Honorific wanderings through horse racing and hockey

 I love the word “vagary.” It comes from the Latin vagari, “to wander”; one definition is “an erratic, unpredictable, or extravagant manifestation, action, or notion.”

I also rather like alliteration. Horse of the Year. Hart Trophy. Halls of Fame. Hockey. Horse racing.  Hmm…surely something there to wander through? And maybe a great excuse to finally figure out how to insert one of those groovy tables in a post?

If this were a paper that one of my students had written, I’d probably comment, “Nice observations. What’s the significance?”

And I wouldn’t have an answer. There are too many variables between the two sports to draw any particularly trenchant conclusions: variables in the way they are played, in the elements of competition, in the types of awards.

Nonetheless, it was fun digging through the histories of the two sports, and presented herewith, for your observation/comment/derision, are the results of that digging, of my recent vagaries.    

We know that there are no criteria for Horse of the Year; voters can pretty much for whomever they want to, based on whatever is important to them. 

Hockey’s equivalent of Horse of the Year is the Hart Trophy, “given to the player judged to be the most valuable to his team. The winner is selected in a poll of the Professional Hockey Writers’ Association in all NHL cities at the end of the regular season.” Like the Eclipse, the Hart is voted on by members of the media vote; unlike the Eclipse winner, the Hart winner is determined only by media members.

Sherry Ross is the color commentator for the New Jersey Devils, and she formerly covered the Rangers for the Daily News; she has also written about racing for that paper and now covers the sport for ESPNNewYork.com. She’s participated in voting for both the Hart and the Eclipse, and I contacted her to get her thoughts on what writers take into consideration when they vote for the Hart.  

“Although it is not a guideline,” she said in an e-mail, “most voters in my experience have focused on players who combined outstanding personal stats with their team making the playoffs and usually finishing in a prominent position in the standings.”

While I can’t recall hockey ever having as disputatious a conversation about the Hart as racing has had the last two years about Horse of the Year, Hart voting is not without its controversies. Ryan Stanzel, media relations and team services coordinator for the Minnesota Wild, noted that in 2002, Montreal goaltender José Theodore and Calgary’s Jarome Iginla tied in the voting.  Iginla led the league in goals with 52, while Theodore was seen by some as having been essential to his team’s making the playoffs as the eighth seed.  In the case of a tie, the player who got more first place votes win, and the Hart went to Theodore. 

Had the Horse of the Year vote in 2009 ended in a tie, as some had hoped, it would have…ended in a tie, yes? Or is there a tiebreaker option there as well?

Unlike racing, the NHL offers a completely objective achievement award: instituted in 1999, the Maurice Richard Trophy goes to the player who scores the most goals in the regular season. In the 11 years in which the award’s been given, only twice has the same player – Alex Ovechkin in 2008 and 2009 – won both the Hart and the Richard, even in years when the Richard has been shared among multiple players.

Racing doesn’t offer an award to the horse that wins the most races or earns the most money – the sport’s most objective indicators of success – but going back to 2000, five horses who have earned Horse of the Year honors have led the table in earnings, according to Equibase.

It’s difficult to determine where the HOTY winners fell in terms of wins, because all the data I could find is based on earnings; if a horse isn’t in the top 100 in earnings, he’s not on the list. Obviously, there’s a correlation between wins and earnings, but it seems possible to me that a horse could have won more races than the Horse of the Year and still not cracked the top 100 in earnings.

OK, so there’s the Hart and the Horse of the Year. What about the Hall of Fame?

Thoroughbreds become eligible for the Racing Hall of Fame when five calendar years have elapsed between their last year of racing and their year of nomination. Hockey players need to be retired for three seasons, though it’s unclear whether that means retired from the NHL, or from hockey overall.  For instance: Jaromir Jagr hasn’t played in this country since 2008, but he’s been playing Russia since then. I suspect that he’s not eligible for the Hall, but the nomination process doesn’t make it clear.

Players are considered for the Hockey Hall of Fame on the basis of their "playing ability, sportsmanship, character, and contribution to the team or teams and to the game of hockey in general." The Racing Hall of Fame offers no such guidelines for consideration.  

And here’s where I get to use that little chart, to compare the Horses of the Year that got into the Hall with the Hart trophy winners who did.  


