- The Washington Times - Monday, October 31, 2005

ELMONT, N.Y. — If the decision was Richard Dutrow Jr.’s to make, there would be no debate for Horse of the Year. His colt, Saint Liam, would get the award instead of Preakness/Belmont winner Afleet Alex.

Saint Liam finished the season in winning fashion Saturday at Belmont Park, capturing the $4.68million Classic by a length, his fourth Grade I victory of the year.

“We have the best horse around,” Dutrow said. “Anybody left standing, they were here today and we beat them. Throughout the year, Saint Liam has won everywhere. He’s faced the toughest they got. We didn’t duck any kind of horse in any race. We went after them, and that’s because I’ve always felt he was the best horse.

“When he runs his race, I don’t think anybody can beat him.”

Horse racing fans won’t have a chance to see Afleet Alex — sidelined since the Belmont because of fatigue and injury — face Saint Liam, a 5-year-old who will be retired to stud.

That leaves the Horse of the Year picture out of focus. Afleet Alex won two legs of the Triple Crown but didn’t race against older horses in the summer and fall campaigns. Saint Liam won some races, but didn’t have the opportunity to face the top 3-year-old runners. Lost in the Fog was 8-for-9 this year but is a sprinter. The great female horse Ashado won three Grade I races but couldn’t repeat in the Distaff.

But one of them has to win. A look at the top four horses under consideration:

Afleet Alex

Why: He won two of the four biggest races in the nation and only a sub-par ride from Jeremy Rose prevented a Kentucky Derby victory.

Why not: He didn’t run after the Preakness. Racing is a yearlong sport, and the Horse of the Year award is supposed to reward start-to-finish consistency. Prior to Afleet Alex, the last three horses to win two legs of the Triple Crown — Smarty Jones in 2004, Funny Cide in 2003 and War Emblem in 2002 — didn’t win because the three races left them spent for the summer/fall campaign.

Bottom line: He probably did do enough to edge out champion 3-year-old Flower Alley, the Jim Dandy and Travers champion who was second in the Classic on Saturday, but Horse of the Year is iffy.

Saint Liam

Why: The Classic is the richest race in the nation and Saint Liam won as the favorite. From mid-June on, he was the best classic-distance horse, winning Grade I Stephen Foster, Woodward and Classic and finishing a neck back in the Whitney.

Why not: Who did he beat? In the Santa Anita Handicap, he was a distant sixth and Rock Hard Ten and Borrego finished ahead of him. He never faced a great 3-year old and was 1-for-2 at a mile-and-a-quarter.

Bottom line: Nonetheless, summer/fall performance is generally well-rewarded, so he’s the favorite to win Horse of the Year.

Lost in the Fog

Why: No other horse in the nation — regardless of gender, age and running style — was as dominant this year. He won his first eight races of 2005 by a combined 663/4 lengths.

Why not: Since 1994, no sprinter has won Horse of the Year. Voters tend to favor the horses that can win 1-mile races in the spring, 11/8-mile races in the summer and 11/4-mile races in the fall. Any chance to win the award disappeared Saturday.

Bottom line: A lock for the nation’s top sprinter.

First Samurai

Why: The 2-year-old came into Saturday 4-for-4 this year, including Grade I wins in the Hopeful and Champagne. He was drawing consideration for the award because of the jumbled picture among the 3-year-olds and up.

Why not: He finished third — not a total catasphore — in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile. Only an undefeated campaign and a loss by Saint Liam would have given this colt the nod.

Bottom line: Even though he didn’t win on Saturday, it will be tough to vote against this son of Giant’s Causeway for top 2-year-old male. He is definitely one to watch on the Derby Trail this winter/early spring.

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