Who should be Horse of the Year?
by Dave Briggs
Sadly, the Wigglie It Jiggleit / Always B Miki rivalry is officially over on the track, but the good news is the two have one more major race and — fittingly, for these two warriors — it figures to be a doozy.
Namely, which one should be voted Horse of the Year?
Apologies to a few other worthy candidates — Hannelore Hanover, Marion Marauder, Betting Line, etc. — but for the purpose of this debate, let’s just stick to the most logical scenario — WIJI vs. ABM.
The tale of the tape is particularly interesting. Little Brown Jug publicity director Jay Wolf crunched the numbers for Harness Racing Update and the race is definitely not as clear-cut as some believed it to be after Always B Miki’s Breeders Crown win, or his scintillating 1:46 world record mile in Lexington.
To be clear, I love both horses and am thankful for the year they gave us, but I wanted to give this some serious analysis before I make my vote.
Let’s break down the major categories, assign some points for the winning of each section, and add it up.
Number of starts
WIJI – 24
ABM — 18
Reason: When we’re talking HOY, number of starts matter. You have to prove your worth all year long and Wiggle It Jiggleit raced six more times. Though, it’s not a significant determiner of greatness.
ABM — 66%
WIJI — 62.5%
Winner: Dead Heat
Reason: It’s a virtual draw because WIJI won more times (15) than ABM (12), but the latter came out ahead on percentage.
WIJI — $1,719,062 / $71,628 per start
ABM — $1,487,292 / $82,627 per start
Winner: Dead Heat
Reason: Wiggle It Jiggleit holds the edge in total earnings, but Always B Miki has higher average earnings per start. Draw.
Head to Head
Wiggle It Jiggleit and Always B Miki squared off seven times, with ABM winning four times and WIJI winning three times. Though WIJI (second) technically finished ahead of ABM (fourth) in the U.S. Pacing Championship, Shamballa won that race and I can’t, in good conscience, give WIJI much credit for that one.
Reason: Neither horse dominated the series and ABM squeaked out one more win, so he wins the category, but not convincingly. The points awarded merely reflect the fact that head-to-head is usually one of the best ways to determine a winner and Miki was slightly better.
ABM — 1:46 world record
WIJI — 1:47.2
Reason: This isn’t just the fastest mile of all time, which is significant enough, it is nearly a full second-and-a-half faster than WIJI went this year, even though 1:47.2 is pretty darn fast. Huge points to ABM in this category.
WIJI — raced on 15 different tracks, on all sizes, including a half, and in eight different states or provinces
ABM — raced on seven different tracks, in six different states or provinces, but did not race on half and largely stuck to the biggest tracks.
Reason: If you want to be the top dog, you have to prove it anywhere and everywhere and Wiggle It Jiggleit accepted most challenges and raced on all size tracks. Miki picked his spots more.
ABM — TVG, Breeders Crown, William Haughton, Ben Franklin, Ewart
WIJI — Canadian Pacing Derby, Dan Patch, Dayton, Gerrity, Graduate, Battle of Lake Erie
Reason: Wiggle It Jiggleit won more stakes, but Always B Miki has the edge for winning more prominent ones. No, I don’t believe, in this case, ABM’s Breeders Crown victory was the deciding factor in the Horse of the Year race, but there’s no denying it’s a biggie.
Impact on the Sport
WIJI — His “go anywhere, race anyone” mantra deservedly earned him a lot of fans and going to Delaware, OH to meet and greet the legions on Jugette and Jug Day, and raise money for charity in the process, was fantastic for the sport. Even supplementing to the Breeders Crown was partly done for the good of the sport. The blue-collar approach has helped Wiggle It Jiggleit develop a huge fan following.
ABM — Always B Miki’s world record was incredible, but I’m not sure it resonated as strongly as WIJI pulling a Cam Fella routine and showing up anywhere and everywhere to race.
ABM — 20 points
WIJI — 17 points
Bottom line: I think Wiggle It Jiggleit did more for the sport this year by racing so many places and drawing crowds wherever he went. He truly is the People’s Horse. But, ultimately, the Horse of the Year award should go to the best horse and I think Always B Miki was just a little bit better this year. My hope is that all the voters will give this race a serious look before voting, because it always troubles me when people put more emphasis on races at the end of a year — or one particulate mile — than evaluating the entire season.
In the end, Wiggle It Jiggleit might not prove to be the better horse long term. I hope to see many more incredible performances by the gelding in the years to come.
I fully expect the HOY race to be close — as it should be. But when it comes to the 2016 Horse of the Year award, Always B Miki will get my vote by a nose, with deep respect reserved for Wiggle It Jiggleit.