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By Jay Hovdey
The most frustrating aspect of voting for Eclipse Award champions is being asked to perform the Solomonic task of chosing between a pair of compelling claimants to a title. Voters have had their fill of this the past three years, dealing with the lofty merits of Curlin, Rachel Alexandra and Blame as they related to the undeniable appeal of Zenyatta. By comparison, King Sol had it easy. One of the "mothers" in the question splitting the baby was a fraud and, in his wisdom, he figured it out. He also wrote some songs.
Eclipse ballots for 2011 honors have arrived, along with the fruitcake, and for the most part the answers are straightforward. As colleague (okay...boss) Steven Crist noted the other day, a few of the horse categories defy quick answers, but most of them can be done on the fly, and with barely a second thought.
I will leave it to the will of the people to identify the 3-year-old male champion. Since none of the names considered as candidates lives up even to the contemporary standards set by the likes of Smarty Jones, Afleet Alex, Curlin, Bernardini, Funny Cide, or Big Brown, the vote will be cast with a shrug of the shoulders. Fretting over Animal Kingdom (two stakes wins) or Caleb's Posse (no wins past a mile and a sixteenth) hardly rises to the agonies inflicted by the wrenching choices between Arts and Letters and Majestic Prince in 1969, between Key to the Mint and Riva Ridge in 1972, or between Wajima and Foolish Pleasure in 1975.
As for the puzzle of champion female sprinter, I'm still not convinced there even should be such a category, subverting as it does the raw, rampaging corner of racing history in which such mares as Pan Zareta, Affectionately, Ta We, Chou Croute, My Juliet, What a Summer, Gold Beauty, Safely Kept, Very Subtle and Soviet Problem made their bones in fierce combat with males. They did not require any form of affirmative action.
What really hurts, though, is to deny one of the two most accomplished male horses a championship, since both of them did the bulk of their business on grass. Cape Blanco has the Eastern, Midwestern and Irish delegations wrapped up with his three transatlantic scores -- the Man o' War, the Arlington Million and the Joe Hirsch Turf Classic -- an electoral reality that leaves Acclimation out in the cold despite his victories on California turf in the Jim Murray, the Charles Whittingham, the Eddie Read and the Clement Hirsch.
There is a way to vote for both, though. Acclamation, for all his prowess on grass, also won a very competitive renewal of the $1 million Pacific Classic at Del Mar, which gives him a legitimate place among the candidates for Older Male honors. In his Pacific Classic he not only defeated Twirling Candy -- winner of the Strub on dirt and Californian on synthetic -- but also the 1-2 finishers in the Santa Anita Handicap, Game on Dude and Setsuko, the San Diego Stakes winner Tres Borrachos and Jeranimo, who went on to take the Oak Tree Mile and the Citation Handicap.
(At this point, those with a lingering prejudice against synthetic main track competition, like that which is found at Del Mar, are respectfully acknowledged. They are excused to turn elsewhere on the DRF site, and I would recommend Watchmaker, who offers an egg nog recipe to die for.)
Exceller, a Hall of Famer, is the patron saint of all those fine Thoroughbreds who find a crack and then fall through it -- in more sad ways than one. In 1978, aided and abetted by Bill Shoemaker and Charlie Whittingham, Exceller won the Arcadia Handicap, the San Juan Capistrano, the Hollywood Turf Invitational (now the Whittingham Memorial), the Sunset Handicap and the Oak Tree Invitational (now the Hirsch), all on grass, along with the Hollywood Gold Cup and Jockey Club Gold Cup on main tracks as different as night and day. The fact that such a record could not receive some sort of championship recognition was both a miscarriage of justice and a sign of the times, since 1978 may have been one of the hardest years in modern racing history in which to win a major stakes race, what with Seattle Slew, Affirmed, Alydar, J.O. Tobin, Vigors, Mac Diarmida and Tiller also roaming the land. Exceller's death 19 years later in a Swedish slaughterhouse made his Eclipse Award snub both inconsequential and all the more heartbreaking.
In 1982, Eclipse voters were faced with not one but two horses of monumental achievement in a variety of conditions. Between them, Lemhi Gold and Perrault won the San Luis Rey, the San Juan Capistrano, the Hollywood Gold Cup, the Sword Dancer Handicap, the Arlington Million, the Marlboro Cup and the Jockey Club Gold Cup. One of them -- okay, