Could 'Fog' really be Horse of Year?

Updated: October 25, 2005, 11:49 AM ET
By Bill Finley | Special to ESPN.com

It's well known that there are no set guidelines for Horse of the Year and Eclipse Award voting. It is the fastest horse? The best horse? The most successful horse? The horse who made the biggest splash during the year? The interpretation is up to the individual voter.

I look for the horse who did something truly extraordinary. Should he win Saturday's Breeders' Cup Sprint, Lost in the Fog will have passed my test. A Sprint win will mean a perfect 9-for-9 season and a win by a 3-year-old over the best older sprinters in the country.

Lost in the Fog may not be a perfectly popular choice for Horse of the Year. Even though there are no rules, there is 68 years of history to rely on. Since Granville was named the first Horse of the Year in 1936, a pure sprinter has never won the title. Granville was the best male dirt horse that year, setting a precedent that would rarely be broken. Every once in a while, the award goes to a filly (Azeri, 2002) a 2-year-old (Favorite Trick, 1997) or a grass horse (Kotashaan 1993), but only when no one is able to separate himself from the pack in the male dirt category.

That probably won't happen this year. Saint Liam, Rock Hard Ten and Borrego are the top three favorites for the Breeders' Cup Classic and, with a win, any one of the three will be left squarely on top of their division. Usually, that's good enough to win Horse of the Year.

If a longshot wins the Classic, the fallback for traditional voters will be Afleet Alex. Before being sidelined this summer with a hairline fracture, he was all the rage, and deservedly so. After somehow failing to beat Giacomo in the Kentucky Derby, he picked himself up off his feet to win the Preakness after being knocked silly by Scrappy T. and then dominated his competition in the Belmont.

All four are good horses and all four have had outstanding years. But were they extraordinary? Not really. Afleet Alex never raced after June. Borrego was a non-entity for much of the year. Rock Hard Ten will have made just four starts this year. Among the group, Saint Liam may be the hardest to knock. But even he will have started just six times this year and he has lost twice coming into the Breeders' Cup. Sorry, nothing too remarkable there.

Lost in the Fog is on the verge of completing an undefeated year at 9-for-9 and improving his career record to 11-for-11. And he has been tested just once this year, when the ill-fated Egg Head gave him a bit of a tussle in the Riva Ridge.

But that's only part of the story. Lost in the Fog has done what no horse seems capable of anymore: completed a full season without injury or without being held back by a trainer scared to death to actually run them more than a couple of times. He started his year Jan. 29 and has never had more than a 48-day layoff since. During that time, he has traveled across the country, winning at seven different racetracks.

Good horses just don't do that anymore and, for that, he deserves extra credit. The sport needs more trainers like Greg Gilchrist and owners like Harry Aleo, who don't think their horses are too precious to leave the barn more than four times a year. There's nothing wrong with voters sending a message that a championship season can't be accomplished by showing up in a race every now and then.

No matter what happens Saturday, I probably won't vote for Lost in the Fog as the 3-year-old champion. Here's another one of those Eclipse conundrums. How can he be a 3-year-old, be Horse of the Year and not 3-year-old champion? Here, again, there are no rules. Lost in the Fog qualifies for the 3-year-old championship, but is a better fit in the sprint division. With that being his true category, I have no problem going with him for best sprinter and Afleet Alex as champion 3-year-old. If nothing else, Afleet Alex doesn't deserve to go home empty handed after his Triple Crown campaign.

Of course, all of this is predicated upon Lost in the Fog winning the Sprint, which is no gimme. His detractors, and there are some, say that he hasn't beaten anybody this year. There's some truth to that. The list of horses who have finished second behind him this year consists of Santana Strings, Around the Cape, White Socks, Wind Water, Egg Head, Social Probation, Halo Cat and Qureall. That is not an imposing group.

But should he win the Sprint, and beat a top group of older sprinters, that question will have been put to rest. That would make him 9-for-9, clearly one of the best sprinters of his generation and a horse who did something extraordinary in 2005.

Lord of the Game deserves better
Lord of the Game probably wouldn't have had any chance to win the Breeders' Cup Classic, but it's a travesty that he was delegated to the also-eligible list. The selection committee is overly infatuated with European horses and never was this bias more apparent than in its Classic selection of Jack Sullivan. Here's a horse whose only two wins this year came in a Group III and a listed race in Dubai. Since, he was a badly beaten fourth in the Dubai World Cup and was 0-4 in England while never even attempting Group I company. He's 4-for-21 lifetime. He's just not much horse.

Since he was claimed for $10,000, Lord of the Game would have been one of the best stories in a Breeders' Cup lacking in good stories. Understandably, the selection committee shouldn't have taken that into account. It should have picked Lord of the Game because he's a much better horses than Jack Sullivan. He's won more races this year (7 to 2), more graded stakes (2 to 1 and his earnings are comparable ($533,620 to $620,523), and the only reason Jack Sullivan earned more was because he was competing in races with grossly over inflated purses in Dubai.

• Bill Finley is an award-winning horse racing writer whose work has also appeared in The New York Times, USA Today and Sports Illustrated.
• To contact Bill, email him at wnfinley@aol.com