Tuesday, December 26, 2017


2017 Eclipse Award Ballot a Truly Mixed Bag


All week we’ve been sharing about how difficult it was to determine who were the Top 10 horses, trainers and jockeys of the last 50 years. Eclipse Award voting this year was not as thought-provoking as the historical challenge, but I will say this:

To paraphrase Sheets creator and maven Len Ragozin: “Some Eclipse Categories Must Be Crazy.”

Of course, there were many predictable slam dunks as brilliance and dominating performances showed the way. However, some divisions were downright confounding.

I will explain as we move forward but here is what one ballot will look like come the voting deadline. (There’s a performance I’d like to see on this afternoon’s traditional Santa Anita prime winter opener, possibly affecting 2nd and 3rd on ballot). Now, the categories:

STEEPLECHASER 4 & UP

People who know me know I love the up-and-over set and enjoy following their lynchpin Grade 1s throughout the year. But no one stepped up in 2017.

Scorpiancer looks like the best in show but he only raced twice and not since winning the May 13 Grade 1 Iroquois. Personally, voting for him sends the wrong message for future years.

So, for the first time ever, I abstain.

TWO-YEAR-OLD MALE

Certainly no slam dunk and believe the vote will be close. Body of work people prefer Bolt d’Oro with his two Grade 1s and wide-trip third in the Juvenile.

But here’s the thing. One of the G1s was a sprint and don’t know about the validity of using difficult trips as an excuse. After all, do we diminish accomplishments of horses that win with a perfect trip?

Of course not; it’s the nature of horse racing. Or to quote Super Bowl-winning coach Bill Parcells: You are what your record says you are.

Head-to-head, Good Magic won their only meeting in his rival’s home state—and was no ordinary maiden going in. Second in his highly graded prior, Champagne third finisher Enticed returned to win the G2 Jockey Club at Churchill.

The horse that Good Magic beat in the Juvenile, Solomini, came back to finish first in the G1 Los Al Futurity. Hence, the top three [In order for ballots to counted, voters must choose first, second and third choices]:

1. Good Magic 2. Bolt d’Oro 3. Catholic Boy (talented and laudably versatile)

TWO YEAR OLD FILLY

Another two-horse race. Following her maiden win, Caledonia Road finished second while stretching out in the Grade 1 Frizette, then returned to win the BC Juvenile Fillies.

But I’m very enamored of Dream Tree. After breaking maiden on debut, she won the Desi Arnaz before dominating the G1 Starlet like a top class filly, remaining undefeated. So each has a Grade 1 win, albeit not of equal stature.

Third place was another skullbuster: Rushing Fall is extremely talented; undefeated in three turf starts including the G3 Jessamine and G1 Juvenile Fillies Turf.

However, we’re taking another undefeated filly, 3-for-3 Dream It is, winner of Saratoga’s G3 Schuylerville, the Canadian filly winning that dirt debut very impressively.

In the winner’s circle, trainer Barbara Minshall said she was putting her away for her three year old season. We’re not going to punish the filly for her trainer’s management.

1. Caledonia Road 2. Dream Tree 3. Dream It Is

THREE YEAR OLD COLT

Had West Coast not developed the way he did, this would have been another vexing decision. After all, looking like a world beater in both the G1 Florida and Kentucky Derbies, Always Dreaming’s season fell apart. But not so West Coast.

Two weeks after the Derby, West Coast began a five-race win streak: three graded; two Grade 1s including the Derby of Midsummer. He was a gallant third to protem Horse of the Year, older Gun Runner, in the Classic.

1. West Coast 2. Always Dreaming 3. Battle of Midway (won half his 10 starts including the BC Dirt Mile over elders. It’s shameful that he has been retired).

THIRD YEAR OLD FILLY

Abel Tasman was just too good, too consistent for her peers: Three Grade 1 scores and three G1 placings, including a strong second to protem older champion, Forever Unbridled.

Elate had her chance at the brass ring. She won the storied Alabama then followed up with a comprehensive score over elders in the G1 Beldame. But as good as she was at Belmont Park, that’s as bad as she looked at quirky Del Mar.

G1 Santa Anita Oaks winner Paradise Woods can move into second on our ballot should she win the G1 La Brea this afternoon. Stay tuned. Meanwhile, it’s…

1. Abel Tasman 2.Elate 3. Paradise Woods

OLDER MALE

After an excellent Dubai World Cup placing, Gun Runner returned to win four straight Grade 1s: Stephen Foster, Whitney, Woodward and Breeders’ Cup Classic. Single, double triple, home run! Unbelievable management from the Asmussen team.

And to think that the horse who beat him in Dubai was being compared to the game’s all- time greats. As we said before the game demands humility.

