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The Conscience of Thoroughbred Racing

ECLIPSE TITLES REQUIRED SOME OUT-OF-THE-BOX THOUGHT IN 2020; ONE VOTER’S BALLOT

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.

Steeplechase Candidates

Moscoto--in a lean year considering quality and quantity. Three starts include Grade 1and Grade 3 victories and a G1 showing.

Rashaan

Snap Decision

Juvenile Males

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.

Juvenile Fillies

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

Authentic—Derby-Classic no-brainer

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.

Three-Year-Old Female

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.

Male Sprinter

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.

Female Sprinter

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.

Male Turf

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.

Female Turf

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.

Trainer

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.

Jockey

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.

Apprentice

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.

Owner

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.

Breeder

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.

Godolphin

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

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⚠ Before you comment

Our staff likes nothing better than to engage with the HRI Faithful and provide a forum for interaction on horseracing and sports. In that spirit, please be kind and reasonable; keep the language clean, and the tone civil. Comments from those who cannot comply will be deleted. Thank you.

19 Responses

  1. I like your apprentice comment. There ain’t no Steve Cauthen, Wesley Ward out there ! Maybe it is harder to crack into the Club today than ever before in the past. Too many connections seem to be set making harder to get in for other young ones,no matter how hungry and willing they might be. Tough game,many unwritten rules.

  2. Thanks for checking in JG, quite surprised about lack of interest in this topic, which I think is something the industry should be concerned about. If not here or other racing sites, then how does game survive ?

    To your point, smaller field size than in the past, fewer races, yield fewer opportunities. And with the rank and file horsemen getting beat up by the super-trainers, who seize control over the best riders, too, horsemen may be less inclined “to take a chance.,” don’t know.

    Or it might be just a less than stellar group but you’re right, no one to take your breath away like a Cauthen, or Ward, or Tyler at the end of his apprenticeship when he showed more sophistication. And maybe I ‘ve just not been paying enough attention.

    As stated, it wouldn’t be unfair of me to “guess” about a young rider’s future.

  3. So, the current jocks, who get the mounts in the large-purse stake races are, harrumph, special? Based on the following facts (yep, facts Alice) methinks different:

    Jose Ortiz wins with 18% of his mounts this year; won at an 18% rate for career.
    Irad Ortiz 24% 19%
    Luis Saez 19% 17%
    Paco Lopez 18% 20%
    Tyler Gafflione 19% 17%
    J R Valesquez 15% 18%
    Jr Alvarado 15% 16%
    Frank Pennington 20% 18%
    Jose Lescano 18% 17%
    Kendrick Carmouche 14% 16%
    J Rosario 19% 18%
    Mike Smith 19% 17%

    They all lose with four out of five of their rides. Seems to me that an apprentice could do just as well.

    1. One, riders are generally only as good as their mount is capable.

      Two, you’ve been around this game long enough, WMC.

      Anyone who rides at 15% or above is having a good year. You’ll note elite riders are closer to 20% than 15%.

      I’m a big believer in weight, even if many people are not. But five pounds notwithstanding, if all riders were astride mounts of equal ability, what chance does a virtually inexperienced rider have against the group you’ve named above?

      My guess: 10% would be phenomenal. And at 10%, I’d bet Under the total…

    2. I would suggest different,or an added angle stat to the % and/or winning$ since many tracks offer different purses but if a jockey has been involved in over,let us say, 500 races to me what IS important is the ROI because it is One thing to an with an odds on and another with a 4 plus to 1 horse I believe that that $ 10 plus win is more special. I wish that there is such a chart table where the top 10 tracks can be
      available for comparison of it’s and national jockeys. Remember, yrs ago, Baze winning all of those races at Golden Gate with so many favorites ? Even Finger Lakes had such jockey ( Stevens?)in the 80s and I am sure that other tracks have had such jock.The same has been applied with harness racing and names like Capello,Chase, John Campbell,etc come to mind. I would rather have a 15% jock with an above average ROI then an 18% with a low ROI,,,same applies to trainers but that is less practical. Happy 2021 !👍

      1. JG, no argument here, it’s about the Benjamins. Absent that data you want made available, I think a daily perusal of the results would tell you what you need to know.

        If I think back to Belmont, I think of Eric Cancel’s productivity with price shots. Last year at Gulfstream championship, Paco was profitable. Saez also has a good ROI, thanks to dominant Ortiz Bros. money.

        1. If my memory is not betraying me ,yrs ago when I occasionally would buy the (Belmont,Aquaduct) track b/w program it would have updated jockeys- ROI and it’s main handicapper was another Newsday alumnus,Mc Carthy. Could never get used to that NYRA product,not after having been a Sports Eye and DRF reader. I am sure that many found it ok to decipher ratings,figs and all the other printed stuff from it but I never was comfy with it but when nobody had the other offerings what was one to do? The ROI was just about the only thing that I appreciated out of that program. Wonder how the various Australian,British past performance lines look like,hopefully more concise and informative than what is available here when a horse ships in from those countries..like those Steeplechasers at Saratoga many of which do not tell us much on how the races went…. besides the start and finish…🧐
          .

  4. To answer your question above about ‘what chance does an inexperience rider have …..’ I would say about a tick under 20%; the same percentage as the experienced riders in the race have of winning.

  5. I think maybe I’ll open “a little handbook on the side” for bettors who think like you (smiley face here).

    BTW: Who can name the movie from which that quote comes?

