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The Conscience of Thoroughbred Racing

ONE MAN’S ECLIPSE AWARD BALLOT AND A COUPLE OF SUGGESTED RULES CHANGES

HALLANDALE BEACH, January 1, 2024 — It’s been a long, strange trip in Thoroughbred racing this year but we’re going to keep on truckin’, taking the good with the bad, the worse, and the downright ugly.

But we shall end 2023 on a positive note, posting our three finalists in each Eclipse Award category. Be forewarned: We’ll be thinking outside the box in several important categories and many will disagree.

Then that’s horseracing, yes? And I can live with that.

Vote-splitting is not allowed but we’re going to do that in this space, realizing my ballot as such would be disqualified. We will, however, fill out a traditional ballot so as not to penalize any equine or human participant.

We will effort to predict who will win, our choices, the thought process that goes with it, but first these few suggestions knowing they never will see the light of day.

The current rules are what they are and no clear mandate for voters exists. But we believe that more often than not more than one entity rates to be voted best in show. Thus, vote-splitting should be allowed.

Further it, as many voters believe that imports who beat our best at the Breeders’ Cup World Championships only once does not trump a season’s body of work, change the qualifier to something like two North American starts, both at the Grade 1 level. Until then, the current rule applies.

Without ado, three required choices in each classification, listed on the official ballot as they appear in order below:

STEEPLECHASE CHAMPION

Probable Winner: No clue, as this category is open to highly subjective interpretation.

1-Belfast Banter: Five runners each won a Grade 1, but only one… Beat subsequent Grade 1 Grand National winner Noah And the Ark decisively getting 14 pounds in the G1 Smithwick, his final start of 2023.

2-Noah And The Ark

3-Merry Maker

JUVENILE MALE CHAMPION

Probable Winner: Fierceness

1-Fierceness: Huge precedent as BC Juvenile winner in the most dominating performance on 2023 at the highest level.

2-Big Evs: Two Group stakes in Europe and the BC Juvenile Turf Sprint.

3-Muth: Dominating G1 American Pharoah out west but distant second in Juvenile.

JUVENILE FILLY CHAMPION

Probable Winner: Just F Y I

1-Just FYI: Undefeated, brilliant, exudes class.

2-Hard to Justify: Undefeated, brilliant, very classy turf lassie.

3-She Feels Pretty: Deserved better luck in BC Juvenile Fillies Turf.

THREE-YEAR-OLD MALE

Probable Winner: Arcangelo

DH-1: Arcangelo for his Peter Pan, Belmont, and Travers

DH-1: Auguste Rodin only North American starter to win four Group/Grade 1s, twice beating older horses

3: Forte: A defending champion in the conversation for divisional honors all season.

THREE-YEAR-OLD FILLY

Probable Winner:  Pretty Mischievous

1-Pretty Mischievous: Three Grade 1s include tragedy marred Test and highly prestigious Kentucky Oaks.

2-Mawj:  Two Group/Graded G1, lone defeat in five starts was by nose to older male Master of the Seas in G1 BC Mile.

3-Anisette:  Four-for-six including two Grade 1s in Del Mar and American Oaks.

OLDER DIRT MALE

Probable Winner:  Cody’s Wish

DH-1 Cody’s Wish: Split decisions with White Abarrio, winning three Grade 1s.

DH-1 White Abarrio:  Won the two most prestigious Grade 1s for older horses run in North America and the first horse to win the Classic off a three-month layup.

3-Elite Power: (5) 4-1-0, two G1s including BC Sprint and a Middle Eastern Grade 2

OLDER DIRT FEMALE

Probable Winner:  Idiomatic

1-Idiomatic: Eight-for-nine and a placing plus three G1s makes her a possible Horse of the Year contender.

DH-2­-Goodnight Olive: Defending BC F & M Sprint repeater and won the G1 Madsion, too.

DH-2-Echo Zulu:  Three-for-three and dusted ‘Olive’ in their only meeting.

MALE SPRINTER

Probable Winner:  Elite Power

1-Elite Power:  as above

2-Cody’s Wish: G1 Vosburgh and the one-turn G1 Met Mile.

3-Gunite: Only sprinter to defeat Elite Power this year.

FEMALE SPRINTER

Probable Winner: Lean to Goodnight Olive but Echo Zulu would be no surprise

DH-1-Goodnight Olive: How does one not vote for a champion who defends her title successfully?

Dh-1-Echo Zulu: How does one not vote for an undefeated runner who smoked the defending champion in their only meeting?

3-Maple Leaf Mel: RIP

MALE TURF

Probable Winner: Up to the Mark

DH-1-Up to the Mark: Had he won the BC Turf, a certain Horse of the Year contender.

