HALLANDALE, Fla. -- The Breeders' Cup was supposed to clarify the debate over Horse of the Year. Instead, it turned the question on its head.
Had Behrens won the Breeders' Cup Classic on Saturday at Gulfstream Park, he would have clinched the award. (Turf writers, racing secretaries and employees of the Daily Racing Form vote for it.) But when the 2-1 favorite ran dismally and finished seventh, the door opened for as many as 10 horses to lay claim to the award, thoroughbred racing's grandest.
"I'm pushing for everyone's vote," said Louis Albertrani, trainer of Artax. "Not because I train him, but because he's accomplished so much."
Artax won the Breeders' Cup Sprint, equaling Gulfstream's six-furlong record of 1 minute, 7 4/5 seconds set in 1973 by Mr. Prospector. Earlier in the year, Artax shattered two long-standing marks.
In the Forest Hills Handicap at Belmont Park, Artax completed six furlongs in 1: 07 3/5, breaking a 12-year record held by Groovy. And in the Carter Handicap at Aqueduct, Artax blazed seven furlongs in 1: 20, besting the 30-year standard established by Dr. Fager.
But a sprinter for Horse of the Year? That didn't sit well yesterday with some horsemen on the Gulfstream Park backstretch.
Those mentioned in addition to Artax, a 4-year-old colt:
Beautiful Pleasure, a 4-year-old filly, winner of the Breeders' Cup Distaff and two other Grade I stakes: the Beldame and Personal Ensign Handicap.
Behrens, a 5-year-old horse, first or second in eight of nine races, but who bombed in the Classic. He won two Grade I stakes and finished second in three others.
Cat Thief, a 3-year-old colt, upset winner of the Breeders' Cup Classic, but winner of only one other race all year, the Grade I Swaps. Cat Thief raced 12 times.
Chilukki, a 2-year-old filly, unbeaten in six starts until Saturday, when she finished second in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies.
Daylami, a 5-year-old horse, winner of the Breeders' Cup Turf in his only start in North America.
Silverbulletday, a 3-year-old filly, winner of eight of 11, including four Grade I stakes. She ran sixth as the favorite in the Distaff.
Soaring Softly, a 4-year-old turf filly, won seven of eight races, including the Breeders' Cup Filly and Mare Turf.
Victory Gallop, a 4-year-old colt, won three of four races before being retired because of a leg injury. He defeated Behrens in the Whitney Handicap, set a 1 1/8-mile track record in the Stephen Foster Handicap at Churchill Downs and finished third in the Dubai World Cup.
Predictably, trainers talked up their own horses, but Carl Nafzger offered perhaps the most astute observation. His filly, Banshee Breeze, finished second in the Distaff, losing any chance of consideration for Horse of the Year.
"I think this is the most wide-open Horse of the Year race I've seen in my life," Nafzger said.
Nafzger said Banshee Breeze showed no ill effects from her bout with heat stroke after the Distaff. Yesterday morning, she lay sound asleep on her side in her stall.
Alex Hassinger, trainer of Anees, said the Unbridled colt looked and seemed to feel good after winning the Breeders' Cup Juvenile. Despite odds of 30-1, Anees became a top contender, if not the top contender, for next year's Kentucky Derby. No Juvenile winner has won the Derby.
In the $75,000 Rhythm Stakes yesterday at Gulfstream Park, the 2-year-old colt Postponed finished a disappointing sixth as the even-money favorite for her owners, Jinny Vance and Laddie Dance. For the part-time Maryland residents, Postponed is their hope for next year's Kentucky Derby. Elite Mercedes won the 1 1/16-mile stakes.
G. D. Hieronymous, 40, who works for a video company in Kentucky, held the one winning Pick Six Breeders' Cup ticket -- worth $3,058,137.60. Hieronymous and several employees of Hammond Communications Group in Lexington, Ky., pooled $196 on the wager requiring bettors to select the winners of six Breeders' Cup races.