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Monday, December 22, 2008

My Eclipse Ballot

Fans like me, unfortunately, have no say in the end-of-the-year Eclipse Awards. However, that doesn’t prevent me from having an opinion and expressing it. Here are my choices, if I had a vote:

Older Male:
1. Curlin
2. Einstein
3. Commentator

Curlin winning the G1 Dubai World Cup was the single most impressive performance by an older male horse this year—‘tis a shame that late March event marked a high-point, as the rest of the year was so very poor for male runners overall. Einstein’s impressive turf record this year (particularly three 8f races that were not at his optimum distance) plus a runner-up second to Curlin in the G1 Stephen Foster and a victory over Commentator in the G2 Clark—both on dirt—add an amazing dimension for this game competitor. Commentator never finished out the money in six attempts, and won four times (three times by double digit margins).

Honorable Mention: Heatseeker retired in July after suffering a career-ending injury, more the pity as he had demonstrated superior ability in winning the G1 Santa Anita Handicap, and the G2 Californian.

Older Female:
1. Zenyatta
2. Cocoa Beach
3. Tough Tiz’s Sis

Together with the 3YO Female category, this was the toughest, most competitive group of the year. No one can deny Zenyatta’s greatness after going seven for seven, including four G1s—and one of those a masterful dirt performance in the G1 Apple Blossom at Oaklawn. While only half of her races this year were run in North America, Cocoa Beach proved an impressive competitor, defeating Ginger Punch and Lemon Drop Mom in the G1 Beldame, finishing second to Zenyatta in the G1 Breeders’ Cup Distaff, and then following that up with a turf victory in the G1 Matriarch over Precious Kitten. Never out the money, Tough Tiz’s Sis was extremely game, including nearly knocking off Zenyatta in the G1 Vanity, and, in her final race, romping by 12+ lengths in the sloppy G1 Ruffian at Belmont. Her big Bris Speed number in that race tips her over Ginger Punch and Hystericalady.

Honorable Mention: Nashoba’s Key, who we lost due to an unfortunate stable accident, may have given Zenyatta a run for her money on more than one occasion.

3YO Male:
1. Big Brown
2. Fatal Bullet
3. Colonel John

Big Brown had Triple Crown talent—he won the G1 Kentucky Derby impressively, and then the G1 Preakness. Then the inexplicable G1 Belmont ruined everything, in more ways than one. The incredible weakness of this 3YO male crop doesn’t flatter him either, particularly Belmont victor Da’Tara who performed horribly in three subsequent graded efforts—and barely hit the board in a lowly AOC last out. Colonel John narrowly won the G3 Sham and G1 Santa Anita Derby early, before flopping in the G1 Kentucky Derby. His dramatic victory over Mambo in Seattle in the G1 Travers was memorable—but hardly a great race overall—and he was backing up in the G1 Classic. I refuse to believe horses such as Raven’s Pass and Henrythenavigator who run only once on American soil deserve consideration for this award. So, who’s my second pick behind Big Brown? Canadian Sovereign-winning Horse of the Year Fatal Bullet whose only flop was in the 97 degree-hot G2 Woody Stephens at Belmont. Otherwise, he dominated Woodbine, won at Presque Isle and Turfway (G3 Kentucky Cup Sprint), and gave a thrilling runner-up performance to Midnight Lute in the G1 BC Sprint, well ahead of the talented Street Boss.

Honorable Mention: none

3YO Female:
1. Proud Spell
2. Music Note
3. Eight Belles and Indian Blessing (tie)

Hands down, the toughest division, just loaded with talent. For me, Proud Spell eeks out this award over Music Note—while she lost the unfortunate G1 Mother Goose to her rival (after a horrible trip), Proud Spell came back to win by a head the G1 Alabama, one of the most exciting races of the year. The defining race for me, though, was Proud Spell’s performance in the G1 Kentucky Oaks, where she totally crushed 9 rivals over a sloppy track. However, I truly believe that the superstar 3YO filly this year would have been Eight Belles—‘nuff said. Indian Blessing’s achievements in the sprint division were notable, but how many remember she beat Proud Spell in the 8.5f G3 Silverbulletday before that one reversed the decision in the G2 Fair Grounds Oaks?

Honorable Mention: Now-retired Zaftig may have lost the BC Filly and Mare Sprint to Ventura and Indian Blessing, but had she raced well against older males in the G1 Cigar Mile, she may have earned a finalist placing.

2YO Male:
1. Midshipman
2. Vineyard Haven
3. Square Eddie and Street Hero (tie)

This category looks promising for next year’s 3YO crop—if they stay in training. Midshipman won the G1 Del Mar Futurity, narrowly missed in the G1 Norfolk, and then hung on for victory in the G1 BC Juvenile. Vineyard Haven cruised in the G1 Hopeful and G1 Champagne, but missed the BC. I can’t separate BC Juvenile runner-up Square Eddie from now-retired Street Hero who finished third, only one-half length behind Square Eddie, in the Juvenile. The former won the G1 Breeders’ Futurity at Keeneland (ahead of BC Juvenile fourth-place finisher Terrain and Pioneerof the Nile who won the G1 CallCall Futurity recently), while the latter won the G1 Norfolk over Midshipman.

