TVG card makes for fantastic theater, but Horse of the Year race not a lot clearer

TVG card makes for fantastic theater, but Horse of the Year race not a lot clearer

November 24, 2019

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With Shartin N and Bettors Wish both going down to defeat Saturday on a fantastic card at the Meadowlands, the Horse of the Year race is still worthy of debate.

by Dave Briggs

On a night of mass retirements, when the Horse of the Year picture was supposed to be decided, about the only thing that was definitive was that it was one fantastic night of racing at the Meadowlands.

With both pacing mare Shartin N and pacing colt Bettors Wish going down to defeat, the debate will rage on in some circles.

Should the top year-end award go to the pacing mare that dominated her division for most of 2019 but stumbled ever-so-slightly at the end, or should it go to the sophomore pacing colt that earned more money than any other horse this year but failed to win the big ones?

Neither disgraced themselves Saturday at the Big M.

Shartin N was edged out by a nostril hair by her rival Caviart Ally in the $175,000 TVG final for pacing mares. Bettors Wish, who took on the tall challenge of tackling older pacers in the $350,000 TVG open pace, finished an impressive second — all things considered — despite losing by nearly five lengths to an even more impressive Always A Prince.

That Bettors Wish finished the year with earnings of $1,648,120 and a record of 13-6-0 in 19 starts is impressive in the heavyweight division; especially since he failed to win the biggies — the NA Cup, Meadowlands Pace and Breeders Crown. That part will hurt his Horse of the Year campaign, of course, but there’s no doubt now — especially with him being so game in the TVG while taking on older foes at the end of a long campaign — that he’s locked up the division title thanks to never being worse than second. Likely, he had to beat the older horses to have a true shot of leap-frogging over Shartin N and stealing her presumptive crowns for Pacer of the Year and Horse of the Year.

After all, Shartin N set the fastest female mile in history (1:46.4), won 15 of 19 starts with second-place finishes in three others and nearly posted a second straight million-dollar season — she fell just shy with earnings of $983,927 — which is damn impressive when you consider pacing mares don’t race for nearly as much as the sophomore pacing colts.

That said, not all divisions are created equal and there will be some that will score the mare down for being in what is perceived to be a lesser division. That’s no fault of her own, of course, but merely a reading on past behavior in these elections. For sure, she won’t be a unanimous winner and we’re all the better for a spirited debate.

Interestingly, of the seven horses in the Hambletonian Society / Breeders Crown Top 10 poll that raced Saturday, none came out a winner. Though, isn’t it about time voters placed scintillating freshman pacing colt Papi Rob Hanover — a dominant winner of the $401,850 Governor’s Cup — into the Top 10? He seems likely to win his division’s honors, at least in the United States.

Besides Shartin N (ranked 1st in the most recent poll) and Bettors Wish (3rd) , sophomores Warrawee Ubeaut (4th) and Gimpanzee (6th) — who both took on older foes, as well — along with Manchego (5th), Atlanta (8th) and McWicked (10th), all lost Saturday.

When you throw in the unworldly-talented Greenshoe (2nd), who also failed to win most of the big ones before retiring to stud prior to the TVG, it all makes for one of the most muddied year-end races in recent history.

What wasn’t foggy was that Saturday was a night of great champions battling like champions at the premier racetrack in the United States.

Given the evening also marked the retirement of at least four tremendous horses — Hannelore Hanover, McWicked, Six Pack and Courtly Choice — and perhaps more, it will go down as a special night.

Just between those four, consider there are two Horse of the Year winners (McWicked and Hannelore Hanover), collective earnings of nearly $11.3 million, a combined record of 162-57-28 in 279 starts (a win percentage of a 58 and an on-the-board percentage of 88.5), a bunch of world records and a treasure trove of stakes trophies too many to mention.

Their absence from the racetrack will be palpable, but since Six Pack, McWicked and Courtly Choice will all be stallions and Hannelore Hanover is becoming a broodmare, the good news is their impact will, hopefully, be felt for many generations to come.

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