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Monday, January 3, 2011

A Fan’s Eclipse Ballot

Last weekend, blog friend and Hello Race Fans colleague Teresa Genaro wrote a superb piece for the Thoroughbred Times about her trepidations regarding her first time voting for the Eclipse Awards, namely the lack of any written criteria in making selections. As always, it's a witty, thought-provoking read.

As a mere fan, I am not bound by any guidelines—either explicit or implicit—in selecting my three finalists in each category, nor do I have to justify my choices, validating to professional colleagues my (relative) sanity. Yet, here I am, giving my opinion for what it’s worth:

Two-year-old Male:
1. Uncle Mo
2. Kantharos
3. Pluck

As a dominating Breeders’ Cup Juvenile winner, Uncle Mo is the obvious and correct choice. Many may be surprised with my second choice, but Kantharos’ short career included two graded stakes (G3 Bashford Manor and G2 Saratoga Special) and he complete destroyed his competition, winning his three starts by a combined 28 ½ lengths. Pluck was an impressive Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf winner. I considered Rogue Romance, winner of the G3 Bourbon and third-place finisher in the BC Juvenile, and Boys at Tosconova who never finished worse than second in four starts, but ultimately went with the turfster Pluck.

Two-year-old Female:
1. Awesome Feather
2. Kathmanblu
3. Twelve Pack Shelly

I admit, before the Breeders’ Cup, I wasn’t an Awesome Feather believer, but no more! That’s not to say I believe she’ll continue that form at three, but she is the worthy Eclipse winner. Kathmanblu redeemed herself after her troubled third-place finish in the BC Juvenile Filly Turf by winning the G2 Golden Rod. Pure sprinters are rarely rewarded with accolades as juveniles, but Twelve Pack Shelly is an exceptional filly. Her only time out of the money in seven starts is excusable (having never recovered after going to her knees at the start), and all the way back in April, in her second start, she finished a mere neck behind the subsequent BC Juvenile runner-up Boys at Tosconova in the G3 Kentucky Juvenile.

Three-year-old Male:
1. Lookin At Lucky
2. Fly Down
3. Eskendereya

While I’m fairly certain most turf writers will agree with me about Lookin At Lucky, I’m not sure it was as tough a choice for them. Ultimately, it was his Haskell performance that put Lookin At Lucky on top of this category for me, but, despite “only” runner-up performances in the Belmont and Travers, I truly believe Fly Down is the better horse, peaking as the year ended. He clearly beat Lookin At Lucky when it most counted—in the Breeders’ Cup Classic. Eskendereya is a debatable inclusion, given he only raced three times this year, but this was a weak 3-year-old crop overall, and some of the best (Endorsement, Odysseus) fell by the wayside too soon.

Three-year-old Female:
1. Blind Luck
2. Havre de Grace
3. No Such Word

Blind Luck and Havre de Grace thrilled with their duels, and only because she came out in front of Havre de Grace in the BC Distaff (“Ladies Classic” if you must) does Blind Luck get the nod. I’m sure Evening Jewel will be a finalist, but frankly I loved No Such Word. She wasn’t that far back from the top two in the G2 Delaware Oaks and got stronger as the year went on, winning the G1 Gazelle. And she beat Havre de Grace in the Go For Wand back in June. I think she’s a natural (and sentimental) inclusion for end-of-year honors.

Older Male:
1. Blame
2. Quality Road
3. Haynesfield

Despite popular opinion, I found this category weak in 2010. Quality Road beat absolutely nothing in the Woodward, and lost to Blame in the Whitney...while Haynesfield absolutely dominated Blame (as well as Fly Down, among others) in the Jockey Club Gold Cup. Yet, when it came to the BC Classic, where did Haynesfield and Quality Road finish? At the very end of the pack, in 11th and 12th respectively. I suppose I could have included Richard’s Kid...nah.

Older Female:
1. Zenyatta
2. Unrivaled Belle
3. Life at Ten

No question about Zenyatta here. BC winner Unrivaled Belle is a worthy runner-up, though. The real question: who to place third? Sorry, but no way is it Rachel Alexandra. Acoma is my sentimental pick, but, overall, Life at Ten is the worthier selection (despite her trainer’s failing to scratch her in the BC).

