There’s something to be said about an undefeated career. At the top levels, with adversity thrown your way, it is incredibly rare, but once you find a good niche for your horse, many are apt to stick with it. In 18th century England, Flying Childers and Eclipse scared away most of the competition – many of their races were walkovers. Peppers Pride dominated her local New Mexico circuit. 19th century Kincsem is especially notable, not losing a single race in 54 starts.
True, there were hurdles to climb for many of these “perfect” racehorses. In his final race Frankel tackled soft ground that was not his forte, overcame a bad start, and then caught up with Cirrus Des Aigles, one of the best middle-distance horses in the world. Black Caviar injured herself in her Royal Ascot run but still managed to keep her record blemish-free by a diminishing nose.
But is there anything lost in defeat? Certainly not.
It would have been a great story if Zenyatta had caught Blame and retired 20 for 20. Do we love her any less for losing once? Of course not! In fact, I know that I would admire the old racemare just as much if she would have stepped outside of her comfort zone. She might have lost if she tried males at those historic tracks like Saratoga and Keeneland…but she would not lose a step in defeat.
Great horses, sometimes, are defeated. Secretariat lost more than once – he was off the board in his first start! Man O’ War found himself second to Upset, a horse that he had beaten already and would defeat again further down the line. Citation lost. Kelso lost. Cigar’s winning streak was eventually broken. Ruffian, had she not tragically lost her life in that match race, may have wound up second fiddle to Kentucky Derby winner Foolish Pleasure. There is nothing to be ashamed of for losing a race.
I’m sure it feels great to be in the winner’s circle. Not being involved with any particular horse myself, I have no way of knowing exactly, but I can understand the mentality of keeping a horse in its comfort zone to earn as many “W”s as you can. But sometimes, it just becomes monotonous.
There is no doubt that Wise Dan is an elite turf miler. His performance in the Woodbine Mile last year, among other races, cemented his place as one of the best in the world. The best horses in America, however, are not found running in the Fourstardave or the Firecracker (except if your name is Wise Dan). As long as this champion sticks to eight furlongs on the lawn, he won’t face Game On Dude or Will Take Charge or Palace Malice. And shouldn’t a Horse of the Year campaign not only be about your record, but the horses you’ve faced that year, win or lose?
You don’t need to take on the world if there are horses in your backyard that you have yet to face. And it’s not like this horse hasn’t lost a race before. We still love him just the same – even after that defeat to Silver Medal at Keeneland last fall.
I have no intention of calling out the Wise Dan camp on sticking to their division. They have the reins…it’s their decision. Let them enjoy their horse. But the mudslinging between his fans and critics is getting to be wearisome. To silence that argument once and for all, it may take a step out of the comfort zone for our two-time Horse of the Year, whether that means a different surface, a longer distance, or even a different countries.
And if he wins? Good on him! He’s a wonderful horse. If he loses? He loses nothing but a race – trying won’t cost him anything else.
So here’s to a bit of friendly competition: win, lose, or draw…but at least try!