Time to handicap the O’Brien awards, the winners of which will be announced on February 7.
One genius gave a Dan Patch divisional vote to Sports Chic over JK She’salady, but we can comfortably assume the Art Major filly, who won five times in Canada, including the Three Diamonds, She’s A Great Lady and Eternal Camnation, will cruise to victory.
Artspeak, who had eight wins in ten starts, including the Governor’s Cup, a split of the Nassagaweya and the Metro, should win the freshman pacing O’Brien. The latter two were big wins in Canada and he took the Metro in 1:50.2. He earned more than $800,000. The opposition, the Ponder colt Go Daddy Go, won an elimination for the BC and one for the Metro, but that won’t get you an O’Brien. He won four times, was not a star in the OSS, and did not take the Super Final—the lightly raced Reverent Hanover did. A colt that isn’t even the best sire stakes colt in Ontario can’t be expected to beat out Artspeak.
Lady Shadow beat Major Dancer in a split of the Cinderella at Maywood for Doug McNair. She also won the Battle of the Belles and took a couple of Gold Legs. Major Dancer won the Town Pro and scored seven wins and 16 board finishes in 19 starts, with success coming in the NYSS. Lady Shadow should take this O’Brien for sophomore filly pacers.
JK Endofanera won the North America Cup, which often serves as a leg up on an O’Brien divisional title. Although last year’s winner, Captaintreacherous, didn’t have the required three starts in Canada, so Vegas Vacation took the O’Brien. And the previous year Michaels Power beat out Cup winner Thinking Out Loud. JK End also won a split of the SBSW. While he earned more than a million he was not a dominant player in the division after that Cup win. He made the board 17 times in 20 starts, but a split of the Tattersalls Pace was his only subsequent Grade I win. His competition, Casie Coleman’s McArdle colt McWicked, was second in his SBSW split and won his Cup elimination. He was fourth in the final. He did win the BC, Adios, Hempt and Progress, and he was voted a Dan Patch, although he had no Triple Crown wins. Casie may swing this one to McWicked. Having the Cup winner not win an O’Brien three years running would be noteworthy.
American In Paris had a very successful year, but she’s a preferred mare. Anndrovette, on the other hand, won the Roses Are Red for the third year in a row and also took the elimination for that race. I don’t see how one can give a preferred mare the nod over a four-time Dan Patch winner for the O’Brien.
In the aged male pacing division 5-year-old State Treasurer has a better resume. He won the Molson and beat Modern Legend in the Allerage at The Red Mile. However, Modern Legend won the big one, the CPD, at 65/1 odds, slaying kingpin Sweet Lou in the process. Dave Drew’s pacer will probably get the nod.
The two freshman trotting fillies, both based in Ontario, leave voters with a tough choice. Danielle Hall is the best two-year-old filly Dewey has produced. He no longer stands in Ontario, having taken up residence in New York for the steeply discounted fee of $6,000. And the other filly, Stubborn Belle, is a product of the peripatetic Taurus Dream, who passed in France almost two years ago. Lots of nominees by OSS stallions that have since moved on or passed or by marginal stallions: Muscle Mass, Dewey Justice Hall, Infinitif, Taurus Dream, Modern Art, Ponder….
Danielle Hall has a win in the Champlain, a Super Final win and five OSS Gold wins. She finished second to Mission Brief in the BC as well as in her BC elimination. Danielle was also second in her Goldsmith Maid elimination. She won a couple of more races and earned a little more money than Stubborn Belle, who won the Peaceful Way when Mission Brief broke. Stubborn Belle won three times in the OSS and finished third to Danielle in the Super Final. She was also back of Danielle in the BC. Stubborn Belle’s Peaceful Way win tops anything Danielle accomplished, but overall Danielle was better in open competition and in the OSS, so I’ll go with her.
The Conway Hall trotter Habitat and Don’t Rush, a son of Infinitif, contest the two-year-old O’Brien. The former is a legitimate Grand Circuit colt, who drew off in the Wellwood, while Don’t Rush was no factor. Habitat also won the Matron and a split of the Bluegrass. There’s no way to justify choosing Don’t Rush over Habitat.
Riveting Rosie, who deserves the O’Brien for a three-year-old filly trotter, started slowly but improved as the year went on. She wasn’t up to beating the Grand Circuit bunch, but she did finish second behind Shake It Cerry in the Elegantimage. She won the OSS Super Final. The other nominee, White Becomes Her, consistently finished back of Rosie.
Harper Blue Chip had an outstanding season, earning $700,000, sweeping the OSS and finishing third in the Hambletonian. Any other time he’d be a deserving winner. However, Trixton won the Simcoe, Goodtimes and his Goodtimes elimination in Canada, and he also took the Hambletonion. Sorry, Harper.
The fact that Bee A Magician, who was winless in Canada this year, is a finalist is reminiscent of Foiled Again being one in 2013. Classic Martine, the Dan Patch winner, won the Armbro Flight and two legs of the Miss Versatility in Ontario. BAM won the BC, but you can’t justify voting her an O’Brien.
Intimidate won the most prestigious race for older trotters in Canada, the Maple Leaf Trot, and he took the TVG final at season’s end. You can’t privilege a reliable preferred performer like Slip Into Glide over him.
JK She’salady is the only viable Horse of the Year candidate. She won that award by a narrow margin in the US, but much of her opposition, Sweet Lou, Shake It Cerry, Father Patrick and Sebastian K are all horses that failed to make three starts in Canada, so none of them qualify for the O’Brien. McWicked does but he only received two HOY votes. JK She’salady won the Three Diamonds, Eternal Camnation and Shes A Great Lady in Ontario. This one’s a no brainer.