DON'T SPLIT HORSE OF THE YEAR
Back in the Stone Age, I went from sportswriter to horse-race PR, and a wisenheimer, a friend actually, suggested that the headline on this career change might read: "Hack Becomes Flack." The truth hurt, but at the time I was proud that even though I crossed the street, I didn't leave my lack of diplomacy behind.
A few years after my arrival in flackdom, there was a close vote in the Eclipse Awards (I can't remember the horses or the category), and one turf writer, rather than taking a stand, split his vote. In those days, unlike now, split votes were not verboten. Not long after the bloc results of the turf writers' voting was announced, a few of us were standing around in a press box--it might have been at Aqueduct--rehashing the awards.
"How about the one guy who split his vote?" I said. "What a gutless decision that was. If ever there's a guy without a spine, it's a guy who splits his vote."
Steve Cady of the New York Times was there. "That was me," he said sheepishly, although he had no reason to be sheepish. If anybody should have been into sheepish that day, it should have been me. "Anybody seen a trapdoor?" I said, and then, up to my nostrils in sheepish, I turned to Cady and said: "Nothing personal, Steve." Until the day Cady left the turf-writing dodge, it was to his credit that he never visibly held my outburst against me. What might have been going on behind my back, I'll never know.
I still feel the same way about split votes, which have since been delegalized, but the issue has come up in the aftermath of Zenyatta's tour de force in the Breeders' Cup. It has been suggested by many that:
WHEREAS, Zenyatta is undefeated and has beaten the boys;
WHEREAS, Rachel Alexandra is undefeated this year and has also beaten the boys;
WHEREAS, the mare and the filly have saved racing for another year;
THEREFORE, they share the Horse of the Year award.
I was going to put the quietus on this terrible idea by writing an open letter to The Person Who Runs Racing, but knowing that such a missive would wind up in the dead-letter office, I put aside this notion for another day. Then Alex Waldrop, president of the National Thoroughbred Racing Association, delivered a blog that took the words of wisdom right out of my mouth. I shiver when I think that Waldrop and I are on the same page about anything, but I even heard that a man bit a dog the other day. The next day, water quit going over Niagara Falls.
Waldrop said that allowing voters to split their Horse of the Year vote would be "a bad step for us to take if we are serious about sustaining the integrity of the Eclipse Awards."
Waldrop went on to say that "the law of unintended consequences says leave (the voting rules) alone." Not being as pedantic as Waldrop, I believe "the law of unintended consequences" is virtually a match for the more-quoted "if it ain't broke, don't fix it" doctrine. Either way, it's reassuring to hear this cogent talk from the NTRA, whose track racing secretaries represent one of the Eclipse Awards' four voting blocs. In the rush to convenience after the Breeders' Cup, I could just see the voting rules changed to allow for co-champions, then have the voting results not achieve that goal anyway, and then watch forlornly while they re-jigger the rules requiring a single champion again come 2010.
It will be a harsh reality when either Zenyatta or Rachel Alexandra comes in second in the voting, but I say, give that horse a Kong-sized asterisk and move on. I suppose there will be those voters who will stick to their guns and vote for both of them, knowing that such votes will be disqualified. Like coming in second in this year's Horse of the Year vote, this is not a bad thing. The Horse of the Year balloting "is a tough one," no less an observer than Jerry Moss, the co-owner of Zenyatta, said not long after the Breeders' Cup Classic was in the books. Tough? Moss under-estimates the task, just like some of us under-estimated his inimitable racemare.
by Bill Christie
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