Has any racing season in recent memory been so muddled? Fans went into last weekend's Breeders' Cup at Churchill Downs hoping the star-studded $5 million Classic would help resolve the Horse of the Year debate. What they got instead, on a heavy track that seemed to produce an upset in every race, was more confusion.
The field of 12 for the 1-mile Classic included the 4-year-old filly Havre de Grace—winner of five of her six starts in 2011, including one against the boys in the Woodward—and a handful of challengers from last spring's Triple Crown races, including Belmont winner Ruler On Ice and Stay Thirsty, the Jim Dandy and Travers winner. But they all wound up running behind 15--1 long shot Drosselmeyer, who hadn't won a graded stakes race since the 2010 Belmont.
Breaking from the second post position, Drosselmeyer lagged near the back of the field for the better part of a mile before making a six-wide move off the turn for home. With gritty front-runner Game On Dude hanging tough to the inside, Drosselmeyer's jockey, Mike Smith, started scrubbing hard inside the eighth pole, and the chestnut colt inhaled the leaders over the race's final 110 yards. "Going into the far turn, he took a deep breath," said Smith of his colt, "and I knew he was a loaded gun."
The win was sweet for the jockey. Not only did Smith defeat his former girlfriend Chantal Sutherland, who was riding Game On Dude, but he also redeemed his loss in last year's Classic, when he and race favorite Zenyatta finished a head behind Blame, spoiling the career finale of the until then undefeated mare.
November 14, 2011
So what about Horse of the Year? Havre de Grace's fourth-place finish was her first out of the money all season, but her previous victory over males and the fact that she bumped with a rival entering the first turn and still recovered to make a game late run should work in her favor. The title would have easily been hers with a victory in the Classic. Now she will likely win by default. A fitting end to an oddly inconclusive year.