Commentary

HOY: A look ahead to 2011

Updated: January 19, 2011, 3:51 PM ET
By Bill Finley | Special to ESPN.com

I miss the Horse of the Year debate. OK, maybe not the hate e-mails from Zenyatta zealots. But it gave us all something to talk about during what is typically the dullest time of the year in racing and having to choose between two terrific race horses like Blame and Zenyatta sure beats having to settle for a Favorite Trick or a Kotashaan.

Having voted for Blame, I do not agree with the decision, but I can't feel bad for Blame's owners, the Hancock clan and Adele Dilschneider. If they really wanted Horse of the Year that badly, they should have run Blame next year when, with Zenyatta retired, he would have been 1-5 to win the award. Instead, they rushed him off to the breeding shed just when he was hitting his stride. Jerry Moss deserves credit for keeping Zenyatta in training through her 6-year-old season, something way too rare in this game.

Zenyatta can now go off to her second career as a mommy with her Horse of the Year hardware and most of us can start worrying about other things, like who's going to win the Derby. But not me. I'm already pondering my 2011 vote, and the candidates are:

Uncle Mo: (3-1)
He wouldn't be the first 2-year-old sensation not to pan out at 3, but, if he stays healthy, he seems a safe bet to have a terrific 2011. He was so dominant in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile that it's hard to imagine that, all things being equal, there's another 3-year-old out there who can beat him. Based in New York, he will have to overcome the anti-East Coast bias in the voting, but if he puts together the type of campaign we all think he's capable of it won't matter.

Goldikova: (5-1)
The obvious problem for her is that she always runs only once a year in the U.S. and there aren't many voters willing to bestow Horse of the Year on a horse that shows up on our shores for the Breeders' Cup only. It's never happened. Then again, Zenyatta showed that traditional thinking when it comes to Horse of the Year might be on the way out. Zenyatta carried the day as much for the impact she had on the sport as far what she accomplished on the racetrack, in the process changing what had always been the typical criteria for Horse of the Year. She accomplished what Smarty Jones and Barbaro could not, winning Horse of the Year based largely on their charisma and popularity. If Goldikova wins the Breeders' Cup Mile for the fourth straight year, like Zenyatta, she's going to have the "Wow Factor" going for her.

Blind Luck: (15-1)
Maybe the most under-appreciated horse in racing in 2010, she got off to a poor start this year when second in the El Encino, but she's a cinch to put together the same type of season she had last year. For this day and age, she's as tough and as durable as they come and is guaranteed to win a bunch of Grade 1 races. Should she win the Breeders' Cup Distaff and no one among the top males steps forward, she could do it. Since she runs a lot and ships all over the place, she's easy to appreciate.

To Honor And Serve: (15-1)
If not for Uncle Mo, he would be the buzz horse going into the Derby preps. He hasn't beaten anything yet, but he looked terrific during his brief 2-year-old campaign. Has the best chance of any of unseating Uncle Mo and, in the process, becoming a Horse of the Year contender.

Twirling Candy: (20-1)
An immensely talented horse who looks like he could win everything in sight this year in California. Plus, he's versatile, having won on the grass, the dirt and on the Poly. Not sure yet if he's a mile-and-a-quarter horse, which brings his ability to win the Breeders' Cup Classic into question.

Comma To The Top: (30-1)
Gritty horse. Best in the West. Not out of the question.

Someone Else: (8-5)
Is there going to be a sensational 2-year-old in 2011 or a Derby winner that isn't on anybody's radar this early in the year? Might a Saint Liam type come around, a horse that comes out of nowhere to dominate. It's quite possible, maybe even likely, that the 2011 Horse of the Year will be someone no one is considering at the moment.

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

• 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