Excellent points, and I’m in full agreement. If she had been blown out in the Classic, and, like many rather idiotically thought, did not belong there, I would certainly agree with those in the pro-Blame camp. But it’s really pretty clear to me that she was much the best in the Classic, with a horse on his home track with the cleanest trip in the race eking out the win. Not a particularly inspiring performance, I don’t think, and hardly an authoritative one. There’s no doubt who the best horse in the land is. And there’s no reason why HOTY should not be decided on that basis in this case.

  8. Bill,

    To argue that Zenyatta did not take the “easy way out” this year is a bit rich given her pre-Breeders’ Cup schedule. Wouldn’t Blame’s record have been just as good if he’d been allowed to run against fillies and mares?

    And regarding your point about Onion and Prove Out, neither was named champion older male in 1973 and thus were not technically eligible to be named Horse of the Year. The champion of the division was Riva Ridge, who I recall Secretariat handled fairly easily the one time they faced each other.

    You’re not the first to have offered this poor analogy, but you should know better.

  9. Bill Shanklin says


    Here is another famous example. In 1978, Affirmed was named Horse of the Year, beating out Seattle Slew, who was named Older Horse of the Year. The two raced against each other twice in 1978 and Seattle Slew beat Affirmed both times–in the Marlboro Cup and the Jockey Club Gold Cup. Slew won the Marlboro Cup and beat second place Affirmed by 3 lengths, conceding 4 pounds. Slew was second to Exceller in the Jockey Club Gold Cup–losing by a nose–with Affirmed finishing far back in the pack. Yet Affirmed won Horse of the Year on the basis of his Triple Crown win even though Seattle Slew handily bested him both times they met. This shows that head-to-head meetings–in this case two of them–are not the deciding factor, or else Slew would have been Horse of the Year in 1978.


  10. Zenyatta needed to win the Classic to nail horse of the year because she had a very soft season rarely leaving California and running in much easier races than Blame did. Last year Z-lots said Z won the Classic so she is horse of the year but now that she lost suddenly winning the Classic means nothing. They settled it on the the track and Blame won. Too bad but that is what happened. What happened last year, or 19 wins, means nothing it is horse of the year not lifetime achievement. If Z is the world beater she appeared to be on Saturday why did they campaign her so conservatively? If she had run and won the Pacific classic or at least raced against and beaten males there would be no debate. Blame won the biggest race and deserves Horse of the year based on his superior achievements this year. I would have no problem if
    Goldikova won the award.

  11. Where does it say that fillies and mares have to beat males to be Horse of the Year? Azeri won Horse of the Year in 2002 off eight wins against her own sex. Zenyatta this year won five Grade 1’s against fillies and mares. That is enough for Horse of the Year…no other horse of either sex won that many Grade 1’s in 2010. Her second by a nose in the BC Classic is just icing on the cake. She had Horse of the Year locked up before she even ran Saturday. Wait and see…she will be Horse of the Year and deservedly so.

  12. Bill,

    One could argue, then, that the voters made the wrong choice in 1978, right? Seattle Slew was clearly the superior animal of the two that year. (Affirmed’s defenders might point to his weight concession on the scale in the Marlboro Cup and his saddle slip in the Jockey Club Gold Cup).

    Look back a year to 1977 and Seattle Slew was voted HOY without having beaten older horses, something I think only Count Fleet (another Triple Crown winner), Charismatic and Point Given have gotten away with before or since.

    So the examples of Count Fleet, Seattle Slew and Affirmed show us that voters have cut those who win the Triple Crown more slack than they have for virtually every other three-year-old who has ever been honored as Horse of the Year.

    The question then becomes: If head-to-head results are to be ignored, then do Zenyatta’s achievements in 2010 before the Breeders’ Cup Classic — wins in the Santa Margarita, Apple Blossom, Vanity, Clement Hirsch and Lady’s Secret (all against her own sex) — rise to the level of sweeping the Triple Crown? If you believe that they do, then the choice is obvious.

    My hunch is a vast majority of people would have trouble believing any such a thing if the mare in question were not named Zenyatta. Substitute some other name for hers and the proposition becomes fatuous.

  13. Bill Shanklin says

    The vigorous discussion I have seen on this site and all over the Internet about Horse of the Year is terrific for racing. Seems like almost everybody has an opinion and neutral observors are few and far between. Racing has a beating pulse after all.

    Fans of all ages and both genders feel strongly and voice their opinions about the merits of Blame and Zenyatta, but usually do so in a courteous way. Look at the heartfelt emotion in the comment of the 16-year-old lady, Alexandra, who posted on this site above. Racing can indeed attract a young audience.

    Nothing like a good strong debate about gallant racehorses to make our day go better. No matter whether Blame or Zenyatta wins Horse of the Year, we can look forward to next year and possibly a new controversy. As the old adage says, that is what makes horse races.

