Voting for North American Horse of the Year will commence soon and the odds-on favorite for the coveted title is Gun Runner.  The facts are clear that Gun Runner was dominant in the second half of 2017, but for the first half of the year Arrogate was manifestly the best horse on dirt in the world, with arguably the best record ever in such a short period of time.

During the first half of 2017, Arrogate won the two richest races in the world, which followed his win in November 2016 in the Breeders’ Cup Classic.

  • 1st in the Grade 1 Pegasus World Cup Invitational (1/28/17)
  • 1st in the Grade 1 Dubai World Cup (3/25/17)

Meanwhile, from January through June 2017, Gun Runner won two races and finished second to Arrogate in the other race:

  • 1st in the Grade 2 Razorback Handicap (2/20/17)
  • 2nd in the Grade 1 Dubai World Cup (3/25/17)
  • 1st in the Grade 1 Stephen Foster Handicap (6/17/17)

From July through December 2017, the situation completely reversed itself as Gun Runner went undefeated and Arrogate tailed off badly.

Gun Runner won three races and Arrogate lost three races, including to Gun Runner in the Breeders’ Cup Classic.  Gun Runner’s record was:

  • 1st in the Grade 1 Whitney Handicap (8/15/17)
  • 1st in the Grade 1 Woodward Stakes (9/2/17)
  • 1st in the Grade 1 Breeders’ Cup Classic (11/4/2017)

By contrast, Arrogate was:

  • 4th in the Grade 2 San Diego Handicap (7/22/17)
  • 2nd in the Grade 1 Pacific Classic (8/19/17)
  • 5th in the Grade 1 Breeders’ Cup Classic (11/4/17)

Arrogate won more purse money ($13.2 million) in the 2017 Pegasus World Cup Invitational and the 2017 Dubai World Cup than Gun Runner has earned in his entire career ($8.6 million) and retired as the leading money winner of all time with an astonishing $17.5 million.  His recovery from a poor start to win the Dubai World Cup made him look like a super horse; caught up in the emotion of the moment, the race announcer called him “the Man O’ War of the 21st century” and Arrogate’s trainer, Bob Baffert, said he was the preeminent horse since Secretariat.  While Arrogate and Gun Runner split in their two races in 2017, Arrogate bested Gun Runner twice in the three times they met overall.

On the other hand, Gun Runner was unquestionably much more consistent than Arrogate in 2017, winning five of six races in comparison to Arrogate’s record of two wins in five starts.

The cognitive principle known as the recency effect is that humans remember best the most recently presented items or experiences.  Applying this to the forgoing information, in terms of relative performance in 2017, we are prone to overvalue the merits of Gun Runner and undervalue the merits of Arrogate simply because Gun Runner did so much better than Arrogate in the latter half of the year.

The recency effect will likely prevail among voters and Gun Runner will be named Horse of the Year.  Yet the choice is not as cut and dried as it seems because of the difficulty and historical first of Arrogate’s two wins in 2017 in the world’s richest races.

Maybe each should be crowned Horse of the Half Year.

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