Secretariat

Vox Populi Award Reaching New Heights

With the votes already pouring in, this is your opportunity to cast your vote for the Secretariat Vox Populi Award. But be prepared, this year’s finalists may be the strongest and deeper ever. ~ Steve Haskin

Vox Populi Award Reaching New Heights

By Steve Haskin

 

Joyce Carol Oates wrote: “Popular! In America, what else matters?”

It’s as if Penny Chenery read that quote when she decided to inaugurate the Secretariat Vox Populi Award in 2010, which reflects the “Voice of the People.” It was Chenery’s intention to “recognize the racehorse whose popularity and racing excellence best resounded with the public and gained recognition for the sport during the past year.”

So, as Joyce Carol Oates said in not so many words, you can have your Eclipse Awards and whatever other awards there are for productivity, but if you can be the most popular; if you can capture the hearts of the people, what else matters?

That is why a California-bred named California Chrome, who rose from humble beginnings to become a two-time Horse of the Year and Kentucky Derby and Preakness winner, will be remembered as much for his avid fan base that stretched from coast to coast, and even to England and Dubai.

That is why a horse named Paynter, who battled back from an illness that nearly killed him to compete at the highest level, was able to develop a loyal legion of fans who were touched by the courage he displayed.

That is why a $6,250 claim named Rapid Redux, who went on to win a record 22 consecutive races, was able to reach out to fans all over the country, despite racing at small tracks such as Mountaineer, Charles Town. Timonium, Thistledown, and Penn National.

That is why a tough, resilient horse named Ben’s Cat, who competed on a small stage, but still managed to win 26 stakes, including one stakes (the Mister Diz) six times, was able to become a hero in the Mid-Atlantic States.

That is why a foal, later named Mucho Macho Man, who was believed to have been born dead only to suddenly leap up off the ground and dash across the field, was able to keep running until he had captured America’s richest race, the Breeders’ Cup Classic.

That is why a national hero in Australia named Winx, who won 33 races in a row, was able to capture the imagination of racing fans 10,000 miles away, many of whom stayed up until 1 a.m. to watch her race.

That is why the winners of the Vox Populi Award, like those mentioned above, will be remembered as much, if not more, than many of our champions.

Now, in 2020, we have an opportunity to add another horse worthy enough to join the list of previous Vox Populi Award winners, which also includes two of the greatest horses of the past decade, Zenyatta and American Pharoah, who were able to build two of the largest fan bases in the history of the sport.

This is a deep and contentious group, any one of whom would be worthy of the award, which is a stunning hand patinated solid bronze image of Secretariat. With voting, previously done through Secretariat.com, now extended to the popular America’s Best Racing website, as it was in 2019, this year’s voting with its strong contenders promises to have a record turnout.

Listed in alphabetical order, the finalists are:

AUTHENTIC – His inclusion as a finalist is not based solely on his victories in the Kentucky Derby, Breeders’ Cup Classic, and Haskell Invitational, which earned him a $1 million bonus for winning those three races, it is the joy and excitement he brought to 5,314 racing fans who were able to purchase a micro share in the colt through MyRacehorse.com for only $206, enabling them to rejoice in his victories and share in his stud value, and to say that they owned part of a Kentucky Derby and Breeders’ Cup Classic winner. This no doubt will popularize this new concept of horse ownership and get more people involved in the sport who will now strive to duplicate the thrills experienced by the numerous common-folk owners of Authentic. Never before have racing fans been able to share in a racehorse of this caliber and on this large a scale. MyRacehorse and the thousands of future shareholders that come on board can thank Authentic for opening the door to such a magical experience.

MONOMOY GIRL – Here is a filly who could have easily been retired at the top of her game, going out a Breeders’ Cup Distaff winner and champion and a much sought after broodmare. Many horses would surely have been retired, but for her to return after being sidelined for 18 months, first with a serious case of colic, in which she lost a great deal of weight, and then a nagging hamstring injury, is a rarity in this sport and demonstrates the sportsmanship of her owners and the determination and resilience of the filly. And then to come back at age 5, go undefeated and win the Breeders’ Cup Distaff again to increase her lifetime earnings to over $4.4 million, and just a few days later sell for $9.5 million and amazingly kept in training for a 6-year-old campaign is a feel-good story that makes Monomoy Girl a poster child for what Thoroughbred racing stands for and why it is embraced with such affection and fervor by the public.

SWISS SKYDIVER – Don’t let Swiss Skydiver’s bad stumble at the start of the Breeders’ Cup Distaff and her subsequent sixth-place finish alter your opinion of her even in the slightest, especially after seeing how badly she grabbed herself and the unsightly wound with which she ran that required antibiotics and forced her to sidelines for the remainder of the year. It is what she accomplished before that race and her reputation as a throwback to a different era that made her one of the most popular horses in recent years. Purchased for a bargain price of $35,000, Swiss Skydiver in 2020 won stakes in Florida, Arkansas, California, New York, and Maryland and finished second in Louisiana and Kentucky. In her first nine starts of the year she competed at nine different racetracks from coast to coast, north to south, and defeated Kentucky Derby winner and eventual Breeders’ Cup Classic winner Authentic in the Preakness Stakes in one of the gutsiest performances in years. To demonstrate her toughness and resilience, she competed in stakes races in January, February, March, May, June, July, August, September, October, and November, during which she faced 22 male horses and finished ahead of 21 of them.

TIZ THE LAW – If you believe Yogi Berra’s often used phrase, “It was déjà vu all over again,” then you surely will be amazed at how history in many ways repeated itself for Sackatoga Stable, which began nearly 20 years ago with a group of high school friends from tiny Sackets Harbor, New York chipping in to buy a racehorse, which led to an incredible journey with the popular Kentucky Derby and Preakness winner Funny Cide. Now, 17 years later, Sackatoga Stable, made up mostly of new faces, has returned with another New York-bred named Tiz the Law, who, under the care of Funny Cide’s trainer, 82-year-old Barclay Tagg, developed a large fan base of his own with his victories in the Grade 1 Champagne, Florida Derby, Belmont Stakes, and Travers. The Kentucky Derby, however, eluded him, coming in September this year instead of May when he had towered over his fellow 3-year-olds. He still managed to finish second at Churchill Downs to Authentic, who had caught up to him by then. But until that point, it was Tiz the Law who ruled the 3-year-old division and brought the magic of Funny Cide and Sackatoga Stable back to public consciousness, singlehandedly keeping this year’s sophomores in the national headlines.

WHITMORE – If you want an equine version of perseverance, look no further than the 7-year-old warrior Whitmore, who captured this year’s Breeders’ Cup Sprint by a resounding 3 1/4 lengths in his fourth attempt, having finished third in 2019 and second in 2018. Looking back on his career, during the seven-month layoff between his 19th-place finish in the 2016 Kentucky Derby and his next start, a victory in a 6 1/2-furlong allowance race at Aqueduct, Whitmore was transformed into a top-class sprinter. Four years later he has amassed earnings of $4.2 million while racing at 10 different tracks from New York to California, finished first or second in 22 stakes, and at an age when most horses are long retired he finally has his Breeders’ Cup victory, which brought a wave of emotion from racing fans and countless tears from his co-owner Robert La Penta. In his 30 starts since that initial sprint race at Aqueduct, Whitmore has finished on the board in 25 of them, while racing against the fastest horses in the country. It was La Penta who summed him up best after this year’s Breeders’ Cup when said, “What a legend; what a horse.”

Good luck making your selection from this group.