Year Horse of the Year Hall of Fame Hart Trophy winner Hall of Fame
2010  Zenyatta  Not eligible  Hendrik Sedin  Not eligible
 2009  Rachel Alexandra  Not eligible  Alex Ovechkin  Not eligible
 2008  Curlin  Not eligible  Alex Ovechkin  Not eligible
 2007  Curlin  Not eligible  Sidney Crosby  Not eligible
 2006  Invasor  Not eligible  Joe Thornton  Not eligible
 2005  St. Liam Eligible for the first time this year  Lockout year  
 2004  Ghostzapper Eligible for the first time this year  Martin St. Louis  Not eligible
 2003  Mineshaft  No  Peter Forsberg  Not eligible
 2002  Azeri  Yes  Jose Theodore  Not eligible
 2001  Point Given  Yes  Joe Sakic  Not eligible
 2000  Tiznow  Yes  Chris Pronger  Not eligible
 1999  Charismatic    Jaromir Jagr  Not eligible
 1998  Skip Away  Yes  Dominik Hasek  Not eligible
 1997  Favorite Trick    Dominik Hasek  Not eligible
 1996  Cigar  Yes  Mario Lemieux  Yes
 1995  Cigar  Yes  Eric Lindros  
 1994  Holy Bull  Yes  Sergei Federov  Not eligible
 1993  Kotashaan    Mario Lemieux  Yes
 1992  A.P. Indy  Yes  Mark Messier  Yes
 1991  Black Tie Affair    Brett Hull  Yes
 1990  Criminal Type    Mark Messier  Yes
 1989  Sunday Silence  Yes  Wayne Gretzky  Yes
 1988  Alysheba  Yes Mario Lemieux  Yes
 1987  Ferdinand    Wayne Gretzky  Yes
 1986  Lady’s Secret  Yes  Wayne Gretzky  Yes
 1985  Spend A Buck    Wayne Gretzky  Yes
 1984  John Henry  Yes  Wayne Gretzky  Yes
 1983  All Along  Yes  Wayne Gretzky  Yes
1982  Conquistador Cielo   Wayne Gretzky  Yes
1981  John Henry  Yes Wayne Gretzky  Yes
 1980  Spectacular Bid  Yes  Wayne Gretzky  Yes
1979  Affirmed  Yes Bryan Trottier  Yes
1978  Affirmed  Yes  Guy Lafleur  Yes
1977  Seattle Slew  Yes  Guy Lafleur  Yes
1976  Forego  Yes  Bobby Clarke  Yes
1975  Forego  Yes  Bobby Clarke  Yes
1974  Forego  Yes  Phil Esposito  Yes
1973  Secretariat  Yes Bobby Clarke  Yes
1972  Secretariat  Yes  Bobby Orr  Yes
1971  Ack Ack  Yes  Bobby Orr  Yes

 Fort Marcy (DRF)

Personality (TRA)



 Bobby Orr  Yes


Kind of makes you feel sorry for Eric Lindros, doesn’t it?  

One wonders how many of those players not currently eligible will make it into the Hall; I suspect that that the trend of the last few decades, in which a Hart Trophy pretty much guarantees entry, will come to an end. Similarly, of the horses who will become eligible in the next few years, how many, beyond the females, are going to be Hall of Fame locks?  

10 thoughts on “Honorific wanderings through horse racing and hockey

  1. Thanks, Wendy – great to hear from you! Surprising, isn’t it, that Yzerman never won a Hart, especially with all those Stanley Cup rings. God, I hate seeing Pronger’s name on that list.

  2. Nothing makes me sorry for Eric Lindros. Only Ranger I can say I outright hated. I even warmed up to Kasparaitis & Pilon.

  3. Sad that Ferdinand is not in the Hall of Fame it would help push Anti-Slaughter Legislation through Congress–so many of our horses suffer terrible fates after their careers are ended. On a lighter note, I believe greatness in most endeavours is only appreciated with the passage of time.

  4. I liked Lindros, Ian. He was one of my favorite Rangers. Not sure he’s Hall-worthy, but I thought he was good for the team.

    I’m not sure, Pam, that political considerations are taken into account for the Hall of Fame…though I guess I’m about to find out!

    Who surprised you, Linda?

  5. Yeah, Ed, I realized last night that I mis-read the eligibility – that they’re eligible in the sixth year of their retirement, not once they’ve been retired five years. I’ll fix that.

  6. Oops, sorry for the late response, I was traveling on Tuesday. I guess I am surprised by Charismatic and Mineshaft not being in the Hall.

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