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Sunday, November 29, 2015

Horse of the Year in Canada?

Last year undefeated JK She’salady was voted Horse of the Year in Canada with 45% of the vote. The winner of the Shes A Great Lady, Three Diamonds and Eternal Camnation, all held in Ontario, stood out from the pack, and she certainly met all the qualifications for the award, but the owner—3 Brothers Stables—consists of three brothers from New York, the trainer, Nancy Johansson, is based in New Jersey, and the horse was bred in New York, so her Canadian credentials weren’t strong enough for some. As a result, Casie Coleman trainee McWicked, whose only stakes win in Canada was a Cup elimination, received 11 votes to the filly’s 19.  So when there isn’t a standout Canadian based trotter or pacer, handicapping the Horse of the Year contest up North can be tricky.

In 2013 undefeated Bee A Magician won the award in a landslide with 81% of the vote. She took the Elegantimage, Casual Breeze, Simcoe and Super Gold Final in Ontario that year. The Kadabra filly also received 78% of the vote for the Dan Patch, so she was admired with equal fervor on both sides of the border. BAM is by an Ontario stallion, handled by a Canadian based trainer and owned by Canadians.

In 2012 Jug winner Michaels Power was voted Horse of the Year in Canada. He also won the Confederation Cup, a split of the SBSW, the Upper Canada Cup and three Gold legs. He was trained by Casie Coleman and driven by Scott Zeron. Jeffrey Snyder, from the US, owns the gelding. Michaels Power received 44% of the vote. The undefeated freshman trotter, Wheeling N Dealin, garnered 25%. The latter raced exclusively in Canada as a two-year-old, winning nine times, including the BC, Wellwood and Champlain. He’s Pennsylvania bred, but otherwise of Canadian origin.

And in 2011 San Pail, who had a career year, won in Canada with 92% of the vote, and he was designated the Dan Patch winner in the US with 80%. The eleven-year-old is Canadian from head to tail.

So what horse will win in 2015? It certainly isn’t a San Pail 2011 or BAM 2013 kind of year. For instance, none of the eligible, viable candidates made a season ending splash in the BC, Matron, Final Four or TVG.

The 2013 winner Bee A Magician, who leads all North American aged trotters in earnings, may be the first ever to rule the roost more than once in Canada while not doing so in successive years. SBSW is the only horse to win consecutive O’Briens, although he finished in a dead heat with Tell All the first time. Armbro Flight is the only three time pre-O’Brien winner; Handle With Care and Fan Hanover are the mares that won twice.

BAM won the highest profile open trot in Canada, the Maple Leaf, as well as the top mare’s open, the Armbro Flight. She also beat the boys in the Cutler, Charlie Hill and Centaur down South. After D’One beat her in the Fresh Yankee and Muscle Hill, and won the Allerage Mare and BC Mare, it looked like that one might take the Dan Patch from BAM, but D’One went back to Sweden prior to the TVG Mare. BAM is a prime candidate.

On the other hand, perhaps we’ll have back to back freshman fillies occupying that slot, for the first time ever in Canada. Armbro Ranger and Jade Prince each won consecutively, fifteen years prior to the inception of the O’Brien awards, but never two fillies. LA Delight raced exclusively in Ontario; won 11 of 12 starts; is second to BC winner Pure Country in divisional earnings; won the Great Lady and splits of the Eternal Camnation and Champlain; won three OSS Gold legs and the Super Final; is trained and owned by the iconic Bob McIntosh; is driven by Randy Waples; and was sired by on again off again OSS stallion Bettor’s Delight. What’s not to like?

She didn’t race past the Super Final, missing the BC, Matron and Three Diamonds, so she won’t beat out Pure Country for the Dan Patch in her division, but she will be voted the top freshman pacing filly in Canada. With each passing year racing becomes more Balkanized, and one manifestation of that is that fewer and fewer of the top fillies travel to the WEG circuit for the Grand Circuit stakes. That was the case again this year. This may serve as a detriment in her battle for the Dan Patch divisional title, but won’t impact her quest for division honors in Canada. It may hurt her in the Horse of the Year vote, however.

Three fillies: Trixton’s mama, Emile Cas El; Whenuwishuponastar; and JK She’salady have been voted O’Brien Horse of the Year awards. And Armbro Flight, Handle With Care and Fan Hanover won it prior to the establishment of the O’Brien Awards in 1989.

Freshman pacer Control The Moment won 8 of 9 starts, including the Metro and Nassagaweya and is the fastest two-year-old among the top ten on the money list from that class. However, he finished sixth in the BC and didn’t go on from there. His Canadian connections are solid and he made all his starts up there, but being by Well Said he has no record of achievement in the OSS. LA Delight is a more likely choice among the juvenile set.

What about the rest of the competition? State Treasurer had a great year, winning 9 of 11 starts at the highest level and earning a division leading $866,000, but the bottom fell out in Lexington and he was beaten soundly by Miki on his home turf in the BC. A division O’Brien? Yes. Horse of the Year? No. It’s tough to overcome a subpar fall season in the awards game.

Southwind Frank had three wins in Ontario, including the BC, but he may not even take his division. The Kadabra colt Tony Soprano was very strong in the OSS with a win in the Super Final as well as three Gold legs. He has no GC resume, but Bob McIntosh trains him and owns a piece as well, and Randy Waples and John Campbell drive. The first foal of Windsong Soprano doesn’t merit Horse of the Year consideration, but due to the quirky nature of the O’Brien voting, the division may be his. Poor Frank.

Tony’s paternal sister, Caprice Hill, was another demon in the OSS, winning her Super Final and three Gold legs for Tony Alagna. Yannick, Tim and Randy drove. Overall she won 7 of 10 starts and earned a nifty $454,000. She was bred by Hanover, but her owner, Tom Hill, is Canadian and she’s by Kadabra. Again, division? Yes.

The Mach Three sophomore Solar Sister had a very good year, winning the Super Final, three Gold legs and the SBOA Classic for the McNairs. She earned $435,000 on 8 wins in 16 starts overall. An O’Brien for her division? Maybe. HOY? No. I say maybe because her paternal sister Wrangler Magic also had a good year. She was unusual in that she was better on the GC than she was in the OSS. Wrangler Magic won the Fan Hanover and the Simcoe, but she was only 2 for 6 in the OSS. The Simcoe was her only win after July 2 and she didn’t get past her BC elimination, so she probably won’t even win her division.

Tony O’Sullivan’s mercurial Muscle Mass filly, Muscle Baby Doll, won a split of the Casual Breeze and 3 of 5 starts in the OSS program. A tenth place finish in her Super Final didn’t help. Mission Brief won the Elegantimage and the elimination for that one, but she lost in the BC, while Wild Honey took the BC, but finished second in the Elegantimage final and elimination. Again, Ron Burke describes Mission Brief as the best horse he ever trained, but the O’Brien Awards are different.

Reverend Hanover didn’t race enough and Twin B Thong was stuck behind LA Delight. She won 10 times in 15 starts for $337,000 and won in 1:52. Doug McNair drove.

So it should come down to Bee A Magician or LA Delight. BAM will win a Dan Patch and an O’Brien in her division, while the Bettor’s Delight filly will win an O’Brien. BAM could have locked up Horse of the Year honors with a BC win, in either division, but she finished fourth in the open. Shake It Cerry then beat her in the TVG Mare. And LA Delight probably could have put herself in position to win if she beat Pure Country in the BC, but she wasn’t staked to that, the Three Diamonds or the Matron. I think Bee A Magician will be the first ever to be voted Horse of the Year in Canada more than once without doing so in consecutive years.

Joe FitzGerald

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