Finalists for the Eclipse Awards will be announced in January, so with a dearth of topics to write about this time of year, I’ll take this opportunity to make some predictions, as well as note some preferences in each of the categories. Who I think will win is noted, followed in brackets by who I think should win, if different.
Champion Two-Year-Old Colt: War Pass
Four-for-four, including two G1 wins (Champagne and BC Juvenile), War Pass made it look easy. Majestic Warrior also looked good in the G1 Hopeful, then disappointed in the Champagne (which he came out of injured). Pyro may get some votes, but let’s get real…he won’t get the classic distances come next spring. Ready’s Image was high on my Derby watch list after his dominating Tremont win and his crushing win in the G2 Sanford; however, he lost to Majestic Warrior in the Hopeful, then failed miserably in the G1 Champagne, finishing last and going to the sidelines for the year. For those with an eye towards the first Saturday in May, though, two words: Turf War. Remember him…
Champion Two-Year-Old Filly: Indian Blessing
Three dominating wins, including two G1s (Frizette and BC Juvenile Filly), should give Indian Blessing the trophy here. Country Star is a worthy runner-up, with two G1 victories (Alcibiades and Hollywood Starlet). Still, Rated Fiesty impressed me mightily (winning the G3 KY BC Stakes over males, including Ready’s Image) before her season-ending injury in August. I’d like to see her nominated.
Champion Three-Year-Old Male Horse: Curlin
Certainly one of the most competitive categories, although Curlin clearly reigns supreme here, winning three G1s (BC Classic, Jockey Club Gold Cup, Preakness) It all began with that huge maiden win (by nearly 13 lengths) in February, then two equally-impressive victories at Fair Grounds in the G3 Rebel and G2 Arkansas Derby. He may have been a bit green facing a huge field for the first time in the Kentucky Derby, but he came off that third-place finish with a victory over Street Sense in the Preakness, and a narrow defeat to the filly Rags to Riches in the Belmont. Any Given Saturday and Hard Spun beat him in the G1 Haskell, but he followed that with a big win over Lawyer Ron in the JCGC and, of course, the Classic. Hands-down, Curlin wins. Obviously, Street Sense gets some votes—he put on one helluva year too, especially with the Derby win, but Hard Spun won my heart. His G1 finishes (won King’s Bishop, second in Derby, BC Classic, Haskell, third in Preakness) impressed me—even though he finished behind Street Sense in the Derby and Preakness, he beat him at year’s end (in the Classic) as well as in the KY Cup Classic. I love Curlin and find him a deserving champ…but I wish Hard Spun could win.
Champion Three-Year-Old Filly: Rags to Riches
No question, Rags to Riches’ Belmont victory sealed this award six months ago. Still, stablemate Octave (G1s Mother Goose, Coaching Club American Oaks) gave an amazingly consistent effort all year long—always gutsy, always in the money. Dream Rush will probably get some votes, with her two G1 (Test, Prioress) victories this year, as will similarly-successful Panty Raid (American Oaks, Spinster). Unfortunately one of my favorite fillies, Tough Tiz’s Sis (G1 Lady’s Secret, G2 Hollywood BC Oaks) couldn’t put it together when it counted—against the big-time East Coast horses. My sentimental winner in this category would be Bit of Whimsy (G1 QEII Challenge Cup, G2 Mrs. Revere, G3 Sands Point), but running on grass probably eliminates her in many voters’ minds.
Champion Older Male Horse: Lawyer Ron (Corinthian)
Corinthian’s victory in the BC Dirt Mile and G1 Met Mile make him my pick for older horse, probably the weakest category in the whole bunch. Lawyer Ron looked amazing winning the G1s Woodward and Whitney, but the BC Classic (even in the slop) was crushing. Awesome Gem’s third-place showing in the BC Classic and two G1 second-place finishes (Pacific Classic, Goodwood)—both in California—aren’t enough to impress me. Midnight Lute should get some consideration here too, with that amazing BC Sprint victory and his impressive G1 Forego, but his second-place finish in the G2 Cigar Mile most recently probably cost him this award (he won’t go winless, though…)
Champion Older Female Horse: Ginger Punch
Not sure how one could argue against Ginger Punch. Three G1 wins—Ruffian, Go for Wand, and BC Distaff. Hystericalady won the G1 Humana Distaff, finished second in the BC Distaff and G1 Lady’s Secret, and took third in the G1 Vanity—definitely a fine season for her—and she should be a finalist, as will Miss Shop, Balance, and/or Nashoba’s Key.
Champion Sprint Horse: Midnight Lute
Midnight Lute’s aforementioned BC Sprint victory and G1 Forego win give him the edge, but what if…? What if the track hadn’t been a soupy mess? Would Idiot Proof been able to hold on for the win? That one had a nice season, with G1 Ancient Title win, and new track record at Monmouth in G3 Jersey Shore BC Stakes. What if Fabulous Strike (G1 Vosburgh winner) had been healthy? He looked extremely strong coming into the BC Sprint. Benny the Bull (fourth in BC Sprint) also finished the season well, with a win over Talent Search (third in BC Sprint) in the G1 Frank DeFrancis Memorial Dash.
