HALLANDALE BEACH, FL, January 16, 2021 — The 2020 Eclipse Awards finalists were announced yesterday and as expected revealed no major surprises, but with some disappointments.
Then doesn’t sport for sport’s sake–coupled with accomplishment or it would have little meaning– almost always finish a distant second to the bottom line?
Here’s a take on the three finalists in each category with a prediction of who will emerge with the écorché horse statuette at the conclusion of Eclipse Award ceremonies. Nominees are listed in alphabetical order:
Two-Year-Old Male: Essential Quality, Fire At Will, Jackie’s Warrior
Reflects the way we saw the division. If betting were allowed in this category, Essential Quality would win, paying $2.40 -out -out.
Two-Year-Old Filly: Aunt Pearl (IRE), Dayoutoftheoffice, Vequist
Again, our top three and happy that, like Fire At Will in the male category, turf excellence was acknowledged by many in the final tallies. Expect that Juvenile Fillies winner gets the hardware. Breeders’ Cup Juveniles for both sexes widely regarded as true championship events.
Three-Year-Old Male: Authentic, Nadal, Tiz the Law
Tiz the Law made headlines throughout the year but this is a tough game. As for Santa Anita Derby’s Honor A.P. and Jockey Club Gold Cup’s Happy Saver, the first was too little and the latter too late. Authentic walks over.
Three-Year-Old Filly: Gamine, Shedaresthedevil, Swiss Skydiver
This could be close given the accomplishments and talents of Gamine and Swiss Skydiver. However, since an award is available for top three-year-old sprinter, in which Gamine is odds-on, Swiss Skydiver’s unusual and accomplished season figures to be recognized here.
Older Dirt Male: Improbable, Maximum Security, Vekoma
Have seen lots of public disparagement of the choices but what were the alternatives? Want to drop one of these finalists in favor of Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile winner Knicks Go? It was his only stakes start at even at the Grade 1 level, he could run off the screen twice and still not stack up of body of work is any measure.
Tom’s d’Etat? On top of our NTRA list for most of the entire first half of 2020, the problem for the seven-year-old warrior was the second half. Whitney third a disappointment, even with a legitimate excuse. But complete Classic no-show eliminated him from consideration.
Our pulse wasn’t racing either when we filled out our ballot but the game often demands taking what’s given.
Older Dirt Female: Midnight Bisou, Monomoy Girl, Serengeti Empress
An exact match to what our ballot looked like. We considered G1 Apple Blossom winner Ce Ce and G1 Spinster winner Valiance for the third slot briefly—very briefly. Horse of the Year finalist Monomoy Girl gallops in this category.
Male Sprinter: Vekoma, Volatile, Whitmore
Sentimentally, gelded seven-year-old Whitmore is a popular figure and Breeders’ Cup Sprint victory counts a lot but not as much as Vekoma’s two Grade 1s including the storied Metropolitan Mile, around one turn, of course. Deserving favorite in this category and very, very likely the winner,
Female Sprinter: Gamine, Glass Slippers (GB), Serengeti Empress
An aside: There needs to be a category for Turf Sprint Champion given the number of races run each year in this burgeoning category, from field size to how the right filly absolutely can outrace the best of the boys.
In my view, Serengeti Empress’s G1 Ballerina and nose defeat in the G1 Raven Run were the most memorable efforts run by a female sprinter in 2020—her Raven Run was Jockey-Club-Slew-Like. But Gamine’s dusting of her by 6-1/4 dominant lengths following a stutter-step start in F & Mare Sprint was all she wrote in this division.
Male Turf Horse: Channel Maker, Order of Australia (IRE), Zulu Alpha
A perfect match to our three but as mentioned previously, expect possible home cooking as Order of Australia had that lone U.S. victory in the Breeders’ Cup Turf and what a score it was.
Traffic and following a poor start in the Breeders’ Cup Mile from post 14 topping a 1-2-3 foreign finish spoke eloquently of the in-and-out record of older American horses on turf all year. Think this category is very contentious and wouldn’t stake my life on either one.
Female Turf Horse: Audarya (FR), Rushing Fall, Tarnawa (IRE)
We took dual G1 winner Glass Slippers here over dual G1 winner Rushing Fall but have no issue; Rushing Fall the more conventional choice over sprint specialist but have absolutely no issue here. If Tarnawa’s three G1s isn’t enough for a title, this Eclipse category was rigged.
Steeplechase Horse: Moscato (GB), Rashaan (IRE), Snap Decision
Slim pickings among the up-and-over division in 2020 and Moscoto figures to eke out the victory in the weakest steeplechase season we can recall.
Owner: Godolphin LLC; Klaravich Stables Inc.; Spendthrift Farm LLC, MyRaceHorse Stable, Madaket Stables LLC, and Starlight Racing
Our feeling is that strength in numbers will overpower this category. It looks like the Spendthrift conglomerate has a leg up for two reasons, the mega-ownership team, and the fact that MyRaceHorse group attracted lots of publicity. It’s a good story and the powers-that-be probably would want to continue to attract 5,000-member ownership groups.
Breeder: Peter Blum Thoroughbreds LLC, Calumet Farm, WinStar Farm LLC
We’re thinking a two-horse battle between Blum, breeder of likely Horse of the Year Authentic, and Win Star, who bred many stakes winners including the remarkable Swiss Skydiver. Making a small wager on Blum.
Trainer: Steve Asmussen, Bob Baffert, Brad Cox
Toss up: Baffert vs Cox, Authentic’s trainer the more likely of the two.
Jockey: Irad Ortiz, Jr., Joel Rosario, John Velazquez
Again, it’s either 2020 body of work, Ortiz; or Grade 1 wins in big spots, Rosario. Irad has, pardon the expression, a leg up.
Apprentice Jockey: Luis Cardenas, Yarmarie Correa, Alexander Crispin
We abstained in this category for lack of sufficient exposure to these young men. Same goes here; best guess is Cardenas.
Horse of the Year: Authentic, Improbable, Monomoy Girl
Some fans disparaged the choices in general but don’t know which other horses might be more worthy. Authentic won the two most important dirt races in America and mate Improbable won three Grade 1s and was second to Authentic in the Classic. Monomoy Girl was nothing short of perfect. We’ll tap out on Authentic in this spot.