LEXINGTON, Ky. -- It's not a popularity poll.
It's a performance award.
It's not the Horse of a Career.
It's the Horse of the Year.
And the winner shouldn't be Zenyatta.
The winner, again, should be Blame.
When voters start marking their ballots this week for the Eclipse Awards, to be announced Jan. 17 in Miami Beach, Fla., hopefully they will use their heads and pick the horse that won by a head back on Nov. 6.
Zenyatta was a tremendous racehorse for three years, but she wasn't as good as Blame this year.
If that's not the popular choice, then blame it on a year so good that Blame just cannot be ignored.
Owned by Claiborne Farm and Adele Dilschneider, Blame won three Grade I races and a Grade II in 2010. The son of Arch captured the Grade II William Donald Schaefer at Pimlico, the Grade I Stephen Foster at Churchill Downs and the Grade I Whitney Handicap at Saratoga. His one loss was a second-place finish to Haynesfield in the Jockey Club Gold Cup, when travel problems caused the horse to arrive at Belmont Park the morning of the race.
And, oh yeah, Blame won the Breeders' Cup Classic, becoming the only horse ever to finish ahead of Zenyatta, albeit by a head in one of the more spine-tingling finishes the sport has experienced.
"I don't know who else you could vote for," Claiborne Farm's Seth Hancock said that day. "She's a great horse, Zenyatta is. But she had her shot to get by, and she didn't do it. So I don't think you can vote for her."
Yet there are plenty claiming that despite the results of the final race, it is the mare that is deserving of the sport's highest honor.
The Zenyatta faithful cite her 19 consecutive wins, a streak longer than any other horse, longer than Cigar or Citation. They cite her Breeders' Cup victory a year ago, against the boys at Santa Anita, even though she lost out on Horse of the Year honors to another female, Rachel Alexandra. They cite her five wins this year, all against Grade I competition.
Upon closer inspection, four of the five were achieved in her home-state base of California. Her lone foray outside the Golden State produced an Apple Blossom win over a lackluster field at Oaklawn. In fact, most of Zenyatta's 2010 competition was lackluster. Before Churchill, Zenyatta had not faced a Grade I winner.
Blame put on his traveling shoes and won races in Maryland (Pimlico), Kentucky (Churchill Downs) and New York (Saratoga) before winding his way back to Louisville for the Classic. In the Whitney, Blame beat Quality Road, who was coming off back-to-back Grade I wins.
Then Blame beat Zenyatta in a truly classic Classic. Yes, Zenyatta began the race astoundingly far off the pace, but such is her style. Yes, Zenyatta's amazing rally was thrilling, but in the end the magic came up oh-so-short.
Never mind, argue her zealous following. No recent Thoroughbred has been as popular, attracting non-racing fans track-side merely to be in her presence.
Not true, wrote Amanda Duckworth for ESPN.com. Not entirely. As Duckworth pointed out, this year's Breeders' Cup Saturday crowd of 72,739 paled in comparison to the 80,452 at Churchill in 1998 to watch Awesome Again win the Breeders' Cup Classic. Furthermore, another ever-popular horse, Smarty Jones, drew a crowd of 120,139 to the Belmont in 2004 in his quest for the Triple Crown.
(Duckworth also made the apt analogy that the New England Patriots won every game in 2007, except for the Super Bowl. Yet it was the New York Giants who got the rings.)
Ah, argue Zenyatta's advocates, she lost but one of 20 career races, and it was a courageous, valiant loss.
True. But a loss is a loss, especially when it came against a horse that had the year that the winner had in 2010.
A year that should make Blame the Horse of the Year.