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The Conscience of Thoroughbred Racing


HALLANDALE BEACH, FL, January 2, 2023 – I make my Eclipse ballot public every year. I consider voting a privilege, not a right, however, I must take exception to one element because if there ever was a year that screamed bring back ballot-splitting, it  was 2022.

A number of years ago, the-powers-that-be decided that voters had to jump off the fence and that vote-splitting no longer would be permitted. They must have reasoned that while computers are good at adding 1 + 1, somehow they would be stumped  if asked to tally .5 + .5.

And we’re not making reference to the topsy-turvy, my-turn-your-turn, three-year-old male class of 2022. I submitted my ballot late this morning but as I write this I’m still unsure that I have it right. I’m positive that I’m not alone on this.

It’s worth mentioning that these are choices we feel are most worthy, not predictions of who will win beyond the obvious choices. We know that several of these won’t make the cut. But that’s why they run races.

So, consider the trainer category. Eventually I narrowed the classy field down to two. Who did the better work, John Sadler or Todd Pletcher?

Sadler’s management of the brilliant Flightline, with a great assist from Juan Leyva and Flavien Prat, was pluperfect as they converted the great speedster from runoff sprinter into ratable router.

The pressure had to be enormous and Sadler’s training schedule was a thing of beauty. When you have a horse as great as Flightline, how do you know that you’ve done enough with him?

Pletcher will not have enough hands to carry the three trophies he is expected to collect by virtue of Grade 1 trifectas delivered by Malathaat, Nest and the youthful Forte. Like Flightline, 2022 Breeders’ Cup champions all.

But enough hand-wringing. Here are the categories, placed in order by the Eclipse committee. Voters must make first, second, and third choices  in each category or that grouping will be disqualified: One man’s graded opinion:

Two-Year-Old Male 1. Forte  (slam dunk). 2. Cave Rock  3. Victoria Road (4-for-8, Grade 3, and G1 BC Juvenile Turf).

Two-Year-Old Filly  1. Wonder Wheel  (slam).  2. Hoosier Philly (brilliant, undefeated, low profile). 3. Meditate (5-for-7, four graded, G1 BC Juvenile Filly Turf).

Three-Year-Old Male  1. Modern Games (three G1, beat elders twice, bested 11 G1 winners in two North American starts.  2. Taiba (3 G1s on dirt, good 3rd BC Classic).  3. Epicenter (1 G1, 3 G2s not enough).

Had BC Dirt Mile photo vs. older gone the other way, that third G1 likely would have sealed the title for Cyberknife.

Three-Year-Old Filly   1. Nest (very special indeed).  2. Secret Oath (Oaks winner had her moments). 3. Tuesday (2G1s include BC F&M Turf beating elders).

Older Dirt Male   1. Flightline (might not see his kind again).  2. Life Is Good (3 G1s, 9 furlongs his limit).  3. Country Grammer (G1 Dubai World Cup, three G2s).

Older Dirt Female  1. Malathaat (throw-back wants to beat you and does, 3 G1s).  2. Clairiere (wasn’t Affirmed and Alydar but very entertaining).  3. Blue Stripe (underrated [4] 2-2-0; wins were G1 and G2).

Male Sprinter  1. Elite Power (5-for-6 including G1 BC Sprint).  2. Jackie’s Warrior (it was there for the taking).  3. Jack Christopher (very fast, somewhat brittle 3YO).

Female Sprinter  1. *Goodnight Olive (undefeated, 2 G1s, BC F&M Sprint).  2. Matareya (4-for-5, G1 and G2).  3. Caravel (5-for-8, all turf sprints).

Male Turf Horse  1. Rebel’s Romance  (5-for-7, 3G1s, BC Turf).  2. Modern Games (as above).  3. Santin (2-for-7 both G1s).

Female Turf  1. Regal Glory (pretty remarkable at 6, three G1s, a winner in most every season).  2. Spendarella, 4-for-5, G3, G2, G1 and excellent placing in Ascot’s Coronation Stakes—gets hers in ’23).  Tuesday (as above).