1. Big Drama
2. Majesticperfection
3. Discreetly Mine

By default, the Breeders’ Cup Sprint champ wins this category, but I suspect both Majesticperfection and Discreetly Mine were better. We know Majesticperfection was, as he easily defeated Big Drama in the G1 Vanderbilt. D’Funnybone also warranted consideration, but no one in this category absolutely knocked my socks off.

Female Sprinter:
1. Dubai Majesty
2. Switch
3. Rightly So

Since she won the BC Filly and Mare Sprint, Dubai Majesty wins this category, but I honestly don’t think there are any worthy candidates this year. Rightly So looked terrific in the G1 Ballerina, but scratched out of the Breeders’ Cup. The two that finished behind Dubai Majesty in that race—Switch and Evening Jewel—are routers who happen to go fast early, not pure sprinters (although Switch did subsequently win the G1 La Brea in near track record time). Champagne d'Oro looked promising after her victory in the G1 Test, but disappointed in three subsequent starts. Weak category. Can I vote for the juvenile Twelve Pack Shelly here?

Turf male:
1. Gio Ponti
2. Paddy O’Prado
3. Chamberlain Bridge

Never out of the money this year on turf, Gio Ponti was a credible runner-up to Goldikova, although his narrow loss in the G1 Arlington Million was what really sold me on him. Paddy O’Prado should have stuck to the BC Turf rather than the Classic, and he may have won this category. I love Prince Will I Am, but one turf race doesn’t merit serious consideration, so he’s out. Winchester looked good at times, but didn’t exactly overwhelm me. Get Stormy merited serious consideration...until he bombed in the BC Mile. Almost by default, Chamberlain Bridge makes the top three, by winning the BC Turf Sprint.

Turf female:
1. Tuscan Evening
2. Proviso
3. Unzip Me

I’m one of those people who believe that, in order to earn an American Eclipse award, a horse should race more than once in North America. Thus, no Goldikova for me in this category—though I have no doubt of her superior class and ability. Before her untimely death, Tuscan Evening rattled off six victories this year (all graded stakes, including the G1 Gamely); she was the best turf horse (male or female) to race in North America this year. Proviso beat the boys in the G1 Kilroe Mile, but also top females in the G1 Just a Game, Diana and First Lady. Unzip Me’s third-place finish against males in the Breeders’ Cup Turf Sprint capped a 2010 campaign that included five wins in California and one at Woodbine. Why can’t a turf sprinter be considered for this award?

Horse of the Year:
1. Zenyatta
2. Blame
3. Uncle Mo

Honestly, purely based on the campaigns they undertook and the competition they raced against, neither Zenyatta nor Blame come out on top for me. As lightly-raced as he was, Uncle Mo demonstrated far more panache in dominating his competition, winning his maiden at Saratoga by over 14 lengths, drawing away to win the G1 Champagne by nearly five lengths, and finally leaving no doubt he was the best by taking the BC Juvenile with ease. Had she won the BC Distaff, Blind Luck would have merited consideration, as would Tuscan Evening had she not passed away too soon. However, I did finally settle upon Zenyatta—and, yes, not just because of what she did on the racetrack, but HOW she did it, and the excitement she generated for the sport. To me, the "Horse of the Year" title is reserved for that animal whose name and persona dominated the sport, and in 2010, no one did that more than Zenyatta, regardless of the result of one race.


Teresa said...

Thanks for the link and the nice words! My selections are going up tomorrow...very intrigued by some of yours. I thought a lot about including Pluck and Fly Down - ultimately went in other directions, they were both horses that I considered a long time. Same for Rightly So, whom I like a lot.

Anonymous said...

Unfortunately for you, there are no "American Eclipse Awards"

Valerie Grash said...

Anon, unfortunately, the Eclipse Awards ARE an AMERICAN award, voted on by AMERICAN turf writers and the National Thoroughbred Racing Association (that nation would be the United States of AMERICA).