Making a Case for Idiomatic for Horse of the Year

November 9, 2023

Idiomatic wins the Breeders’ Cup Distaff (G1) Nov. 4 at Santa Anita (Ernie Belmonte/Past The Wire)

By Ashley Tamulonis

With Elite Power and Cody’s Wish successfully defending their respective Breeders’ Cup titles this year, most of the chatter concerning the prospective 2023 Horse of the Year has centered on those two. However, Cody’s Wish received a whopping dose of sentiment in his favor when Cody Dorman, for whom he was named, passed away the day after Cody’s Wish grittily won the Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile for the second consecutive year. My heart was certainly swayed to Team Cody’s Wish; however, before that story took a tragic turn and my heart interfered, my head was on an entirely different team, one not yet mentioned here.

Four-year-old Idiomatic rose from obscurity to become the undisputed Queen of the Distaff Division this year. A late-bloomer, the Curlin filly did not debut until her 3-year-old year and then made just three starts, compiling a record of 3: 1-0-2. 

Trained by Brad Cox, the Juddmonte homebred began this year at Turfway Park in January. She rattled off three straight victories over the track’s all-weather surface, including the $250,000 Latonia Stakes. Cox shipped Idiomatic to Belmont Park for May’s Grade 2 Ruffian Stakes, resulting in the filly’s only defeat of the year. With Trevor McCarthy aboard, the filly pressed the pace from second but had no answer for Pass the Champagne, who blew right past her and drew off to a 5 ½-length victory.

From there on, it was nothing but visits to the winner’s circle as Idiomatic clicked off victories in Churchill Downs’s Shawnee Stakes (G3), Delaware Park’s Delaware Handicap (G2), Saratoga’s Personal Ensign (G1), Keeneland’s Spinster (G1), and in the Breeders’ Cup Distaff (G1) (held at Santa Anita this year). In doing so, she defeated multiple grade one winners, including beating last year’s Champion 3-Year Old Filly Nest twice.

Idiomatic after her victory in the Spinster (G1) Oct. 8 at Keeneland (Courtney Snow/Past The Wire)

Nine starts. Seven tracks. Victories at six different tracks. Six stakes wins, five of them graded. Three triumphs at the highest level, including a much-coveted win at the World Championships. You don’t see a résumé like that too often these days, especially when you consider that the previous two Horses of the Year, Flightline and Knicks Go, had just eight combined starts for their championship campaigns.

Meanwhile, Elite Power and Cody’s Wish have ten combined starts, five each. Elite Power raced in two countries and at four different tracks. He won four graded stakes, two of them grade ones. Cody’s Wish also visited four tracks and won four graded stakes, but three of his victories were at the highest level. Elite Power did race in February but then was away from the races for 3 ½-months. Cody’s Wish, on the other hand, did not make his first start of 2023 until May.

The lone blemish on Idiomatic’s résumé is that she never faced males. However, that is hardly fair, and historically, it doesn’t hold up. Male Horse of the Year winners never get knocked for not beating the top females during their campaign. It certainly helps, but it’s not necessary. Recent female winners Havre de Grace, Zenyatta, and Rachel Alexandra did face males during their championship campaigns, and while that is typical, it is not always the case. When Azeri was named Horse of the Year in 2002, she stayed entirely within her division, setting a precedent for Idiomatic here.

In an era when we bemoan the fact that our sport’s biggest stars spend more time training than racing, it is senseless to not reward a filly that not only raced during the winter while the many big names were on vacation but also continued to regularly race throughout the year. Without a doubt, Idiomatic will be named Champion Older Female, but she has more than earned Horse of the Year honors, as well.

Contributing Authors

Ashley Tamulonis

Ashley Tamulonis

Ashley has been an avid horse racing fan since she was introduced to the sport through the Joanna Campbell series "Thoroughbred." As a Georgia native...

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