Wise Dan noses out I'll Have Another on Horse of the Year ballot

I cast my Eclipse Award ballot this week after a great debate between my head and my heart over the Horse of the Year. My heart has been with I'll Have Another, who generated enormous excitement upon winning the Kentucky Derby and Preakness.

A horse going for the Triple Crown always gets the public fired up, and I'll Have Another was no exception. His career ended abruptly, though, when he was retired because of injury on the eve of the Belmont Stakes.

All year, I had I'll Have Another ranked either first or second in my weekly NTRA poll. But as the season wore on, a horse named Wise Dan kept rising in my rankings.

Wise Dan's year started with a 10-length win in the Ben Ali at Keeneland on April 22. Then came his only loss of 2012, on June 17 in the Stephen Foster at Churchill Downs by a head to Ron the Greek. Ron the Greek was no chopped liver, either, having won the Santa Anita Handicap on March 3.

Month after month, Wise Dan piled up wins in the Fourstardave, Woodbine Mile and Shadwell Turf Mile.

His final race was a tour de force win in the Breeders' Cup Mile. It capped a terrific year of five graded stakes wins in six starts.

Credit should go to owner Morton Fink and trainer Charles Lopresti. Planning a championship campaign is one thing. Getting it done is another.

Thus, with a keystroke, I voted for Horse of the Year in this order: Wise Dan, I'll Have Another and Groupie Doll.

In fact, if my ballot is spot on, Wise Dan could sweep Eclipse Awards for Horse of the Year, Older Male and Male Turf Horse. The award show will be Jan. 19 at Gulfstream Park in Hallandale, Fla.

Most of the other categories, in my humble opinion, had decisive leaders. The rest of my votes went like this:

\u25B6 Two-year-olds: Shanghai Bobby, male, and Beholder, filly.

\u25B6 Three-year-olds: I'll Have Another, male, and My Miss Aurelia, filly.

\u25B6 Best older horses: Wise Dan, male, and Royal Delta, female.

\u25B6 Leading sprinters: Trinniberg, male, and Groupie Doll, female.

\u25B6 Best turf horses: Wise Dan, male, and Zagora, female.

\u25B6 Top jump horse: Pierrot Lunaire.

\u25B6 Human awards: Midwest Thoroughbreds, owner; Darley Stud, breeder; Ramon Dominguez, jockey; Irad Ortiz, apprentice; Todd Pletcher, trainer.

■ RACE DAY LAS VEGAS TO RETURN - The Race Day Las Vegas radio show has been off the air recently, and there's a sad reason for it. Host Ralph Siraco's mother, Mary, died last week. He is taking some time off, but will return to KSHP-AM (1400) on Wednesday, opening day at Santa Anita Park.

Richard Eng's horse racing column is published Friday in the Las Vegas Review-Journal. He can be reached at rich_eng@hotmail.com. Follow him on Twitter: @richeng4propick.