  14. If you think coming in second is just as good as a win tell that to the teller when you give him your losing tickets on Zenyatta. Blame won the head to head battle. If Z had won the Z-lots would list that as a reason sure as the sun rises in the east.

  15. Blame has been in the HOY conversation since he defeated Quality Road in the Whitney. He beat Zenyatta and that’s that. Let’s assume she was # 1 going into the BC Classic and Blame was # 2. Doesn’t it make sense now that # 2 becomes 1 and 1 slides down to 2? Also, Zenyatta ran in restricted races all year. Those Grade 1 fields were extremely weak and she narrowly won many of these. I don’t want to hear about a hometown advantage. If you wish to make that argument then you must acknowledge that she was running on her home tracks all season. Since when is HOY a popularity contest? Blame defeated Zenyatta last Saturday and ran a great race. He is HOY. If Zenyatta lost to Etched (or some other impossible horse) by a nose I would say she should be Horse of the Year. Everyone is way too emotional about this. Blame defeated Quality Road twice this year. Wasn’t he in the HOY conversation as well after the Woodward?

  16. What is really rich out here is there are no rules for who gets horse of the year. There is nothing written down anywhere, nothing, nada. So, that means the voting is totally subjective, with the individual voters for this honor determining entirely unto themselves what criteria they choose to apply to support their vote. To argue as many of you have argued to justify your stand on this matter is what is fatuous, stupid and idiotic! Puleeeez. The whole enchilada that is the HOTY award is a popularity contest among those who can vote. From what I have been able to determine, the qualified voters are a bunch of old mossback, tired and jaded bunch of jerks who only have to look in the mirror to look for the cause the entire horseracing industry is on the ropes!!! These same idiots shot themselves in the foot last year in overlooking Zenyatta. AND if the Mosses had retired their horse last year, half of those who had jobs this year in the industry likely would not have been employed. Zenyatta totally was the reason three times the national audience watched on tv, and double the attendance for the BCC events. That is a fact! Not in dispute! So, all you old geezers, get off your tired old jackasses, man up, and give the lady her due!

  17. I wouldn’t be so irritated about this HOY debate if they had given Zenyatta her due last year. I honestly don’t see how they could have denied her the title when she emphatically won the BCC in 2009, and then this year give it to Blame when he won by pure luck.

    I get the feeling that many people are simply looking for ways to vote against her.

  18. Some people say that Zenyatta did not defeat enough grade 1 horses. How could she, since she ran in 5 grade 1’s before the Breeders Cup and won them all? She did not enable any other filly or mare to become a grade 1 winner.

  19. Well PER she could have race against males in the Pacific Classic at a track she was already at or she could have gone East and faced Blame so he could have beaten her one more time. You do not win the Classic by pure luck. Blame won fair and square. He had some gas left in the tank Z did not. She never headed him nor did she pass him in the gallop-out.

  20. Bill,

    I agree that Zenyatta should be HOY primarily because of her lifetime achievements. I felt the same both in ’08 and ’09. Zenyatta will be talked about much more in future generations of racing fans than either Curlin, Blame or Rachel. Certainly all are great horses and on any given day each could have defeated the others.

    We all know the best horse does not win every race nor does the best horse always win HOY. So let the voters decide; whatever their decision is, is their decision. We are all entitled to an opinion but one thing I am certain of ….. the critics will not be able to prevent the Queen from entering the Hall of Fame.

  21. When a horse puts a lump in your throat when they gallop back to be unsaddled after running, win or lose, they deserve Horse of Year. Zenyatta did that for me the past year.

  22. I would love to see Zenyatta win Horse of the Year. It has been denied to her for far too long and seeing the greatest Thoroughbred in racing right now retire without HOYT honours would be a travesty.
    That said, I believe that Blame will most likely win the award. He did have a wonderful season and topped it off with handing the brilliant mare her first defeat. That he won only by a diminishing head despite having a perfect trip with Zenyatta enduring a terrible one, and running on his hometrack shows just how inferior he is to the Queen. However, a win is a win and so Zenyatta will likely be denied the title she deserves.
    Some solid criteria must be established for determining Horse of the Year. Right now, it is far too subjective and too biased for comfort.

  23. Tom Fool was HOTY in 1953. Native Dancer was HOTY in 1954, the year AFTER he lost the Derby. But the point is still valid. Native Dancer deserved to be HOTY in 1954. Zenyatta deserves to be HOTY in 2010 (especially after the FIASCO last year).

  24. Mary McQuire says

    Who cares about all the statistics!? Zenyatta is HOTY. If they don’t give it to her this year, I will never watch horse racing again.


  1. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Nina Berry, Zenyatta and Mary , Raceday 360 Wire. Raceday 360 Wire said: Best of the Wire: PEYTON MANNING, NATIVE DANCER, AND ZENYATTA […]


    Here at World Spinner we are debating the same thing……