More often than not, the Breeders’ Cup decides, on the playing field, who will be the Horse of the Year. This should be one of those years, as the top three candidates — Game On Dude, Wise Dan and Princess of Sylmar — will be racing at Santa Anita Park.
Princess of Sylmar (9-5) will get first chance to impress Eclipse Award voters today in the Distaff. Despite a small six-horse field, one can make a solid case for five of them winning.
Oddly enough, four of the six are 3-year-old fillies. Normally in the Distaff and Classic, the older horses have an advantage over their 3-year-old foes.
Princess of Sylmar stamped her Horse of the Year credentials by beating Royal Delta (8-5) last out in the Beldame at Belmont Park. She didn’t just win, she ran past Royal Delta like Royal Delta was tied to a post.
Beholder (5-2) and Close Hatches (6-1) also are 3-year-olds and Grade 1 stakes winners entered in the Distaff.
The only way Princess of Sylmar can be Horse of the Year is if she wins the Distaff and Wise Dan and Game On Dude lose the Mile and Classic, respectively, on Saturday.
Wise Dan (1-1) is the most likely winner of the entire Breeders’ Cup. He has won his past nine turf starts, all in graded stakes. His only two losses in the past two years came over the main track at Keeneland and Churchill Downs.
Wise Dan was the 2012 Horse of the Year. He has done nothing to diminish that stature this season. But critics have taken shots at the connections this year for staying in Wise Dan’s comfort zone: mile races on grass.
Wise Dan is a 6-year-old gelding, which means he won’t be going to the breeding shed any time soon. I suspect he’ll pull a John Henry in the future and try handicap races on the main dirt track.
Game On Dude (8-5) is holding two aces as hole cards entering the Classic. If he wins Saturday, he’s a 98 percent probability of being voted Horse of the Year.
A Classic victory would cap a perfect six-win season for Game On Dude. But this is his third try at winning the $5 million stakes. He ran second in 2011 and was a well-beaten seventh as the favorite in 2012.
Game On Dude is a speed horse who does best when allowed to control the pace. He might not get a free pass with the likes of Fort Larned (6-1) and Moreno (15-1) facing him.
If an early-pace battle ensues, the Classic could be a free-for-all in the final furlong.
■ HORSE-FOR-HORSE BETS — Wynn Las Vegas is offering its yearly menu of Breeders’ Cup horse-for-horse bets. The beauty of the wager is your horse doesn’t have to win the race, just outrun the horse it’s paired against.
Richard Eng’s horse racing column is published Friday in the Las Vegas Review-Journal. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter: @richeng4propick.