The Eclipse Awards honor Thoroughbreds and individuals whose accomplishments through the year have garnered them status as Champion in their specific category. For those unfamiliar with the award, it’s what the Academy Awards are to the movie industry or the Grammys to the music industry. Members of the National Turf Writers & Broadcasters (NTWAB), National Thoroughbred Racing Association, and the Daily Racing Form cast their ballots, choosing a first, second, and third in 17 categories. The finalists will be announced live on HRTV January 8 and the winners announced at the awards ceremony January 18 at Gulfstream Park in Hallandale, Fla.
As a member of the NTWAB, I get to vote in the Eclipse Awards. There are no hard and fast rules or guidelines in voting, so every voter must determine what makes a champion. It’s not a task I take lightly or complete quickly. I’ve been thinking about whom I might vote for throughout the year as I’ve watched the races and I’ve devoted a lot of thought recently to who I feel best deserves the awards. What follows are my choices and my reasoning behind them. I didn’t list my reasoning in the people categories, but most of my choices involved sheer numbers and quality of races in accomplishments, as well as overall impact among fans and the sport.
2-Year-Old Colt: At this point in their young careers, you can’t knock a light body of work, but examine the quality of that work. 1) In only three starts, New Year’s Day went from maiden winner to Breeders’ Cup Juvenile (G1) winner. He beat Bond Holder, who went on to win the Front Runner Stakes (G1) in his maiden win and beat Havana in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile. 2) In Havana’s three career starts, he has a Grade 1 win over Honor Code (Champagne Stakes) and a runner-up finish to New Year’s Day in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile. 3) It’s hard to make a third choice, but a case can be made for Strong Mandate. Although he only won one Grade 1 race this year (Hopeful by 9 ¾ lengths), he showed up for three and was third in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile.
2-Year-Old Filly: Same as with the boys, it’s hard to judge the best of the best on a slight body of work. Although it seems fitting to give the Eclipse to the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies (G1) winner, there has to be more to consider than one race. 1) She’s A Tiger was disqualified for interfering with Ria Antonia in the stretch of the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies and placed second. She’s still a baby and figuring things out, so I won’t let that bad behavior influence my vote. Before the Breeders’ Cup, She’s A Tiger had racked up three wins, including the Grade 1 Del Mar Debutante, and grabbed place finishes in the Grade 1 Chandelier and Grade 2 Sorrento. She’s been first or second in six career starts. 2) Sweet Reason was fourth in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies, beaten only two lengths. She won the Grade 1 Spinaway and lost the Grade 1 Frizette by 1 ¼ lengths to Artemis Agrotera and finished nearly three lengths in front of the accomplished Stopchargingmaria. 3) Ria Antonia had a good day to win the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies, her first graded stakes win. I’m excited to see what she does as a 3-year-old, but just like She’s A Tiger, her Breeders’ Cup performance is not going to be the sole determiner for my vote.
3-Year-Old Male: 1) Will Take Charge is a pretty easy choice for 3-Year-Old Male Champion. He wasn’t spectacular early in the year, with only two wins going into the Kentucky Derby (Smarty Jones Stakes and Rebel Stakes), and well out of the money in all three Classic races. However, he returned in late July as a new colt and lost the Jim Dandy (G2) to Palace Malice by only a length. He went on to pick up his first Grade 1 win in the Travers and grabbed a win in the Pennsylvania Derby (G2). He moved on to older company and missed winning the Breeders’ Cup Classic (G1) by a nose. That would have been enough to give him the lead in the 3-year-old division, but he solidified his place when he capped the year with a win over Game On Dude in the Clark Handicap (G1). 2) Goldencents started the year with a win in the Sham Stakes (G3) and went into the Kentucky Derby off a win in the Santa Anita Derby (G1), but was unable to show any brilliance in the Kentucky Derby or Preakness. When he returned to racing in late July, he moved up to older company and back to shorter distances, which seemed to work well, with three second-place finishes in Grade 1 and Grade 2 races and defeat coming no more than a length to the likes of Fed Biz and Points OfftheBench. He went on to win the Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile (G1), but finished the year with a loss in a tough Cigar Mile (G1). 3) I would not have thought going into the year that I’d make the Kentucky Derby winner third among my votes for 3-Year-Old Champion, but Orb did not pan out to be the best in his class. He garnered early success like Will Take Charge and Goldencents, but was unable to win another race after the Kentucky Derby.