Photos of Will Take Charge, Mucho Macho Man and Wise Dan courtesy of Eclipse Sportswire.
The Eclipse Awards recognizing the champions from U.S. racing in 2013 will be held on Saturday night at the Sport of Kings Theater at Gulfstream Park. The finalists for Horse of the Year are reigning champion Wise Dan, Breeders’ Cup Classic winner Mucho Macho Man and standout 3-year-old Will Take Charge.
New America’s Best Racing Brand Ambassadors Mike Johnson and Dan Tordjman disagree on which horse is most deserving of racing’s top prize this year, but both Johnson and Tordjman make a compelling case for their top selection.
Mike Johnson: To me, Horse of the Year boils down to the horse who made for the biggest story of the year in the biggest race of the year. How can you top Mucho Macho Man's performance in the Breeder's Cup Classic?
Dan Tordjman: Look, I completely disagree that the performance alone warrants Horse of the Year honors. That said, I will concede that other than perhaps Paynter there's no horse that I - speaking strictly as a fan - wanted to win the Classic more than Mucho Macho Man. Take your pick of any number of storylines surrounding his connections.
MUCHO MACHO MAN HEADS TO CLASSIC WINNER'S CIRCLE
Photo by Eclipse Sportswire
Johnson: Definitely. Nobody denies that Mucho Macho Man did struggle early in his 5-year-old campaign. But remember he was fighting bacterial and viral infections. After failing to finish in his first start at the Sunshine Millions Classic Stakes, trainer Kathy Ritvo ordered a 5-month hiatus for him. Ritvo’s well-documented history of overcoming health obstacles of her own suited her well to guide team Mucho Macho Man as they weathered the storm for the first half of 2013.
Tordjman: While being sensitive to the health issues that limited his ability to compete earlier in the year, I feel like the nod for this Eclipse Award should go to a horse who showed far more consistency. Mucho Macho Man’s Whitney Invitational Handicap and Criminal Type Stakes efforts were lackluster at best. He only won twice all year, the Classic and the Awesome Again Stakes.
Johnson: I'm not going to knock him for the first few efforts back. Especially not for the Whitney, which featured a loaded field that included Ron the Greek, Fort Larned and Cross Traffic. The case for Mucho Macho Man picks up steam at the crux of the season - the fall. As soon as “The Man, The Myth, The Legend” Gary Stevens launched his comeback, it made perfect sense that he join forces with the resilient team Mucho Macho Man. What resulted were two thrilling Grade 1 wins at Santa Anita. Ritvo had him running his best when all eyes were on him in the Breeder’s Cup Classic. The result: A well-documented brilliant performance, in which he held off fellow Horse of the Year finalist Will Take Charge at the wire. One has to give great weight to winning arguably on the biggest stage of the year against the best field.
2013 BREEDERS' CUP CLASSIC
Tordjman: You can put all of the weight on it that you want, I still don't think it's enough to make him Horse of the Year. Remember, if Will Take Charge's nose was only an inch or two longer, Mucho Macho Man isn't even listed among the finalists here.
Johnson: There are any number of hypotheticals that don't factor here. If Will Take Charge had won the classic, there probably wouldn't be any debate over Horse of the Year.
Tordjman: After watching him in the Smarty Jones Stakes, you could tell that Will Take Charge was a gutsy sort of horse who had no quit in him. Just when it looked like he might flatten out in the Travers Stakes, he mustered up just enough grit to get by Moreno at the wire. In the Clark Handicap, he seemed to be running in place late behind Game On Dude, when suddenly the fighter in him appeared and he again rallied for another Grade 1 score. He certainly bloomed late in the year but his poor finishes in all three Triple Crown races are the obvious knocks against him.
Tordjman: I totally agree and he's going to win the Eclipse Award for top 3-year-old male. He and “The Coach” D. Wayne Lukas have plenty to be proud of looking back on 2013.
Johnson: So, you're not going with Mucho Macho Man or Will Take Charge for Horse of the Year. Are you really going with Wise Dan? Say it ain't so, Dan.
Tordjman: Go ahead, knock him. Just like everybody did last year. You do remember what happened last year, right?
Johnson: Wise Dan’s 2013 race placement reads more like a complete replay of his 2012 campaign — not advantageous by any means and certainly not a characteristic of a Horse of the Year. Show me some versatility! Wise Dan just can’t stack up to Mucho Macho Man in that category.
Tordjman: Versatility? You're talking about a horse who has won graded stakes on turf, dirt and synthetic surfaces. Granted, he ran almost entirely on the turf in 2013, but what was left for him to prove? Wise Dan ran his win streak to nine races (all Grade 1 and Grade 2 races) and won his second straight Breeder's Cup Mile for fun. His most memorable performance might've been in the Firecracker Handicap at Churchill, when he came through a narrow opening while brushing the hedge to score a victory in a heavy downpour.
WISE DAN'S FIRECRACKER WIN
Photo by Eclipse Sportswire
Johnson: How about the Shadwell Mile when he couldn't catch Silver Max?
Tordjman: Wise Dan had any number of excuses that day, from getting bumped around the first turn and traveling wide all the way around to the Silver Max setting slow and uncontested fractions. In my opinion, the fact that Wise Dan lost by just 1 ¼ lengths only adds to the case for him deserving his second consecutive Horse of the Year Eclipse Award.
Johnson: We shall see. I get that there are horses that earned more stakes wins. Still, one has to sit and wonder, “How would these horses have fared if they were dealt a similar rough patch in health this past year?” My answer is not a single one would have managed to piece together the performance that Mucho Macho Man put on in fall 2013.
2013 BREEDERS' CUP MILE