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Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Eclipse Misses

While I agree in principle with nearly all the Eclipse Award nominations announced last week—the inclusion of one-time U.S. running Euros including Raven’s Pass, Conduit, and Goldikova I have railed against previously—I take serious exception to the “other” female turf candidate, Cocoa Beach. For the life of me I can’t understand what voters were thinking, as that one ran exactly one race on turf, the G1 Matriarch in November—which was a mile race. Contrast that with the achievements of Mauralakana, the five-year-old mare destined for the breeding shed early in the year, but kept in training after rattling off an amazing string of eight turf races from 9f to 12f, including five wins (one G1, two G2, one G3) and two seconds (one G1, one G3), a record which surely eclipsed (pardon the pun) Cocoa Beach’s ONE victory on turf.

Then again, should I have expected more considering who votes for these awards? All too often impressions of quality are misguidedly distilled down to a single race, and the adage “what have you done lately?” appears to dominant voters’ minds. After all, they are yearly awards, not just for one or two races at the end.

Additionally, when it comes to the owners’ and trainers’ categories, the issue of quantity doggedly drives voting rather than a more reflective analysis of true excellence. The nominations of the obnoxious IEAH Stables and two ethically-challenged trainers Steve Asmussen and Rick Dutrow further substantiates the widely-held impression by outsiders that the industry is in denial about momentous issues regarding the integrity of the sport. How proud we should be if any of them win!

In all sincerity, don’t voters get it? These entities represent everything that is wrong with racing—and the world—today. Overblown, over-the-top, more-is-more, win by all means possible. As for those who argue IEAH’s many G1-victories with various horses (Big Brown, Kip Deville, Frost Giant, Ariege, Benny the Bull, Court Vision and Laragh) trumps their distasteful persona, I would suggest it doesn’t take much skill—just a whole lot of money—to purchase excellent horses that have been developed by others.

If true sportsmanship (or is that showmanship?) were to be rewarded, then Jess Jackson should have been in the final three, as Curlin’s campaign this year was an anomaly in an age when good male horses are rushed off to stud at ages two and three, barely time to establish a career that proves their abilities. As for quality trainers, Bob Baffert, John Shirreffs, and Larry Jones immediately come to mind for the fine jobs they did in 2008.

Oh, well, maybe they will get it right next year...


Winston...not really said...

Are you a Cubs fan?

I think the ownership of Cocoa Beach had more to do with her selection than any record or achievement.

It seems as if Darley is squeezing the choice out of this game, whether through editing choices or marketing ones.

Anonymous said...

My big knock against Jess Jackson as an Eclipse candidate is that his stable lacks depth.

While Curlin is inarguably a superstar, I honestly can't name you another horse to run under the Stonestreet colors this year without resorting to Google.

If Curlin would have taken the BC Classic it would have done a lot for his case. Even if he had another horse that stole a G2 or G3 somewhere along the way, it would have helped, but it is hard to justify giving the nod to someone with only one big-time horse, even if he did go about things the right way.

Don't get me wrong, I'm not crazy about IEAH likely picking up the win either, but I understand why they are there.

On a somewhat related note, do you think Rick Porter/Fox Hill Farm would have gotten any owner Eclipse buzz had Eight Belles not broken down at the Derby?

Anonymous said...

My ballot included mauralakana, not cocoa beach. What do you mean, by the way, when you talk about "who" votes for the Eclipse Awards. If not us, then who? The fans? We know what we're doing.
By the way, I don't vote for Steve Asmussen either. It's probably the DRF block that picks the people you don't like.

dana said...

"I would suggest it doesn’t take much skill—just a whole lot of money—to purchase excellent horses that have been developed by others."

Hear f-in' hear.

While it's true that Jackson's stable lacks depth, the sheer act of brining a 3yo champion COLT back to race as a 4yo merits a nomination in my book... even if his hands were pretty much legally tied.

Kennedy said...

That is why we need something different than what we've got.

About 25% of the eligible voters simply don't bother to send in a ballot each year. This isn't a federal election. It's a mail in ballot that you've got months to fill out. There is no excuse unless you're deathly ill.

Many of the people who are voters aren't really fans of racing but voting for the Eclipses is part of the job description.

These awards need to change. Even fan votes would likely work just as well. Point systems are, of course, the best way to go :)

JLDecker said...

I'm in complete agreement on Mauralakana. While there's a clear-cut leader in most divisions, the female turf circuit this year was tough as nails. I had a very difficult time picking between Forever Together and Goldikova as it was, but had Mauralakana been the third choice I'd have gone with her over Forever Together in a heartbeat.

As for the trainer debate: The corrupt will stop getting nominated when the owners that pay their way stop ignoring the corruption. So many owners talk out one side of their mouth about "integrity" and "good of the sport" while turning a blind eye to cash those win checks, it's infuriating. Now that Biancone is back in the shed row, I won't be half surprised if I see his name in the top three come 2009 nom's.

tvnewsbadge said...

In all sincerity, don’t voters get it? These entities represent everything that is wrong with racing—and the world—today

With all due respect to the horse racing industry, I believe you answered your own question when you asked:

Then again, should I have expected more considering who votes for these awards?

From everything I've seen in the media about the horse racing community this past year, I'd say they "get it" very well indeed.


Valerie said...

Cubs, no. I have the misfortune of being a life-long Pirates fan which is worse—we get accustomed to excellence, but then crash-and-burn as our best home farm-developed players are plucked out of free agency by the Mets (Bobby Bonilla) or Giants (Barry Bonds). Every 15-20 years we win the World Series, and then we have to endure the disappointment of not being able to hold a great team together for financial reasons. Boo-hoo, I know.

Fair enough about Jess Jackson’s lack of horses, although according to Equibase, in 2008, Stonestreet Stables actually has 147 starters with a record of 31-24-12 ($2,089,061 which doesn’t include Curlin’s overseas earnings). Still, the action of keeping Curlin racing, in my mind, trumps the dearth of other stars in his stable. As for Fox Hill, not only would they have been considering if the Eight Belles tragedy hadn’t occurred (boy, just imagine what else she may have been able to accomplish in a very serious 3-year-old filly division), but especially if he had kept Hard Spun in training rather than selling him off for stud duty. I’m definitely keeping my eye on them this year, though, with their host of talented three-year-olds (Friesan Fire, Old Fashioned, Song of Solomon).

Anonymous, when I say “who” votes, I was referring more to the cliques that have developed (such as DRF) that dominate. I can’t help but think there are some relationships (personal or professional) and developed prejudices that taint the process too. As Kennedy notes, how many of those eligible to vote actually take the time to do so, or even seriously consider their choices rather than just follow what the most vocal mouthpieces think? As for the fans being involved, I actually don’t think that’s a horrible idea—especially if it were handled somewhat like the European Cartier awards where fans are only part of the process. And, of course, in my eye, a points system would go a long way to settle these kinds of arguments :)