With the absurdity of polls still fresh (see: Miami vs. Washington), ballots for racing's year-end honors are about due.
Tradition, prestige and a natural propensity to acknowledge the best are what mandate the annual Eclipse Awards and Maryland-bred awards, and the sport sure can use whatever publicity they generate.
But what do they mean? The criteria for voting are vague at best. At what distance, on what surface, at what time of year? What should the minimum number of races in the United States be for a horse to qualify for a national Eclipse? And should there be a minimum number of races in Maryland to warrant a Maryland-bred award?
Like many others, I'm voting for Black Tie Affair for Horse of the Year. But I have little doubt that In Excess, in a 1 1/8 -mile match race, could have beaten him eight of 10 times. Black Tie Affair, however, simply accomplished more -- and he did so at the right time of year by winning the Breeders' Cup Classic, while In
Excess, taking a pass, was drubbed on the turf in the Breeders' Cup Mile. End of argument.
On many occasions, racing does pit its top horses in the same races, so the awards become less arbitrary than the system that just gave Miami and Washington a split of the college football championship.
But there are dilemmas aplenty. For example: Who's the Maryland-bred Horse of the Year? Safely Kept, a dominant sprinter, was outstanding in her division nationwide. Wide Country might not have been in the national top 10 among 3-year-old fillies -- but couldn't she have beaten Safely Kept in a match race of, say, one mile? And couldn't Gala Spinaway have beaten Wide Country in a match? Or is that even the point?
Now, I'm told that some of the top Maryland-breds we watched all year probably weren't best. Jet Ski Lady, a 3-year-old filly, won the Epsom Oaks, a Grade 1 race in England, by 10 lengths. Doesn't that make her better than Wide Country?
And surely Seattle Rhyme, also a Grade 1 winner in England, outclasses the provincial group of Sticks and Bricks, More Paces and Coolin' It.
Although it is true that Maryland-bred awards are meant as a reflection of the state breeding industry -- regardless of where its products wind up competing -- voting Jet Ski Lady as top 3-year-old filly over Wide Country, a winner of eight 1991 stakes at Maryland tracks, just doesn't feel right. They never met on the track, and comparing them solely for the purpose of casting a vote seems useless.
Still, we must decide. It's just that -- not unlike those ridiculous football polls -- what's being decided is unclear.
Winning invaders: Maryland racing may not be at its peak now, but the circuit earned a measure of respect Wednesday when Wood So and Devilish Touch, both based at Laurel, finished 1-2 in the $100,000-added Interborough Handicap at Aqueduct in New York.
Wood So has been a pleasant surprise for trainer Katy Voss, whose stable has been on a tear. A 5-year-old mare, Wood So started her career with a win against bottom-rank maidens before steadily ascending in class. She has won eight of 19 starts and $190,550.
Through Friday, Voss had sent out 13 winners from 43 starters at the current Laurel meet.
0-for-'91: Not to kick them when they're down, but the betting public does have a right to know about trainers who threw shutouts in 1991.
If you don't want to bandwagon a slumping stable, you may want to avoid betting horses of these trainers who had the most starts without winning a race at Laurel and Pimlico last year: David fTC Knoll (57), Roy Wallace (56), Tony Delloso (47), Tom Voss (45) and Henry Mercer (40).
Triple Crown season: The road to the 1992 Triple Crown began yesterday with the Flamingo Stakes at Hialeah. The trail ends with the 118th Kentucky Derby at Churchill Downs on May 2, the 117th Preakness at Pimlico on May 16 and the 124th Belmont Stakes at Belmont Park on June 6.