Voters who are marking their ballots this weekend to choose the hohorse of the year might wish they could operate the way Pulitzer Prize juries do. Those juries have the option of giving the prize to nobody if all the candidates in a category are deemed to be lousy. And that's just who the outstanding racehorse in America was: nobody. .
Mention any candidate for thoroughbred racing's top honor and there is a persuasive list of reasons why he shouldn't be the horse of the year. I think my candidate is by far the most deserving, yet I have written in previous columns why that same horse should under no circumstances get an Eclipse Award.
There is going to be a lot of sentiment for Proud Truth as horse of the year, since his victory in the Breeders' Cup Classic is fresh in the voters' minds. But Proud Truth sat on the sidelines all fall while New York's top horses were battling each other in one major stake after another, then took them on when he was fresh and they were exhausted. Nobody should be able to earn the horse-of-the-year trophy on the basis of one good day.
How about Chief's Crown? Unlike Proud Truth, he did sustain his form from March to November. The only trouble was that his form wasn't very good. He lost all three Triple Crown events and scored only one significant victory over older rivals.
Lady's Secret? No way. She did win nine races in a row, but she was beating a relatively weak group of fillies and she never even made an attempt to take on the country's top male horses.
Vanlandingham? Not unless there's a new Eclipse Award category for most gutless horse. The speedster scored all his victories when he was able to take an uncontested early lead; whenever he was challenged, he collapsed.
Pebbles? Her victory in the Breeders' Cup Turf was impressive, but giving America's top award to a horse who raced only once in this country would be carrying the spirit of internationalism to absurd lengths. Besides, her victory here wasn't that good; she won in a photo finish over Strawberry Road II, who was whipped in both of his other U.S. starts.
Even though all of these Eclipse Award candidates had some very good days, there shouldn't be any argument that the most brilliant performances of 1985 were delivered by Spend a Buck. He prepped for the Kentucky Derby by running 1 1/8 miles in 1:45 3/5, missing Secretariat's world record by one fifth of a second. He won the Derby itself in a romp, recording the third-fastest time in the race's history while defeating Chief's Crown and Proud Truth, among others.
Spend a Buck looked at the time like a one-dimensional front-runner, a Vanlandingham type, but he dispelled that notion when he won the Jersey Derby in a gutty performance, and when he outdueled the good 4-year-old Carr de Naskra at Monmouth Park.
Spend a Buck was fast, courageous, consistent -- and he was a druggie.
A bleeder, Spend a Buck needed the help of Lasix to score his major victories. He suffered his two defeats when he wasn't able to be treated with his drug of choice. Even owner Dennis Diaz recognized his colt's limitations, and ducked the Travers Stakes at Saratoga because he wouldn't have been able to use Lasix there. In fact, Spend a Buck may have been sent off to an early retirement to avoid the embarrassment of ducking the major fall stakes in New York because of the medication issue.
It's probably not a good idea to bestow honors on drug-dependent horses and thus encourage them to breed and beget drug-dependent offspring. Even so, Spend a Buck was undeniably the most brilliant performer of 1985, and he has a better claim than anybody else to be horse of the year. Other Eclipse Awards
Two-Year-Old Colt: Ogygian won all three of his races impressively before being sidelined by an injury. He was the standout of his generation.
Two-Year-Old Filly: I'm Splendid wrested the title from Breeders' Cup winner Twilight Ridge by upsetting her in the Starlet Stakes at Hollywood Park last week.
Three-Year-Old Colt: Spend a Buck trounced Chief's Crown, Proud Truth and every other contender for this title.
Three-Year-Old Filly: Lady's Secret won nine in a row to take the award from the speedy but otherwise overrated Mom's Command.
Older Male: Greinton was a monster in California last winter, but his disappointing performances in the East in the fall weren't all his fault. He was the victim of bad racing luck; of a muddy track, which he couldn't handle; of his trainer's decision to enter him in the Breeders' Cup Turf, instead of running him on the dirt. Greinton won't win the Eclipse Award, but he should.
Older Female: Life's Magic earned the title with her Breeders' Cup victory.
Male Turf Horse: Although Cozzene will probably get the Eclipse Award because of his triumph in the Breeders' Cup Mile, Win was America's best grass runner. He beat Cozzene at 1 1/8 miles, a distance that should have favored Cozzene, and was a superior, consistent performer at classic distances.
Female Turf Horse: Pebbles needed only one race in America to prove she was better than any of our distaff grass runners.
Sprinter: Mt. Livermore ran hard and consistently from February through November, and deserves to win the award more than Precisionist, who benefited from perfect racing luck to capture the Breeders' Cup.