Champion Female Sprint Horse: Maryfield (Dream Rush)
Maryfield won three of eight races this year—the G1 Ballerina and the BC F&M Sprint, being the two most significant. Sorry, I’m just not that excited about her. For not winning a single race this year, Miraculous Miss certainly made an impression, finishing ½ length in second behind Maryfield in the BC F&M Sprint, and third against the boys in the G1 DeFrancis Memorial Dash. So, why not Dream Rush? Except for the sloppy BC F&M Sprint, she had an amazing season, winning four graded stakes, including the G1s Prioress and Test, and she was just beat after leading throughout in the 8-furlong G1 Acorn. My sentimental favorite here, Miss Macy Sue, just didn’t come through in the BC F&M Sprint, so no trophy this year.
Champion Male Turf Horse: English Channel
With three G1 wins (BC Turf, United Nations, Joe Hirsch Turf Classic) and two second-place G1 finishes (Manhattan, Sword Dancer), the five-year-old English Channel wins hands-down for me. Kip Deville’s G1 wins (BC Turf Mile, Kilroe) gets him some votes, as should Cosmonaut who put together a string of good showings this year, including third in the G1 BC Turf Mile (but could only muster second-place showing in G3 River City Handicap in late November). Jambalaya had two G1 wins (Gulfstream Park BC Turf, Arlington Million), but went to the sidelines before the BC, as did the promising season for five-year-old Einstein after he nearly went down in the Dixie. My sentimental selection (after English Channel) would be seven-year-old Cloudy’s Knight whose two biggest wins this year were in Canada (G1 Canadian International, G2 Sky Classic).
Champion Female Turf Horse: Citronnade (Honey Ryder)
The BC F&M Turf was one of two G1 won by Lahudood (the other was the Flower Bowl), but I don’t consider that one a lock for the title. I consider Honey Ryder a much better horse than Lahudood, especially given her second-place performance in the G1 United Nations against BC Turf winner English Channel and Better Talk Now. However, her trip to Dubai early in the year seemed to take a little out of her campaigning this year. Nashoba’s Key made an auspicious start, going 7 for 7—all in California (including G1s Yellow Ribbon, Vanity Invitational)—but finished fourth on the wet turf at Monmouth. So, that leaves Citronnade who skipped the BC, but won five graded stakes this year, including most recently the [correction] G2 Dahlia(but lost to Nashoba’s Key in the Yellow Ribbon).
Horse of the Year: Curlin
Curlin may be one of the finest horses of this decade. The big question is, will we ever know for sure if he goes the way of Street Sense, Hard Spun and virtually every other three-year-old of quality this year? For the good of the sport, I hope we'll get a chance to find out. Other nominees here: English Channel and Rags to Riches, the latter which I think would be Horse of the Year if she had been able to continue racing this year.
Outstanding Owner: Stronach Stables (Maggi Moss)
Curlin may be the best horse in America, but there is no way his loathsome collection of dysfunctional owners should get this award. Stronach Stables (Citronnade, Ginger Punch, Sugar Shake) has the edge in total earnings by nearly $1 million over Zayat Stables (Mushka, Maimonides, Z Humor), but I think the “little” owner should get this award—Maggi Moss, whose stable consists entirely of claimers and former claimers who have migrated to allowance and stakes ranks. She won over $4 million this year, winning at a 27% clip and 60% in the money (yes, 60% with claimers and former claimers!), with over 700 starts. She deserves this win, not just because of what she accomplished, but the means by which it was done, which was arguably a whole lot tougher than others with far deeper pockets.
Outstanding Breeder: Adena Springs
Citronnade, Ginger Punch,…no contest here.
Outstanding Trainer: Steve Asmussen
Yes, Todd Pletcher leads in money won and is number three in total wins, but I hope I’m not the only one who thought his results in the second half of this year were disappointing. There was that drought at Saratoga and the absence of outstanding two-year-old prospects for the Toddster, so, as much as it pains me, I figure Steve Asmussen wins his first Eclipse this year. And I hate that to the very core of my being…Who would I like to be nominated and/or win? Bill Mott and Graham Motion are two of my perpetual favorites who had very solid years. Doug O’Neill also had some nice horses, particularly Maryfield, Shamdinan, Spring at Last, Mistical Plan and, of course, Lava Man. I really want to see “Cowboy” Larry Jones get some love too—holding Hard Spun’s campaign together this year was phenomenonal.
Outstanding Jockey: Garrett Gomez
While Calvin Borel won the Derby and the hearts of fans everywhere with his pure joy for the sport, Garrett Gomez rode the absolute best this year. The Toddster’s number 1 go-to jock, John Velazquez looked to be in the driver’s seat with winning mounts early in the year, but, in all honesty, if I were an owner and couldn’t get Garrett Gomez, my next choice would be Edgar Prado, Ramon Dominguez or Elvis Trujillo, probably in that order.
Outstanding Apprentice Jockey: Joe Talamo
Teenage sensation Joe Talamo should easily win this year, and there is no denying his success and talent—top 15 in earnings and wins. However, Carol Cedeno has had one helluva season, so I’m hoping she gets some well-deserved votes too.