  6. In addition to the Sportsmanship Owner classification, I would recommend that a Sportsmanship Trainer selection might also be considered John. Kenny McPeek I am sure had a powerful say and influence on when and where to enter Swiss Skydiver, and I suspect that that influence had a big effect leading to Owner Peter Callahan’s Sportsmanship selection. McPeek strikes me as being consistently protective of his stable of runners, and also their respective owners. Rarely is there ever a negative commentary associated with McPeek. Maybe add a “Class Act Award” consideration? A first place selection gets a Cold Foster and a Pastrami Sandwich.

    Speaking of Pastrami, how about a Sportsmanship Curmudgeon Award? No contest really. Wendell wins “with extra mustard” in the comments line, simply for his steady rise and grind pursuit of three solid winners a day.

  7. McD,

    These were the official Eclipse categories with my interpretation of the equine resumes presented.

    And even the two-legged awards choices are based on statistical support.

    But the trainer category is really statistically driven, in my view. Tried to avoid the most familiar–and probable winning choices–based on my personal criteria.

    If I had time, would craft an HRI schedule of awards but schedule adherence and workload does not permit.

    And yes, Wendell has retired the Curmudgeon of the Year Trophy. Like the great equines he chooses to ignore, he just dominates the category.

  8. John

    Been a while since I’ve posted. As good as HRI is, I seem to drift in and out. Lately been transfixed reading way too much politics. At any rate, your choice of Swiss Skydiver as Horse of the Year finally got me motivated. As a couple of my posts last summer indicated, I was on Swiss Skydiver from her debut in fall 2019, culminating in good sized payoffs in Oaks Future Book and Preakness w/p and exactas. Since I’ll always be a fan, my concern is this: has her winter-thru-fall campaign and tussles with “the boys” emptied her tank? Here I’m specifically referencing Rachel Alexandra and her brief and disappointing 4 year old season. I’m cautiously hoping for the best for her but would not be surprised if it goes the other way.

    To wmc’s note regarding jockeys and win percentages: I strongly disagree with his assertion about the success that apprentices might experience. Think of generational talents in other sports (LeBron, Mahomes, Mike Trout etc). At roughly the same time these individuals surfaced, so did hundreds of others in their respective sports. Some became all-stars, more became journeymen players, even more underperformed or washed out entirely. A generational talent is just that. I go back to Stevie C, Cash, Johnny V, more recently the Ortiz brothers (they were apprentices when they arrived on the NYRA circuit?), and Tyler G (I maybe slow on this but I’m not totally sure about him being elite). Additionally, I don’t know whether wmc has access to Richard Migliore on Fox telecasts. In the last two years Mig has offered numerous insights into the mind-set and physical being of jockeys. With good reason, only a few have the talent to reach the top.

    Closing out this year that’s been like no other, here’s to a much, much better 2021 to you, John, and all who participate in this forum.

    RichGold

  9. Rich, welcome home. I’m reading a little less politics these days but remain engaged. Democracy dies in darkness; words to live by.

    Anyhow, if this is about like minds, or great minds, you may be in trouble.

    I, too, have considered SD’s unusual campaign and also wonder what reserves are left in the tank.

    It won’t take long to see, a couple or three races should tell. I’m rooting for her to make it back all the way, maybe even develop more. Who knows? Her trainer says she’s indefatigable, and so we’ll see.

    Funny you should bring up Richard Migliore because people ask me longevity all the time and I usually quote Migliore, and credit him, because I respect his take that “a horse has only so many miles in those legs.” That’s individual dependent, of course.

    Additionally, the point you make about young riders, experience or lack thereof, affirms mine that when horses of equal ability meet, an apprentice–the Cauthen’s and Cash Asmussen’s notwithstanding, who were prime-time ready as five-pound bugs and might even enjoyed an edge on weight–will struggle against experienced riders.

    This, of course, is an opinion, not fact, but I find that common sense pays over time…

    1. If a bug does not do well ie, winning, at the Big A inner track rarely does he,or she,get such another chance of climbing horses at Belmont. Which brings me to the now retired TizThe Law- s jockey,Franco ,who I criticised more than once and now winning at a single digit even as most other competitors have left the New York circuit for warmer weather and better purses. Even with Hall of Fame Angel Cordero on his side he seems to have proven that he was Never a top 10 jock disappointing many owners/trainers and bettors. Did not fool me,though.Never bought that temporary hype !

  10. If my memory is not betraying me ,yrs ago when I occasionally would buy the (Belmont,Aquaduct) track b/w program it would have updated jockeys- ROI and it’s main handicapper was another Newsday alumnus,Mc Carthy. Could never get used to that NYRA product,not after having been a Sports Eye and DRF reader. I am sure that many found it ok to decipher ratings,figs and all the other printed stuff from it but I never was comfy with it but when nobody had the other offerings what was one to do? The ROI was just about the only thing that I appreciated out of that program. Wonder how the various Australian,British past performance lines look like,hopefully more concise and informative than what is available here when a horse ships in from those countries..like those Steeplechasers at Saratoga many of which do not tell us much on how the races went…. besides the start and finish…🧐
    .

    1. There are many things that American racing can learn from the international game. They’re starting to get the raceday-meds message. Now it’s time to change from Race 1 Aqueduct to the1:05 from Aqueduct, or whatever…

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