PLANTATION, FL – Decided to use a hometown dateline today. Three reasons: This missive represents one man’s opinion on this year’s would-be divisional champion.
Since it’s 2020, we have been staying safe and have not seen live racing since last January’s Pegasus World Cup program and, with that, any of the horses we deem Eclipse worthy: All video all the time.
And, finally, most of my interest, as was the country’s, was focused on opening day at Santa Anita but, most importantly, it was colder here Saturday morning than in some parts of Maine.
Did I mention it was 2020?
Expanding on that theme, just as scientist are learning more about this plague, so have horseplayers in terms of championships during the Covid era.
There were many Flavors of the Month in terms of dominating equine performers but all too often a vaccine was needed for the dreaded “no show in big spot” performers.
Most trainers have mentioned the interrupted, uncertain scheduling and of course they have a point. But the cockeyed stakes schedule in many high-profile cases provided more than enough time to ensure peak performances. Then that’s horse racing, isn’t it?
Readers get confused by this column each year: It’s not intended as a predictor of who will win, just one man’s opinion of the most-worthy candidates. The one element I’m sure of is that I expect a lot of push-back on my choices.
The Eclipse rules are that voters among the National Turf Writers and Broadcasters, official industry handicappers, aka racing secretaries, and Daily Racing Form staffers, grade three horses per category to comprise a list of finalists.
Eclipse winners, however, are determined by the number of the first-place votes cast, 17 categories in all. We will abide, of course, and will include for consideration by the HRI Faithful and others, our reasoning, as well as other horses worthy of favorable mention.
Moscoto--in a lean year considering quality and quantity. Three starts include Grade 1and Grade 3 victories and a G1 showing.
Essential Quality–it was all Jackie’s Warrior until this young man went 3-for-3 including two Grade 1s with signature BC Juvenile finale.
Jackie’s Warrior–G2 Saratoga Special, G1 Hope and Champagne.
Fire At Will–Recognizing off-turf With Anticipation, G2 Pilgrim on and G1 BC Juvenile Turf. I understand it’s about BC betting handle and maybe even length of awards ceremony. But juvenile turf runners deserve recognition and could attract even more foreign participation.
Vequist—signature championship race, the BC Juvenile Fillies, plus G1 Spinaway and G1 Frizette placing.
Dayoutoftheoffice—won G3 Schuylerville, G1 Frizette, placed in Juvenile Fillies.
Aunt Pearl—3-for-3, all turf including G2 Jessamine and G1 Juvenile Fillies Turf. Gave long consideration for top spot. No category doesn’t seem fair, does it.
Honorable Mention: Malathaat
Three Year-Old Male
Tiz the Law—divisional leader until Classic was made official
Happy Saver—from nowhere, 4-for-4 including Tesio and G1 Jockey Club Gold Cup; Todd management masterpiece.
Honorable Mention: Nadal, Honor A.P.
Swiss Skydiver–won half her 10 starts at five different tracks in East, South, Midwest, Southwest and West, including the Preakness and a Blue Grass placing vs males, of course. Only unplaced graded effort this year came when eliminated at the start of the Distaff. Remarkanle old school camaign.
Gamine–was 4-for-6, three of them Grade 1.
Harvey’s Lil Goil–dual-surface graded winner, 3-for-7 overall including prestigious G1 QE II, missed by a neck in BC Turf vs. elders.
Older Dirt Male
Improbable—won three Grade 1s and placed in Breeders’ Cup Classic.
Maximum Security—given what he accomplished, deserved a better place in history.
Vekoma—talk about untimely injuries, won G1 Carter and Met Mile; we’ll always have Elmont.
Honorable Mention: Tom’s d’Etat, early season champion; Global Campaign, midseason contender; Knicks Go, has he stopped re-breaking yet?
Older Dirt Female
1. Monomoy Girl—remarkable mare and member of Injury Comeback Hall of Fame.
2. Midnight Bisou—sadly, female equivalent of Vekoma.
3. Serengeti Empress—yes, a sprinting specialist but was HRI’s Gamer of the Year.
Charlatan—not on my radar in this category until Malibu score; unofficially undefeated with two Grade 1s—I know, I know…
Vekoma—never lost a one-turn race in 2020, including two Grade 1s
Whitmore—love the old warrior and happy for his BC Sprint family.
Gamine –another no-brainer after BC F&M Sprint and 4-for-4 rounding one turn. Did we mention she’s fast?
Serengeti Empress—just couldn’t match #1 in Breeders’ Cup.
Guarana—extremely classy G1 winner but light resume owing to injury.
Order of Australia—division lacked leadership and consistency all year. Qualifies beating elders in BC Mile from 14 post and a filly beat the boys in BC Turf.
Channel Maker—came strongly in late season and good chance to win this category with two Grade 1s, but in eight starts? Not enough for us.
Zulu Alpha—early and midseason leader didn’t too enough.
Honorable Mention: United–Best overall record (6) 4-1-0, all G2s but flopped badly in out-of-Cali, G1 debut.
Tarnawa—unapologetically and unequivocally. Top class and proved it; 4-for 4 this year, three prestigious Group 1s, including BC Turf males.
Audarya—BC F & M Turf was her second Group 1 of the year overcoming much faster pace and shorter trip is less than her best go.
Glass Slippers—completes all Euro slate for me, beating males in BC Turf Sprint, her second G1 of the year after narrow defeat in G1 Prix de l’Abbaye, arguably Europe’s top sprint prize.
Honorable Mention: Rushing Fall and Newspaperofrecord, beating up on weaker divisional rivals and each other in short fields all year. And the wonderful Starship Jubilee who won five of seven, ducking no one, and defeated males in WO Mile.
Steve Asmussen—topped both earnings and winners category
Bob Baffert—15 of 26 graded victories were Grade 1
Brad Cox—embarrassed colleagues on Breeders’ Cup weekend, but great work with Monomoy Girl.
Honorable Mention: Todd Pletcher, for patience, consistency, developmental skills, and King of the Sire-Makers. Chad Brown still owns the turf. Christophe Clement for a career season. Shug McGaughey for high number of overachievers on paper at the highest levels. Bill Mott, for being Bill Mott.
Irad Ortiz Jr.—indefatigable leader in earnings and victories but tends to be routinely over-aggressive,
Joel Rosario–the most naturally intuitively talented and gifted rider. Led the league in Grade 1s with 11.
Tyler Gaffalione–led at almost every venue he moved to this season and has become elite without the the support of a first-call super-trainer.
Abstain; as a matter of conscience. Charlie Marquez and Luis Cardenas have caught the eye occasionally but we are not comfortable passing judgment on any of the young candidates as infrequently as we’ve seen them. Wouldn’t be fair.
Peter Callahan (Swiss Skydiver)
Sackatoga Stable (Tiz the Law)
Godolphin (329 starters: 72-51-45)
Personally, we treat this as a sportsmanship category, and if it were permitted, we would split our vote. No one was gamer or more sportsmanlike that these two outfits, especially Callahan who shared his filly with the whole country and beat males in a Triple Crown event.
Win Star Farm–second-leading money earners, missing by $200,000 with half as many starters as leader Calumet Farm. Led with five Grade 1s wins, tops in G1 earnings.
Peter E Blum Thoroughbreds earned top three placings in all statistical categories
Horse of the Year
Swiss Skydiver for outstanding accomplishment after typifying the spirit of Thoroughbred racing by taking on all comers and then some.
Authentic–a deserving winner by taking America’s two most prestigious dirt races; the probable top vote-getter.
Monomoy Girl–flawless four-race campaign