DH-1-Auguste Rodin: Defeated top choice in only meeting and, as stated, only four-time Grade/Group 1 winner to run in North America.

3-Master of the Seas:  Won G1 Woodbine and Breeders’ Cup Mile, beaten a nose at Keeneland by Up to the Mark in a Grade 1.

FEMALE TURF

Probable Winner: In Italian, home team likely to prevail

1-Inspiral: three Group/Grade 1 wins and a neck loss in Gr. 1 Queen Anne

2-Mawj: Nose shy of perfect 5-for-5 season, losing a BC Mile head-bobber

3-In Italian: Two Grade 1 wins but two no-excuse G1 placings

OUTSTANDING TRAINER

Probable Winner: Toss up; Brad Cox or Bill Mott

DH-1: Bill Mott, sensational work with almost perfect season’s from veterans Cody’s Wish and Elite Power

DH-1:  Brad Cox, $30 million in earnings and 12 multi-division Grade 1s.

DH-1:  Rick Dutrow engineered two most prestigious older-horse routes including the BC Classic off longest layoff in its history.

OUTSTANDING JOCKEY

Probable Winner: Irad Ortiz Jr.

DH-1-Irad Ortiz Jr. astounding, dominating season with most earnings, wins, graded wins and Grade 1 stakes

DH-1-Javier Castellano, two Classics, seventh Travers, and a host of high profile, upset victories

3-Tyler Gaffalione, King of Kentucky was second in earnings and wins

OUTSTANDING APPRENTICE

Probable WinnerAxel Concepcion

1-Axel Concepcion was leading newcomer in races and money won

2-Jamie Torres, runnerup while competing in high-profile spots

3-Sofia Vives, runnerup in money and races won

OUTSTANDING OWNER

Probable Winner: Godolphin LLC

1-Godolphin dominated at sport’s highest levels

2-Klaravich, per usual, was laudably consistent

3-Bruno Schickedanz, led North America in victories

OUTSTANDING BREEDER

Probable Winner: Godolphin LLC

1-Godolphin LLC was dominant in earnings, graded wins, and Grade 1 victories

2-Brereton C Jones won 206 races with 235 starters

3-Stonestreet Thoroughbred Holdings won 137 races with 158 starters

HORSE OF THE YEAR

Probable Winner: Cody’s Wish

1-Cody’s Wish: transcendent excellence

2-Idiomatic: (9) 8-1-0 slate speaks loudest

DH-3 Up to the Mark dominating G1 turf performer

DH-3 White Abarrio dominating G1 older dirt router

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6 Responses

  1. It’s never a bad thing to start an article with references to the Grateful Dead. There’s trouble ahead, and trouble behind. Thanks, John.

    1. Trouble ahead and trouble, in fact, that notion just crossed my mind. Happy and Healthy New York Les–and all within eyeshot of this space.

  2. Love the comeback Javier pulled off in 2023 – he had that knee injury and it turns out all he needed was some time to let it get to 100%. I’m glad trainers kept using him and that his agent did such a good job in 2023. I think we see over the next 5-6 years Javier advancing the gameplan of Johnny V. where he becomes I high quality sniper just selectively choosing mounts to keep the volume down.

    Having said that, I have him 3rd in my jockey Eclipse, behind Tyler. I’m going to have to disagree with you on the dead heat up top; in my opinion, Jockey is one Eclipse race that isn’t even remotely close. To me the real argument is Tyler vs Javier in the runner up spot, and I can see the case for either.

    Agree 100% on Trainer. It’s probably Mott’s year, but Rick Dutrow absolutely did things with limited stock that make him well deserving of a top 3 spot.

    I also have White Abarrio as my horse of the year. That one is debatable though, and Cody’s Wish is obviously a very solid as is Idiomatic. I’m also a gigantic Rick Dutrow fanboy, so I have to concede my judgement could be cloudy on this one.

  3. Doc, your thoughts are well ordered, per usual. Just thought it was one of those kind of years when, without clear dominance in a particular category, anything goes.
    Something else, too. American racing is going international which is as it should be. And with grass racing taking on a bigger role in U.S. racing, turf horses should get as much consideration in a championship category as dirt horses. Why not?

    1. It’s a great point re: turf racing and its increased prominence in American racing. At this time next year, for all we know we might be talking about Integration’s upcoming Horse of the Year Eclipse.

      1. I share your enthusiasm for this talented individual, but a new year gives the competition time to catch up plus the waters are going to get a lot deeper.

        I’ll remind you of what Sorvino said to Caan in The Gambler: “They don’t pay off at the half Axel,” assuming no props, of course.

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