In recent years the Horse of the Year race has been singularly lacking in suspense and drama. Last year the undefeated trotting filly, Bee A Magician, won the award with 78% of the vote. In 2012 it was world record holder Chapter Seven with 64%. San Pail dominated with 85% in 2011, while Rock N Roll Heaven swept the vote in 2010. Muscle Hill received 97% in 2009 and the previous year SBSW crushed Dewey with 77% of the vote.
Some years, and this was certainly the case back in the day when there were many more voters, the votes were cast in what one could call a splash pattern: the winner benefited from the fact that so many horses were deemed worthy of consideration. Geography played a pivotal role in the voting at that time.
In 1954 Stenographer was designated the eighth Horse of the Year and the first sophomore trotter to receive that honor. The filly established six world records and won 23 heats. Oddly enough, Scott Frost, the sport’s first two-minute two-year-old trotter, received one more first place vote, but lost the election on points. Adios Boy, Kimberly Kid, Red Sails, Katie Key, Philip Scott, Adios Harry, Pronto Don and Phantom Lady all received first place votes in 1954, and hence contributed to the win by Stenographer.
In 1974 Delmonica Hanover, who won the Prix d’Amerique and Roosevelt International that year, won Horse of the Year honors with 25% of the vote. Armbro Nesbit, Handle With Care, Armbro Omaha and Dream Of Glory each ate up a large chunk of votes below her. Those four split 54% of the votes, allowing the five-year-old Speedy Count mare to take the crown.
In 1977 Bill Haughton’s oddly gaited Speedy Rodney trotter, Green Speed, took Horse of the Year honors with 50% of the vote. He had won 16 times and took the Hambletonian and the Yonkers Trot. The following year he was syndicated for $3.2 million, but Hambletonian winner Duenna was his only top tier issue. Governor Skipper, who set a world record in the Jug got 33%, while seven-year-old Rambling Willie received 12%. Nine others also collected votes that year.
In 1984 we saw another example of the Horse of the Year—in this case, Fancy Crown—benefiting from the fierce competition for votes down below her. The Three-year-old Speedy Crown filly had won 13 of 21 starts, including the Kentucky Futurity, and she had trotted the fastest mile ever—1:53.4. She won her Horse of the Year crown with only 39% of the vote. Sophomore pacer On The Road Again had won 18 times and set a single season earnings record for the sport; he garnered 26% of the vote. And right behind him was two-year-old Nihilator, who won 12 of 13 and set a world record in the Wilson. Baltic Speed, Colt Fortysix, Dragon’s Lair and Davidia Hanover also got votes in 1984.
This year the favorite is the freshman pacing filly, JK She’salady, The winner of all 12 starts, with a 1:50.1 world record taken at Mohawk to her credit. She may become the first in her class to capture Horse of the Year honors, thanks to splash voting. For much of the season it was assumed that Sebastian K, the world record holder thanks to a 1:49 mile at Pocono Downs, was a shoe-in for that title. But then Sebastian, the first to trot four winning miles in under 1:50.3, lost his last four starts. Some voters will stay with him.
And Sweet Lou will also get votes. He set a world record of 1:47 on Sun Stakes Day at Pocono and at one point won ten in a row. Six of the ten consisted of consecutive sub-1:48 miles. It’s a foregone conclusion that Lou will win his division. He’ll be the first pacer to win his division at two and five. Sweet Lou earned $1.3 million this year. He’ll get votes.
Three of Jimmy Takter’s trotters, Father Patrick, Shake It Cerry and Nuncio will also draw Horse of the Year votes. Patrick won more money than any other in 2014. He won 11 of 15 starts and set a world record of 1:50.2 at Pocono. Stablemate Nuncio won the Kentucky Futurity and the Yonkers Trot, and many thought he would take the division if he had taken the Breeders Crown. And Shake It Cerry won 15 of 17 starts and more than $1.2 million. I believe all of the above will chew up votes allowing the freshman filly to emerge triumphant from a split vote. Regardless, a splash voting pattern will no doubt help determine the winner.