As the Breeders' Cup countdown winds down, the next big topic is coming to the minds of race fans everywhere. Who is going to be Horse of the Year?
But has the Breeders' Cup really been that important when it comes to Horse of the Year honors since the turn of the century? While it certainly looks good on a resume, it hasn't been the end-all every year.
Let's take a look at how much weight a Breeders' Cup victory has carried since Charismatic won the award in 1999.
While the Classic does seem to play a role in the voting for Horse of the Year some years, it seems to be a cap for horses with an already good season. It is worth noting that only one of the big horses in the running for Horse of the Year this year is confirmed for the Classic.
Game On Dude will try to better his second place trip last year in the Classic while Wise Dan runs in the Breeders' Cup Mile and turf hero Point of Entry runs in the Breeders' Cup Turf.
While Wise Dan does have wins on the dirt, Point of Entry will have to fight an uphill battle as one has to look back to 1993 to find a turf horse voted Horse of the Year in Kotashaan (FR).
Tiznow was the first horse to win the Horse of the Year award in the new century, and he did it in style. The three-year-old colt didn't start racing until late April 2000 and finished sixth in his first race. It took the son of Cee's Tizzy three starts to break his maiden, but after he broke it, he went on a rampage.
Tiznow won four graded races that year and finished second in two others. He topped it off with his first win in the Breeders' Cup Classic. He is still the only horse to win two Breeders' Cup Classics.
Overall in 2000, the colt won two Grade 1 races and finished second in two others with a Grade 2 and Grade 3 victory to round out his resume.
The 2001 Kentucky Derby favorite didn't race past late August but had a nearly flawless year. The Thunder Gulch three-year-old's only blemish was a fifth in the Kentucky Derby, in his seven races of 2011; he won the other six.
The wins included both the Preakness and Belmont and the Haskell/Travers double. Every race he ran in that year was a graded stakes race. When he retired after his Travers win, he had five Grade 1 victories and one Grade 2 victory on his 2011 resume.
Possibly the only Horse of the Year Breeders' Cup winner that didn't win the Classic in this century, Azeri's 2002 Horse of the Year title came off a magical season.
The four-year-old filly entered 2002 with just two races under her belt, but both of those races were wins. She suffered her first defeat in the G2 La Canada Stakes in February 2002 but went on to fire off seven straight wins for the rest of her season (and 11 consecutive until September 2003).
Azeri's 2002 season with a five-length romp in the Breeders' Cup Distaff for her fifth Grade 1 victory that season. Overall in 2002, she raced nine times and had eight wins and a second.
Mineshaft's sire 1992 HOY A.P. Indy
A.P. Indy son Mineshaft didn't race after the 2003 G1 Jockey Club Gold Cup, but his season of work was enough to win him Horse of the Year.
He started out 2003 with a win in an ungraded stakes and lost his next out, but overall, won six races that year. Mineshaft raced nine times in 2003 and picked up four Grade 1 wins in addition to a Grade 2 and Grade 3 win.
Ghostzapper had a very short season in 2004, but going undefeated earned him Horse of the Year honors.
The four-year-old Awesome Again son didn't start racing until July of that year but pulled off four straight wins by a combined 18 1/4 lengths. While only two of those were Grade 1 affairs, he won the G3 Philip H. Iselin Breeders' Cup Handicap by 10 3/4 lengths.
In addition to being the sire of another Horse of the Year on this list, Saint Liam earned his own Horse of the Year title in 2005.
The five-year-old had six starts that year and won four of them with a second in the G1 Whitney Handicap. His only off-the-board finish came in the G1 Santa Anita Handicap in March.
While Saint Liam did have the sixth place on his record, four Grade 1 victories, including the Breeders' Cup Classic, won him the award.
The South American invader left his mark on American soil in 2006 when Invasor (ARG) won all four of his starts in this country. This year did come down to the Breeders' Cup Classic with the four-year-old battling it out with three-year-old Bernardini for the honors.
Horse of the Year came down to a length, and Invasor came out the winner in a short-lived rivalry between the two.
Overall that year, Invasor won four Grade 1 events. He went on to win the Donn Handicap in 2005 for his final start on American soil (he retired after winning the Dubai World Cup).
Another late starter, Curlin didn't debut until February of his three-year-old year.
However, wins in his second and third starts, both graded stakes races, earned him a spot in the Kentucky Derby. The Smart Strike colt would finish third in the most competitive Derby we have seen this century before going on to win the G1 Preakness and fall to the filly Rags to Riches in the G1 Belmont.
Curlin won five of his nine starts that year, including the Breeders' Cup Classic. His wins included three Grade 1 events, a Grade 2 and a Grade 3.
Curlin would win his second Horse of the Year title in 2008 but would not win the Breeders' Cup Classic. The four-year-old would start his year off with a prep in Dubai before winning the G1 Emirates Airline Dubai World Cup. He would try his hand at turf, finishing second in the G1 Man o' War Stakes, but the worst finish of his career would come on the synthetics at the Breeders' Cup Classic where he finished fourth.
The colt would finish 2008 with a record of seven starts, five wins, one second and one fourth for his season. However, the only American-based horse to finish in front of him that year was Tiago, the little brother to 2005 Kentucky Derby winner Giacomo.
In one of the most controversial Horse of the Year sagas of the decade, the three-year-old filly beat out the older mare (and Classic winner) to win Horse of the Year in 2009.
Rachel Alexandra went a perfect eight-of-eight in 2009, including three wins over males. She finished her year in early September after a win in the G1 Woodward Stakes for a body of work that earned her over $2.7 million in under eight months.
Rachel's 2009 resume would include a 20 1/4-length victory in the Kentucky Oaks for five Grade 1 wins and two Grade 2 wins on the year.
In another controversial Horse-of-the-Year situation, the 2009 Breeders' Cup Classic winner would win the Horse of the Year award in 2010.
Zenyatta, a winner of 19 of her 20 lifetime starts finished second by a head to Blame in the 2010 Breeders' Cup Classic but came away as the Horse of the Year.
The six-year-old Street Cry (IRE) mare would have a 2010 record of five wins in six starts. All five of those wins were in Grade 1 events.
Six years after her sire won the award, Havre de Grace would be the third female in a row to win Horse of the Year when she took it home in 2011.
The four-year-old Saint Liam filly made seven starts in 2011, winning five of those and finishing second in an extremely close G2 Delaware Handicap.
Like Curlin, Havre De Grace finished fourth in the Breeders' Cup Classic on her way to the Horse of the Year honor. She ended her year with a resume of three Grade 1 wins and two Grade 3 victories in seven starts.