Like the Super Bowl, these races decided championships (Part 2)

Profile Picture: Vance Hanson

January 28th, 2015

Continuing on from Part 1 of this feature posted Tuesday, we now delve into the races that more or less decided Horse of the Year from the (more) modern era of 1990-2014.

1990 - Hollywood Gold Cup (Hollywood Park) CRIMINAL TYPE edged reigning Horse of the Year (and future Hall of Famer) Sunday Silence here, one race after beating Hall of Famer Easy Goer in the Metropolitan Handicap. A later score in the Whitney Handicap capped an impressive four-race win streak that started with the Pimlico Special.

1991 - Breeders' Cup Classic (Churchill Downs) Not really thought of as Horse of the Year material beforehand, BLACK TIE AFFAIR stole both the race and the title while winning his sixth in a row for blue-collar, Chicago-based trainer Ernie Poulos.

1992 - Breeders' Cup Classic (Gulfstream Park) A.P. INDY got a measure of revenge here over older male champ Pleasant Tap, who had prevailed in the Jockey Club Gold Cup when A.P. Indy broke poorly and conceded that rival many lengths early on.

1993 - Breeders' Cup Turf (Santa Anita) KOTASHAAN once again proved to be the country's premier 1 1/2-mile turf performer with this win, demonstrating more dominance than turf miler Lure and dirt-based champion Bertrando. Kotashaan later got brownie points for his second-place finish in the Japan Cup, which might have been a win if not for jockey Kent Desormeaux standing up prematurely when misjudging the finish line.

1994 - Woodward (Belmont Park) HOLY BULL's five-length win, his second over older horses that season, made a trip to Churchill Downs for the Breeders' Cup unnecessary and potentially redundant.

1995 - Jockey Club Gold Cup (Belmont Park) Three weeks before completing his perfect season in the Breeders' Cup Classic, CIGAR finished 14 lengths clear of three-year-old champion Thunder Gulch, the only possible rival left for national title honors.

1996 - Woodward (Belmont Park) A month after seeing his historic 16-race win streak come to a halt in the Pacific Classic, CIGAR proved no worse for the wear with a four-length victory here. Even a loss to three-year-old champ Skip Away in the Jockey Club Gold Cup, nor his narrow defeat in the Breeders' Cup Classic, could sway the electorate away from him.

1997 - Breeders' Cup Juvenile (Hollywood Park) The completion of a perfect eight-for-eight season gave a wide swath of voters reason to think two-year-old FAVORITE TRICK was the second-coming of Secretariat. He wasn't, of course, but his path to Horse of the Year was unobstructed after voters inexplicably chose Skip Away, who lost his only start to Gentleman and four of six to Formal Gold, as champion older male.

1998 - Woodward (Belmont Park) SKIP AWAY's coast-to-coast, seven-race win streak to start the season was completed here. Even relatively dismal efforts in the Jockey Club Gold Cup and Breeders' Cup Classic could not hurt his standing with voters, many of whom probably had buyer's remorse after supporting Favorite Trick a year earlier.

1999 - Preakness (Pimlico) Memories of CHARISMATIC's victory in the first two legs of the Triple Crown, and his subsequent breakdown after crossing the finish line third in the Belmont, lingered the rest of the year while other possible candidates had seasons most considered too brief. This was an historic selection, too, as no non-Triple Crown-winning three-year-old champion male had ever been named Horse of the Year without having won a stakes open to older horses.

2000 - Breeders' Cup Classic (Churchill Downs) With his gutsy win over European star Giant's Causeway, TIZNOW claimed both the three-year-old title and Horse of the Year as Kentucky Derby winner Fusaichi Pegasus and older male champ Lemon Drop Kid finished up the track.

2001 - Travers (Saratoga) Easily the most dominant three-year-old champion in years, POINT GIVEN gave the impression he would have performed well against older rivals even if the thought itself became speculative after he was prematurely retired following this win.

2002 - Breeders' Cup Distaff (Arlington Park) AZERI's selection made history as she became the first female Horse of the Year (in a unified poll) never to have won an open stakes. Her five-length win here was her seventh in a row and eighth from nine starts during the season. Longshot Volponi's dominating score in the Breeders' Cup Classic later in the day aided her candidacy by knocking out the three-year-old contenders.

2003 - Jockey Club Gold Cup (Belmont Park) MINESHAFT's sweep of Belmont Park's most prestigious races for older horses at nine furlongs and up concluded a brilliant season of seven wins and two second-place finishes.

2004 - Breeders' Cup Classic (Lone Star Park) A favorite of speed figure lovers everywhere, GHOSTZAPPER ended a brief, four-race campaign with a three-length victory against one of the strongest fields in race history in stakes-record time of 1:59 for 1 1/4 miles.

2005 - Breeders' Cup Classic (Belmont Park) Despite having dropped two of his four previous starts, SAINT LIAM proved with his one-length win here that he was generally the best in the year's strongest division.

2006 - Breeders' Cup Classic (Churchill Downs) A three-month layoff could not stop South American-bred INVASOR from posting a mild upset over the heavily-favored three-year-old Bernardini, thus snatching the sport's highest honor as well.

2007 - Breeders' Cup Classic (Monmouth Park) CURLIN thrived in the slop over fellow three-year-olds Street Sense and Hard Spun, as well as older rival Lawyer Ron, to claim three-year-old championship honors and the gold Eclipse.

2008 - Jockey Club Gold Cup (Belmont Park) CURLIN became North America's all-time leading money winner with this workmanlike victory. The fact the Breeders' Cup Classic was being held on a synthetic surface foreign to him was unlikely to cost him in a Horse of the Year title no matter his performance (he was fourth).

2009 - Woodward (Saratoga) RACHEL ALEXANDRA concluded what is arguably the greatest campaign ever by a three-year-old filly by becoming the first of her sex to win this historic race open to all. Previously, she snapped an 85-year drought for fillies in the Preakness and had demolished three-year-old male champion Summer Bird in the Haskell Invitational.

2010 - Lady's Secret (Santa Anita) While some might claim it was the manner of her subsequent defeat in the Breeders' Cup Classic that clinched the title, there were already rumblings among fans and fourth estaters that ZENYATTA's 19th career victory in a row, and mainstream popularity, was all that was required to be Horse of the Year no matter what happened at Churchill Downs.

2011 - Woodward (Saratoga) HAVRE DE GRACE's game-changing win against males here catapulted her into Horse of the Year contention. A longshot-dominated resulted in the Breeders' Cup Classic, where she ran a respectable fourth, gave her the edge.

2012 - Breeders' Cup Mile (Santa Anita) WISE DAN defeated many of the world's best milers in a swift 1:31 3/5 while proving himself the most accomplished performer among the deepest group of U.S. turf performers in nearly two decades.

2013 - Breeders' Cup Mile (Santa Anita) While main track performers remained an inconsistent bunch, WISE DAN continued his domination of the turf mile set and concluded a flawless grass campaign with a repeat victory in the Mile.

2014 - Hollywood Derby (Del Mar) In a display of versatility more than divisional dominance, CALIFORNIA CHROME's victory in this turf affair sealed the deal for the two-time classic winner, who had merely been third best in a controversial renewal of the Breeders' Cup Classic several weeks earlier.

(Wise Dan photo: Breeders' Cup Ltd.)