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Thursday, December 19, 2013


Time Has Come for Reality to Eclipse Tradition


SOUTH OZONE PARK, NY, December 17, 2013—Time for a reality check.

It is resolved that while the event was intended as a championship defining moment, year-round, three surface racing mitigates this proposition. In the name of fairness and Eclipse Awards, it’s a body of work that all too often decides season-ending honors.

Put another way, wishes aren’t horses and the Breeders’ Cup World Championships fail to crown title holders as often as it makes a season or a career an indelible memory.

It doesn't happen often but event day also can elevate the status of mere equines to that of legend, and that’s what makes Breeders’ Cup racing’s greatest event. But the best laid plans…

Last week, a juvenile named Shared Belief exploded on to the late-season stage, taking everyone’s breath away by remaining undefeated winning his Grade 1 two-turn debut in fast, grand style and throwing four hooves into the Eclipse ring.

But what are we supposed to make of the fact that all victories have come over a man-made surface and not God’s good earth?

Is it really fair to compare that accomplishment to those of major Grade 1 mile-or-more dirt runners such as Havana, or New Year’s Day, or Bond Holder?

I don’t know about you but I have trouble delineating the difference between apples and oranges.

One could make more meaningful comparisons if Shared Belief were measured against G1 All-Weather horses Tamarando or We Miss Artie or, even to a small degree, Outstrip, a grass horse and winner of the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf.

Of course, there will be times when subjectivity is needed to separate horses whose accomplishments on the record are thisclose.

But short of a point system, or a warm weather December Breeders’ Cup that for all intents would bring the racing year to a close, isn’t the idea to establish a measure of objective finality?

Unlike, say, the modern day justice system, shouldn’t we be seeking the truth in an effort to get it right? Shouldn’t that be the true goal?

And if that’s the real objective, hasn’t time come to establish a separate, third Eclipse category for synthetic specialists? If dirt and turf are separate but equal classifications, why not acknowledge All-Weather as a separate category?

With Hollywood Park about to close permanently, where will next year’s Shared Belief come from? And should there be opportunities to make an end around November’s Breeders’ Cup results?

As long as there are major tracks such as Del Mar, Arlington Park and, most notably, Keeneland that host All-Weather racing, this murky picture doesn’t figure to clear up any time in the near future.

All Weathers notwithstanding, chaos exists in many Eclipse divisions. Older horses separate dirt and turf excellence; why not juveniles? Consider Outstrip, e.g., a juvenile whose record worthy of some recognition, somewhere.

Never worse than third in five starts, the Godolphin gray has three wins, including the G1 Juvenile Turf, the G2 Champagne at Doncaster, and a neck defeat when runnerup in Goodwood’s G2 Vintage.

That’s a slate conceivably worth an entire enchilada, but at least should put him in the conversation about the two year old that was the most accomplished of 2013.

Pundits can argue all day whether those credentials are Eclipse worthy Eclipse, but all that is required for consideration is one start in North America. Chances are, however, most voters are unlikely to give this colt a second thought.

It’s understood that with all the problems the industry has, tweaking the Eclipses is odds-on to be a non-starter. But one of racing’s good things--recognition of excellence-- can be made better.

If industry elites do decide to take a look at this, it shouldn’t be made to be about the hardware, or the length of the Eclipse Award program. Frankly, the awards show is not appointment TV, not thus far, anyway.

What does matter is that racing excellence and, by extension, horsemanship should be recognized at the highest level. If the number of awards become unwieldy, put a bunch of them together for recognition and applause, an equine equivalent of the Oscar for sound editing.

A third All-Weather category likely would be very popular with the people who buy at auction, their trainers and, of course, breeders by giving them more drums to bang as their horses would have more opportunities to distinguish themselves on the racetrack and in the breeding shed.

Less racing but with more accomplished stock sounds like a reasonably good, promotable sell. An All-Weather Champion provides added value in the marketplace.

Eclipse expansion is worth serious consideration. An All-Weather surface is not dirt and it’s not turf. It’s a different animal entirely. Versatility should be recognized and rewarded. As presently constructed, the ability to do so doesn’t exist.

Written by John Pricci

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