SARATOGA SPRINGS, December 28, 2012—There isn’t another year I can remember in which the voting in many categories was not only close but, even after much deliberation, the final decision remains a conflicted one.

But soldier on we must and, hence, Part II of what one Eclipse ballot looked like:

The older female category, of course, was much more checkers than chess—actually, more of a no-brainer. That’s what happens when a defending champion, well, defends her title.

The runnerup spot was a little closer in that it matched a filly with traditional skills, albeit without a win outside its region, vs. a dominant specialist. We are a traditionalist at heart, but not when tradition is pitted against dominance.

Four-Year-Old & Up Female

1. Royal Delta
2. Groupie Doll
3. Include Me Out

As it usually does, just as in the juvenile categories, the sprint division usually comes down to the championship event. This year’s certainly did, as there was an early season leader vs. the budding champion of fall.

Now if one were to invoke what I would term the Dr. Fager rule, Shackleford is a very deserving sprint candidate, after all, the G2 Churchill Downs Handicap and the storied G1 Met Mile are both one-turn events.

Of course, if the G1 Clark were added for class points, there you have it. In the modern era, however, the thought is that there should be one championship win at 6 furlongs, America’s dominant sprint distance. I can’t say that I disagree.

Three-Year-Old & Up Sprinter, Male

1. Trinniberg
2. The Lumber Guy
3. Shackleford

As for the female sprinter of 2012, it’s no-brainer, Part II. In fact, had Groupie Doll won her fourth G1 of the season—the most by an American runner this year—against males in the Cigar Mile should would have received support for Horse of the Year, at least on my ballot.

The runnerup battle had to be closer, obviously, the late season surge of our third place finisher giving up some pause, albeit not for very long.

Three-Year-Old & Up, Female

1. Groupie Doll
2. Contested
3. Dust And Diamonds

In any other season, three Grade 1 victories, including one at the popular American distance, one at the classic distance and a third at the European classic distance within a 4-for-7 slate would be an automatic at the top.

Of course, that’s not the case this year given the dominant victories posted by Wise Dan, albeit none around two turns. We relented on a runnerup finish, taking his dominance over Point Of Entry, the biggest “loser” on the Breeders’ Cup program.

Three-Year-Old & Up, Turf Male

1. Little Mike
2. Wise Dan
3. Point Of Entry

Our top choice is this category does not make us ill at ease in any way given her accomplishments, but it was very close. Ultimately, a 5-for-8 record, all graded stakes, and a victory in the Breeders’ Cup Filly & Mare Turf, is the stuff of champions.

But there is considerable support for a filly that unquestionably had more natural ability but had her campaign cut short by injury after winning two of three graded starts in 2012, including a G1 win and G1 placing.

Then there was a third which was more accomplished than the talented runnerup but not nearly as consistent or talented. But she was very good, indeed.

Three-Year-Old & Up, Female

1. Zagora
2. Winter Memories
3. Tapitsfly

Since we’ve written on this subject previously, there’s no need to belabor the point that the category for Eclipse horseman is a three-trainer race among individuals that had extraordinary seasons. On that issue, at least, there can be no argument:

Champion Trainer 2012

1. Dale Romans
2. Todd Pletcher
3. Bob Baffert

The jockey category, in our view, is a layover, as our topic choice did it quantitatively and qualitatively, including the earnings category, doing so without “the big horse” or without the backing of a powerhouse outfit throwing its entire weight behind the rider. So, with apologies to Rafael Bejarano…

Champion Jockey 2012

1. Ramon Dominguez
2. John Velazquez
3. Javier Castellano

Having grown up on a top circuit, we’re a sucker for quality over quantity, historical achievement over parimutuel filler. Our top choice was easy; the runners-up, not so much.

There were about a half-dozen outfits that had excellent quality seasons, winning at least three Grade 1s. However, one outfit campaigned eight of them.

Champion Owner 2012

1. Godolphin Racing
2. Zayat Stables
3. Phipps Stable

As for the nurseries, about a half-dozen of them won three or more G1 races with horses it bred, but often with the same horse. Not so the boys in blue. So, with no apologies to Juddmonte (Frankel did not race in America)…

Champion Breeder 2012

1. Darley
2. Adena Springs
3. Stonestreet Thoroughbred Holdings

I confess that I did not see very much of non-New York-based apprentices but admit that I felt Irad Ortiz Jr., still an apprentice in February, showed immense talent last year and was wise beyond his years. He underscored that assessment by handling pressure as Questing’s regular rider.

Champion Apprentice 2012

1. Irad Ortiz Jr.
2. Jose Mantano
3. Angel Suarez

A synopsis of what we’ve written on the subject to date: Wise Dan has the most ability and, in the main, dominated the competition. But I abhor a season in which the history of the sport was never given its due by this talented runner’s connections. Racing’s a business? Fine. What isn’t?

Point Of Entry had his chance to win four consecutive Grade 1s, but didn’t. So, too, Groupie Doll, but she didn’t. So, with some reluctance, given a pursuit of great achievement forsaken, a vote for the perceived best in show…

Horse of the Year 2012: Wise Dan