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    California Chrome
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    Kentucky Derby winner California Chrome is one of three nominees for horse racing’s most prestigious year-end honor, Horse of the Year. He’s also nominated for champion 3-year-old. Will he sweep both categories and walk away with the prizes when awards are handed out Saturday, January 17 at Gulfstream Park? 

    The Eclipse Awards presented by Daily Racing Form, the Breeders’ Cup, and the Stronach Group, has been honoring horse racing’s elite since 1971. The Eclipse Award nominees are selected by members of the National Thoroughbred Racing Association, Daily Racing Form, and the National Turf Writers And Broadcasters. Each voter selects a first, second and third choice in 17 categories. The horse receiving the most first-place votes in a category is crowned champion when the awards are presented.

    It’s almost a given that the Art Sherman-trained California Chrome will be chosen as 3-year-old champion. In a year full of talented three-year-olds, California Chrome did everything you’d want to see in a champion. In his six victories in nine starts, California Chrome won the Cal Cup Derby, San Felipe Stakes (G1), Santa Anita Derby (G1), Kentucky Derby (G1), Preakness Stakes (G1) and the Hollywood Derby (G1). So that’s two big Kentucky Derby preps, two Triple Crown races, and one race on the turf.

    In terms of defeat, California Chrome has never really turned in an embarrassing performance. That is unless you look at his seventh-place finish in the Pennsylvania Derby (G2), a race won by Bayern who is also in contention for 3-year-old and Horse of the Year honors. California Chrome's performance in that race can be excused however, given that it was his first start off of a three-month layoff following an arduous campaign. His third place finish in the Belmont (G1) can be excused due to traffic problems that never let him get going the way he liked. Still, he was only beaten 1 and ¾ lengths by Tonalist.

    California Chrome’s remaining defeat for the year was in the Breeders’ Cup Classic (G1). Traditionally, the Breeder’s Cup Classic has been the one race with the greatest potential to earn a horse the year-end trophy. Although there was an incident at the start of the race, as the horses broke from the gate that created controversy, California Chrome ran a bang-up race and nearly overcame the front-running Bayern to steal victory. Ultimately, the Derby winner lost the Breeders’ Cup by a neck, finishing third.

    If you’ve been carefully following along, you realize that in two of his three defeats this year California Chrome was beaten by fellow nominee, Bayern. Bob Baffert's Bayern did not compete in the Belmont Stakes, California Chrome’s remaining loss. 

    Bayern earned six wins (seven if you count his DQ in the Derby Trial (G3) in 10 starts. Of his victories, Bayern won the Woody Stephens (G2), the Haskell Invitational (G1) and the Breeders’ Cup Classic (1). He finished ninth, beaten 21 lengths in the Preakness Stakes (G1), his only Triple Crown attempt. That’s one prestigious 3-year-old race and the industry’s premier race for horses 3-years-old and up. Plus, he beat rival California Chrome twice.

    The remaining Horse of the Year nominee is Main Sequence, a 5-year-old gelding trained by Graham Motion that this year won four grade one races on the turf. He’s also nominated for turf champion and older male. He’s expected to be crowned turf champion and will likely pick up the award for older male as well. If Main Sequence wins two Eclipse Awards, one might think he’d naturally gain the title of Horse of the Year too.

    However, individuals with opinions and feelings select the Eclipse Award winners and there is no hard rule as to what makes one horse more worthy than another to be called Horse of the Year. For some voters, winning two Classic races elevates a horse. For others, winning the Breeders’ Cup Classic is the final determiner. Still some believe that you can’t name a horse Horse of the Year if you didn’t give it the title in its individual category.

    My Horse of the Year vote went to Shared Belief, a 3-year-old sidelined early in the year with an injury that came back halfway through the year to pick up three grade ones. Two of these were against older—the Pacific Classic and Awesome Again Stakes, and a grade two (the Los Alamitos Derby). He finished fourth in the Breeders Cup’ Classic after a troubled trip. In the seven months he raced this year, he had five wins and six starts. If not for his Breeders’ Cup loss, he would hold an undefeated career record.

    Personally, I didn't give Shared Belief my vote for 3-year-old champion because he didn’t win or compete in the Triple Crown or any of the races traditionally featuring the top 3-year-olds. I couldn’t give him older male because that category is restricted to 4-year-olds and older. There was no category besides Horse of the Year to honor the extraordinary accomplishments of Shared Belief. Alas, not enough of my fellow voters agreed and Shared Belief did not get a nomination in that category; though he did garner a nomination for 3-year-old champion.

    With my top choice out of the running for Horse of the Year, I would defer to my second choice, but she—Kentucky Oaks (G2) winner Untapable—didn’t get enough votes in that category either (despite having four grade one victories, a grade two win, a grade three win and a fifth place finish to boys in the Haskell Invitational (G1)). However, the fillies are often overshadowed by the colts in this category, unless they’ve beaten them, i.e., Rachel Alexandra (2009) and Zenyatta (2010).

    California Chrome was my third choice for Horse of the Year. I tried to “spread the wealth” a bit with my vote for Shared Belief, but California Chrome is a fitting candidate to take home Horse of the Year. He has the resume and he’s brought enthusiasm to the sport, while introducing new fans to the game.

    Do you agree? Who would you give your vote? Ultimately, who will win? Tune in to HRTV’s live broadcast of the awards at 8 p.m. EST Saturday, January 17 to find out.

    Photo: Kentucky Creative-Dan Dry

    Jessie Oswald's picture

    About Jessie Oswald

    I'm a lifetime Louisville resident with a passion for horse racing. When I'm not working as a paralegal or taking care of my family, I follow Thoroughbred racing and love to share the excitement and beauty of the sport with anyone willing to learn!

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