1. Gun Runner 2. Arrogate 3. Sharp Azteca (would have been interesting comparing 2017 records with Arrogate had he hung on to win the Dirt Mile).

OLDER FEMALE

Speaking of horsemanship, can’t say enough about Dallas Stewart’s brilliant management. Working back from the Distaff, he won the G2 Fleur De Lis in June and Saratoga’s G1 Personal Ensign this summer. Forever Unbridled then went on to defeat one of the deeper Distaff fields ever assembled.

Songbird won two Grade 1s, including 1-1/4 miles Delaware Handicap, then was a good, narrowly beaten second to the protem champion in career finale. Thanks for the great memories, champ.

Stellar Wind won three straight small-field G1s in SoCal then failed the big test badly.

1. Forever Unbridled 2. Songbird 3. Stellar Wind

MALE SPRINT

Gelded five year old Roy H was relatively invisible nationally but that’s all over now. Winning five of six, closing out the year with back-to-back Grade 1s including the Sprint.

Mind Your Biscuits had the higher profile and arguably more difficult campaign. Won the G2 Belmont Sprint after returning from his Golden Shaheen victory in Dubai, where he shouldered 132 pounds. Earned further respect with BC Sprint third and G1 Cigar Mile placing.

1. Roy H. 2. Mind Your Biscuits 3. Whitmore (was an early season sensation but couldn’t finish the deal).

FEMALE SPRINT

Several fillies had their moments: turf specialist Lady Aurelia was a G1 winner and narrowly beaten second at Ascot but had a terrible Breeders’ Cup. Bar of Gold had a good Breeders’ Cup but defeated state-bred in her only other victory in eight 2017 starts.

By the Moon won three graded stakes in six starts this year, including Saratoga’s G1 Ballerina, but was terrible in Oceanside, owing to an awful trip.

Defending champion Paulassilverlining started out with back-to-back Grade 1s and a Grade 2, then emptied out in two straight dull ones.

We were forced to give the nod to Ami’s Mesa, a nose defeat in the BC Sprint in her dirt debut separating her from a fifth straight victory and undefeated season. She owns three graded wins; two at Woodbine, one at Presque Isle.

These are North American awards, right? Well, she compiled the best overall record in our view.

1. Ami’s Mesa 2. By the Moon 3. Bar of Gold

MALE TURF

It might have taken Mark Casse midway through his five-year’s campaign before the Canadian Hall of Famer turned World Approval back to a mile. Bingo!

Three straight Grade 1s in two countries over all types of ground, culminating in a victory over some of the world’s best milers. And for me, the Breeders’ Cup Mile is the best North American turf race of the year.

No horse really took charge of the more traditional, longer turf events. Beach Patrol might have gotten our vote had he made it three straight G1s in the BC Turf. It would have been an impossible choice but, like elections, results have consequences.

1. World Approval* 2. Beach Patrol 3. Highland Reel (was beaten a half-length when third in the Turf; a victory would have been his fifth Grade 1 this year and an Eclipse championship. Remarkable and gorgeous animal closed out a brilliant career winning the G1 Hong Kong Vase.

FEMALE TURF


I am haunted by legends and this one’s name is Lady Eli. She deserved to go out a winner; alas, the racing gods were unkind.

In a division that lacked clarity, a head defeat in the Jenny Wiley would have begun a three-race G1 win streak. She did win the G2 Ballston Spa for good measure. But thankfully, she raced this year, and raced exceedingly well. Can’t make a valid case for any other, and why would I?

1. Lady Eli 2. Wuheida 3. Off Limits

OWNER


Rick Porter: A profile in courage, he didn’t hesitate when it came to making the best decision for his great filly, Songbird. Class still counts.

BREEDER

Charles Fipke: One-percent type but a relatively small breeder, bred one sure champion (Forever Unbridled) and won the important G1 Stephen Foster with another homebred, Seeking the Soul.

APPRENTICE


Evin Roman: A slam dunk, dominating the win and money-earned categories.

JOCKEY

A horse race between ‘Money Mike’ Smith (13 wins from 35 Grade 1 opportunities), but vote goes to Jose Ortiz who had a breakthrough year, 13-for-30 with Grade 1 chances, leading earner of $27.1 million despite being grounded this month by injury, and was 4th overall in number of winners.

TRAINER

Another horserace: Bob Baffert, who went on an unbelievable tear this spring through fall, but it was Chad Brown who dominated all of 2017: Sixth in wins despite relatively low number of starters among the elites and leading in earnings with $25.9 million thus far. Didn’t fire many blanks, given a 2017 slate of (798) 211-156-123.

HORSE OF THE YEAR

From a good colt to a dominating performer, watching Gun Runner develop this year is what being a fan of Thoroughbred racing is all about.

*correction 122617

Written by John Pricci

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