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Balloting for Horse of Year Will Come Down to Wire

Horse racing: The credentials of Tiznow and Lemon Drop Kid make this choice difficult for voters.

November 06, 2000|BILL CHRISTINE | TIMES STAFF WRITER

LOUISVILLE, Ky. — For the third time in four years, Eclipse Awards voters are in a quandary about horse-of-the-year honors. Flipping a coin between Tiznow and Lemon Drop Kid is not an outlandish option, although the owners of Lemon Drop Kid would prefer that the electorate comes to conventional conclusions. Lemon Drop Kid's syndication price increases $10 million, to $40 million, if he wins the title.

"I'm glad I don't have to vote," said Mike Cooper, one of the owners of Tiznow, who led a parade of 3-year-olds across the finish line in the Breeders' Cup Classic. "Our horse winning has turned this into a complicated matter."

Lemon Drop Kid, considered the best horse in the country most of the year, could have clinched the horse-of-the-year title by winning the Classic, but he finished fifth for the second race in a row. Riboletta could have leaped foursquare into the picture with a victory in the Breeders' Cup Distaff, but she finished seventh. These results left the voters with Tiznow and the slumping Lemon Drop Kid, although some of them have talked about not voting for either horse and casting ballots for either Kona Gold, who won the Sprint at Churchill Downs in record time, or Perfect Sting, who capped an almost-perfect year by winning the Filly & Mare Turf.

Lemon Drop Kid was the horse of summer, and Tiznow was the horse of fall. Neither is a perfect candidate. Their up-and-down campaigns recall the record of Charismatic, who won the title last year on the strength of victories in the Kentucky Derby and Preakness in May. Charismatic was injured while going for the Triple Crown sweep in the Belmont Stakes, and his career was over.

The voters had another dilemma in 1997, when Favorite Trick and Skip Away were the top choices. It was apples and oranges, since the horses never ran against one another. Favorite Trick, a 2-year-old, was undefeated in 10 starts, while Skip Away, a 4-year-old, raced against all comers and won the Classic but still was beaten in seven of 11 starts. Favorite Trick became the first 2-year-old to win horse of the year since Secretariat in 1997.

Then in 1998, Skip Away ran sixth in the Classic, but that was only his second loss in nine tries and it was easy for the voters to elect him champion.

This year, it's back to deep deliberation. About 300 voters from the National Turf Writers' Assn., the Daily Racing Form and a bloc of track racing secretaries and Equibase chart-callers will participate, with the announcement expected in early January.

Trainer Scotty Schulhofer will receive four lifetime breeding shares from Jinny Vance and Laddie Dance, the husband-wife partnership that raced Lemon Drop Kid. At their current market value, those shares are worth $500,000 annually, if Schulhofer chooses to sell them rather than breeding mares to his 4-year-old colt.

"He's the horse of the year," Schulhofer said. "Who else would you vote for? You could maybe make a case for Tiznow, but after that, who else? Lemon Drop Kid accomplished more than anybody this year. He fought every fight and didn't duck anyone."

Winning five of nine starts overall, Lemon Drop Kid put together four consecutive victories from June to mid-September, all at New York tracks. He won two Grade II races--the Brooklyn and Suburban Handicaps--and two Grade I's--the Whitney Handicap and the Woodward.

Under trainer Jay Robbins, Tiznow was a more successful traveler. He took three races to break his maiden, at Santa Anita on May 31, and then put together a series of strong races: He won the Affirmed Handicap and finished second in the Swaps--both at Hollywood Park; ran second in the Pacific Classic at Del Mar; won the Super Derby at Louisiana Downs; and won the Goodwood Handicap at Santa Anita as his prep for the Breeders' Cup. That adds up to five victories and three seconds in nine starts, with two Grade I victories, one Grade II and one Grade III. Tiznow will get extra credit, in many voters' eyes, for running so well against older horses in the Pacific Classic, the Goodwood and the Breeders' Cup.

Unlike Schulhofer, the Tiznow camp, at least for now, is taking a low-key approach to horse of the year.

"It's nice to be considered," said Cooper, whose partner is Cee Straub-Rubens, the colt's breeder. "I know after the vote that the best horse will win."

Unlike Lemon Drop Kid, Tiznow will run another day. Cooper said that ideally Robbins would like to run him six or seven times next year, leading up to another Breeders' Cup Classic, at Belmont Park on Oct. 27. The Strub Stakes, for 4-year-olds, has been penciled in, and could result in an intriguing matchup between Tiznow and War Chant, who'll return to dirt after winning Saturday's Breeders' Cup Mile on grass. Another possibility for Tiznow is the $6-million Dubai World Cup in the United Arab Emirates in March. Another Pacific Classic at Del Mar would be the midseason objective.

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