History to be made as one of these 10 will be the 2022 Kentucky Sports Figure of the Year

Ashley Landis/AP

Whatever the ultimate outcome, history has already been made in the voting for the 2022 Lexington Herald-Leader Kentucky Sports Figure of the Year Award.

As we will reveal below, among the 10 finalists — as selected in voting by 143 sports media members from around the commonwealth — to become the 42nd winner of the Kentucky Sports Figure of the Year Award are not one, but two, horses.

That has never happened before in the four decades-plus history of the award.

This year, both long-shot Kentucky Derby champion Rich Strike and unbeaten Breeders’ Cup champ Flightline are among the top 10 vote-getters to be the Kentucky Sports Figure of the Year.

When the winner is announced Tuesday around 9 a.m. on Kentucky.com, the two equine stars will be contending with eight human sports standouts for the award that goes to the one who represented the best in sports in the commonwealth for 2022.

No doubt, there are neigh-sayers who scoff at horses being included in competition with people for sports awards.

In my view, Kentucky’s horse racing culture is a big part of what makes sports in our state unique. So it has always seemed appropriate to me that the primary stars of the Thoroughbred industry — the horses — are in the running for Kentucky Sports Figure of the Year honors.

Who are Flightline and Rich Strike competing against to be recognized as tops in Kentucky sports in 2022?

Below, in alphabetical order, are all 10 finalists for the 2022 Lexington Herald-Leader Kentucky Sports Figure of the Year Award with a brief description of their achievements:

For the second year in a row, Dani Busboom Kelly coached the Louisville Cardinals (31-3) to women’s volleyball’s NCAA Tournament Final Four. For the first time in school history, the Cardinals advanced to the national championship match.

In what was only Bellarmine’s second season of transition from NCAA Division II to Division I in men’s basketball, Scott Davenport coached the Knights (20-13) to the ASUN Tournament championship.

The Kentucky-bred Flightline ended his stellar 2022 with a dominant 8 1/4-length victory in the Breeders’ Cup Classic at Keeneland.

Kentucky women’s basketball star Rhyne Howard led the Wildcats to their first SEC Tournament championship in 40 years. The Cleveland, Tenn., product went on to become the top choice in the 2022 WNBA Draft and win league Rookie of the Year honors.

Sydney McLaughlin-Levrone, the former UK track and field star, continued to dazzle on the international level by winning the 400-meter hurdles in the World Athletics Championships in a world-record time and anchoring Team USA to a gold medal in the 4-by-400 relay.

Ex-Murray State star Ja Morant blossomed into a full-fledged NBA superstar in 2021-22, averaging 27.4 points, 5.7 rebounds and 6.7 assists a game.

Given daring navigation by little-known jockey Sonny Leon, the Kentucky-bred Rich Strike took advantage of withering early fractions in the Kentucky Derby and uncorked a stirring run through the stretch to win the Run for the Roses at 80-1 odds.

In a spectacular senior season, Kentucky Wildcats star sprinter Abby Steiner won three NCAA championships, set collegiate records, won the U.S. championship in her specialty (200 meters) and claimed two relay gold medals with Team USA at the World Athletics Championships.

St. Xavier High School alumnus Justin Thomas won the second PGA Championship of his career, giving him two majors and, as a result, a valid rationale for claiming the mantle as the greatest golfer ever produced in Kentucky.

UK men’s basketball star Oscar Tshiebwe presumably had to invest in a new trophy case after sweeping every major national player of the year award in a remarkable first season playing for Kentucky.

If you are wondering, one horse — Triple Crown winner American Pharoah in 2015 — has previously won the Kentucky Sports Figure of the Year Award.

You can find out Tuesday morning on Kentucky.com and in Wednesday’s print edition of the Lexington Herald-Leader whether Flightline or Rich Strike can join Pharoah in the Lexington Herald-Leader Kentucky Sports Figure of the Year Award winner’s circle.