Game On Dude is undefeated since Mike Smith picked up the mount in late 2012. The duo's first win came in the Native Diver in December 2012 (Photo courtesy Eclipse Sportswire)
Early July is way too early to predict the winners of post-season honors in a year-long sport like horse racing, but there is a rather lively battle brewing for the sport’s biggest prize that bears watching as the months roll by.
According to the latest National Thoroughbred Racing Association Top Thoroughbred Poll, Wise Dan is the No. 1 horse in 2013. The reigning Horse of the Year, who has won all three of his starts this year, picked up 32 of 49 first-place votes to grab the top spot.
And given Wise Dan’s status and perfect record that seems at first glance to be a fair assessment, but it isn’t.
My own vote, and 14 others from fellow voters, went to Game On Dude, who has clearly accomplished more in 2013 than last year’s champ and deserves the top spot in a poll based on this year’s results. All of that might change by the time December and Santa Claus arrive, but it seems as if Wise Dan is getting too much credit for what he did in the past while Game On Dude is being hurt by failures in bygone years.
If the NTRA poll is a snapshot of who should be Horse of the Year in 2013, then it should only reflect 2013 performances – and on that front Game On Dude has an edge.
GAME ON DUDE MOST RECENTLY WON HIS SECOND HOLLYWOOD GOLD CUP
Wise Dan was a deserving recipient of Horse of the Year in 2012. He won five of six starts, with a big-time excuse in his lone loss, and beat Europeans and a Kentucky Derby winner in the climactic Breeders’ Cup Mile.
He has continued his winning ways in 2013, but in his three victories he has yet to beat anyone of note in races that carried a combined purse of about $1 million.
A case can be made that the currently sidelined Point of Entry has a more impressive win to his credit this year with a victory over the aforementioned Kentucky Derby and eventual Dubai World Cup winner, Animal Kingdom, in the Gulfstream Park Turf Handicap.
Point of Entry, who is fourth in the poll, was scheduled to face Wise Dan in the Woodford Reserve Turf Classic on Derby Day and that matchup clearly would have ended any debate about the No. 1 spot. But the dramatic clash went by the boards when Point of Entry was scratched due to the boggy turf.
Game On Dude, meanwhile, ran his 2013 record to 4-for-4 with a victory this past weekend in the Grade 1 Hollywood Gold Cup. He, too, may not have faced Hall of Fame competition, but Clubhouse Ride and Ron the Greek are much better horses than the ones Wise Dan has been facing.
Game On Dude also deserves credit for running in some of the best and richest races of the year. Both Wise Dan and Game On Dude have raced in two Grade 1 races this year, but Game On Dude’s pair – the Hollywood Gold Cup and Santa Anita Handicap – is far more prestigious and important than Wise Dan’s pair – the Woodford Reserve Turf Classic and the Maker’s 46 Mile.
The combined purse money Game On Dude has run for reflects that difference. It’s nearly $3 million, which takes away a reason for avoiding a race with Game On Dude. Running for second money against Game On Dude in a $1.5 million race like the Charles Town Classic and getting $250,000 is certainly more enticing than the $33,690 Lea received Firecracker for finishing second to Wise Dan in the Firecracker Handicap.
Admittedly, it’s a close call either way, and trainer Charlie LoPresti is no doubt doing the right thing for his horse by gearing him up for peak performances in the fall. He might even be rewarded with a second Horse of the Year crown when all is said and done.
Overall, there’s no disputing that Wise Dan’s lifetime body of work is surely better than Game On Dude’s, who is already 0-for-2 in the Breeders’ Cup Classic.
But for now, at the halfway point in the race, the speedy Game On Dude deserves to be in front.
Whether he can hang on is a tale for a future time when the weather grows chillier.
And what are your thoughts? Who should be No. 1 in the NTRA poll?
2013 NTRA Top Thoroughbred Poll
Week 20 of the 2013 NTRA Top Thoroughbred Poll conducted by the National Thoroughbred Racing Association (NTRA), covering racing performances through July 14. Current Horse of the Year ranking of the Top Thoroughbred on a 10-9-8-7-6-5-4-3-1 basis with first place votes in parentheses, 2013 record and total points. Poll Concludes Monday, Nov. 4. A-S: Age-Sex, Sex: C-colt, G-gelding, H-horse, F-filly, M-mare, R-ridgling.
|1||Wise Dan (30)||6-G||3-3-0-0||416||1|
|2||Game On Dude (13)||6-G||4-4-0-0||394||2|
|3||Fort Larned (1)||5-H||3-1-0-0||323||3|
|4||Point Of Entry (0)||5-H||2-2-0-0||257||4|
|5||Sahara Sky (0)||5-H||4-3-1-0||180||5|
|6||Flat Out (0)||7-H||5-2-0-1||118||6|
|9||Animal Kingdom (0)||5-H||3-1-1-0||94||8|
Other horses receiving votes: Orb (46), Marketing Mix (39), Boisterous (36), Suggestive Boy (33), Cross Traffic (30), Royal Delta (27), Paynter (20), Stephanie's Kitten (20), Close Hatches (19), Palace Malice (17), Princess Of Sylmar (13), Emollient (10), Tiz Miz Sue (10), Big Blue Kitten (6), Clubhouse Ride (5), Delaunay (5), Last Gunfighter (5), Mizdirection (5), Verrazano (5), Amira's Prince (4), Ron The Greek (3), Cigar Street (2), Fast Bullet (2), Gentlemen's Bet (1), Midnight Lucky (1), Mucho Macho Man (1), Rahystrada (1)