Steeplechase Horse  1. Hewick trounced the horse that trounced the early season divisional leader in the G1 Grand National.  2. Noah And The Ark. 3. Snap Decision.

Owner  1. Reeves Thoroughbred Racing (in a decade’s time, went from newcomer to major player, won 22 stakes this year, owning the first half of Spa meet).  2. Godolphin (dah).  3. Peter Brant.

Breeder   1. Summer Wind Equine (Charlie, I deserve to have my thumbs broken if I didn’t recognize Flightline’s parents. 2. Godolphin (dominating the horse world). 3. Stonestreet Thoroughbred Holdings (consistent, high quality year over year).

Jockey   1. Irad Ortiz Jr. (tactics notwithstanding, record-breaking stakes winner).  2. Flavien Prat (wins everywhere, multiple-style talent, never rattles).  3. Joel Rosario (see Prat).

Apprentice Jockey  1. Vicente Del-Cid (not many bug boys win at 22%, remarkable).  2. Jose Antonio Gomez (not many bug boys win $7.1 million in prize money).  3. Jeiron Barbosa (saw him a few times, had some style, won at 17.8% on tough circuit).

Trainer  1. Todd Pletcher  2. John Sadler  3. Bill Mott

Horse of the Year  Flightline (there are over 100 voters and it should be unanimous).

Addenda:  Hello Pandora. U.S. has been wanting to go international and it worked. But that means mostly grass, as above. And that’s fine with me; often better wagering, easier on the animals… Some categories, such as apprentice, hurdles, are heavily stats oriented… Notable omissions were Bob Baffert (28% but would have liked to see him ship more often, small-field California King) and Chad Brown ($30 million in earnings, 26%, two likely champions, turf females carried most of the water–and Chad could care less about what I think).

  • edit made 8:45 pm 010322 (record on Goodnight Olive were correct as posted in original copy, we apologize for the omission of the name of the winner)

Statistics used were compiled through early December

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6 Responses

    1. Thanks Tink, and as I having been saying in recent days, happiness is a relative thing. Good health to all!

      Modern Games just went out and proved it in NA, twice, while stepping out his division. That clinched it for me–that and the 11 Grade/Group 1 winners he defeated on those occasions.

  1. Trainer is such a hard call. Pletcher’s 3 champions tips the scale in his favor, but curious to your thoughts on separating Sadler, Mott, and Chad Brown.

  2. Kinda’ can’t, Doc. Chad is prolific and dominating on turf as all are aware and his $30M is earnings shades Todd’s $29M.

    When people ask me who the best trainer is, my default is Mott, and he had some kind of Breeders’ Cup. But there’s no the answer to that question.

    On Sadler, went to see Julia Shining this week up at Palm Beach Downs. Was talking horses with Mr. Pletcher and he said “good point about John Sadler. Spacing those races and having him ready, he deserves a lot of credit.” As stated, would have split my vote…

    1. Yeah I also think Sadler deserves a ton of credit for sending Flightline to Belmont for the Met Mile. For all he knew, he was putting himself up against Life Is Good at LIG’s wheelhouse distance, in LIG’s literal back yard. Not his fault that LIG couldn’t make it. Mott has had a great year, as always, and he is obviously a tremendous trainer. Chad had a great year, and I sincerely hope that people who didn’t find him worthy of an Eclipse this year were judging him on the track only.

      I think in the aftermath of the BC, credit should also be given to Todd and Irad for the way they handled the Classic. That was the epitome of sportsmanship in my opinion, sending LIG out there and saying ‘we are either going to hold off Flightline and win, or we are going to fade out of it trying’. They had no qualms about possibly ending up 6th with a dead tired animal as opposed to playing it safe and getting a pretty much guaranteed 2nd place finish locked up by conserving him early. It seems fitting that both men directly responsible for those tactics are looking at Eclipse awards.

  3. Nothing to add Doc, with one aside. Taking Life Is Good, or any horse, out of their best game is never a good thing in my view and is no guarantee of runnerup honors.

    Many naturally fast horses resent restraint and don’t always give their best performance. As for a money finish, I don’t think we saw his ‘A’ race that day, running like a horse that was over the top of condition. LIG has earned his retirement…

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