So I’m on vacation in Arizona, taking in some spring training baseball, and lo and behold John Shirreffs, the trainer whom I voted No. 1 in my Eclipse Award balloting earlier this year, enjoyed quite a weekend.
Funny, but I haven’t heard from any of the detractors who derided me for voting for Shirreffs over a guy like Steve Asmussen, who they pointed out had way more wins and started way more horses in 2009.
True on both accounts, but as I pointed out then and I repeat now — the number of starters you send out does not prove your worth as a trainer. It’s win percentage, and Shirreffs’ annual rate of about 20 percent is pretty darn good.
Now back to Saturday, when Shirreffs had his horse — Zenyatta — far more prepared to win a comeback race than Asmussen. Score one for Shirreffs. Then, to top it off, the third best distaffer in Shirreffs’ barn, Zardana, beat the filly, Rachel Alexandra, who was running in a prep for the Apple Blossom Handicap and the big showdown against Zenyatta.
Just because John Shirreffs does not start 2,000 horses a year and doesn’t have racing operations in other parts of the nation doesn’t mean he’s not one of the top trainers in the business.
Sometimes, you just have to look a little bit beyond the raw numbers.