Honorable Mention: Old Fashioned is undefeated in three starts, including the G2 Remsen which he dominated with a big speed figure—really looking forward to this one next year.

2YO Female:
1. Stardom Bound
2. Laragh
3. Dream Empress

G1 BC Juvenile Filly victress Stardom Bound was far best this year—at least on all-weather surfaces; it remains to be seen if she can run on regular old dirt. Laragh finished third in the BC Juvenile Filly Turf, but came back to win the G1 Hollywood Starlet on December 13. Dream Empress won the G1 Alcibiades before finishing runner-up to Stardom Bound in the BC Juvenile Filly; however, her horribly disappointing fourth of six (over 14 lengths back) in the G2 Golden Rod, doesn’t look good.

Honorable Mention: Springside was awesome in the G2 Demoiselle, but came out injured; hopefully she can regain form after rehab.

Sprint Male:
1. Street Boss
2. Fatal Bullet
3. Benny the Bull

Even with his loss in the G1 BC Sprint, Street Boss wins this for me based on his iron horse performance this year—nine races (albeit all in California), including six victories (two in G1 Triple Bend and G1 Bing Crosby). Fatal Bullet, for all the reasons mentioned previously. Benny the Bull ran (and won) four times between January and July—so very disappointing—but deserves mention as finalist, even above Midnight Lute.

Honorable Mention: Midnight Lute is the perfect example of why one race doesn’t make a seasonal champion. His G1 BC Sprint was awesome, but his only other race this year, the G2 Pat O’Brien, was horrific.

Sprint Female:
1. Indian Blessing
2. Ventura
3. Intangaroo

Indian Blessing wins this hands-down for me, despite her defeat in the BC Filly and Mare Sprint—she won five of eight races this year, including the G1 Prioress and G1 Test, arguably the best female sprint races. Ventura isn’t a pure sprinter, although she won a turf sprint and the 7f G2 Madison at Keeneland in April; she performed well as a turf miler, but no sprint G1 wins. Intagaroo won three 7f G1s at three different tracks—Santa Monica (Santa Anita), Humana Distaff (Churchill), and Ballerina (Saratoga)—so her BC performance was hugely disappointing; she would have earned this title above both the aforementioned.

Honorable Mention: Miraculous Miss finished second in both the Princess Rooney and Ballerina, then stretched out to 8.5f in the G1 Ruffian where she finished fourth; her BC fourth was deceptively good.

Turf male:
1. Einstein
2. Kip Deville
3. Grand Couturier

With only his ownership issues holding him back, Einstein managed to put together a nice enough campaign, with two G1 turf victories. Lightly-raced Kip Deville only ran four times this year, which disappoints; however, his G1 BC Mile runner-up behind superstar Goldikova redeemed (a bit) his poor showing in the G1 Woodbine Mile. Grand Couturier won two of five races, but they were big ones—the G1 Sword Dancer, and then a breathtaking blowout in the G1 Joe Hirsch Turf Classic at Belmont; appalling G1 BC Turf non-performance ruined a very good season.

Honorable Mention: Hyperbaric never finished out of the money in eight starts this year, including four straight year-ending victories, concluding with the G1 Citation.

Turf Female:
1. Forever Together
2. Mauralakana
3. Ventura

I’ve argued for Forever Together before, so I won’t repeat my argument. Honestly, Mauralakana and Ventura are nearly dead-even; the former rattled off four consecutive victories (at Calder, Belmont and Arlington), while the latter just missed winning the G1 Woodbine Mile against males, and ended her year winning the BC Filly and Mare Sprint on Pro-Ride.

Honorable Mention: Except for the G1 Diana, Wait a While enjoyed a good season, winning the G1 Yellow Ribbon, G2 Ballston Spa and finishing third to Forever Together in the G1 Filly and Mare Turf.

Horse of the Year:
1. Zenyatta
2. Curlin
3. Big Brown and Einstein (tie)

Undefeated is undefeated, regardless if run in open company. See, that argument presupposes that the male competition is actually innately better, which this year was definitely not the case. Zenyatta earned horse of the year; Curlin tried hard, but the second half of the year was not nearly as impressive. Big Brown had it, perhaps, up until the Belmont; I just can't excuse that loss, which is why the hard-trying Einstein is elevated to equal footing in my opinion.

Honorable Mention: Eight Belles, but for the cruel twist of fate.


Anonymous said...

I agree with your choice of Zenyatta as HOY! Curlin looks like he may be over the hill, while Zenny just gets better and better. She's great like Ruffian was great, and it's about time those male chauvinists in the racing business wake up to reality.

Pete Denk said...

The best way to make those "male chauvinists in the racing business wake up" is to run your filly against them and win, not keep her in restricted company.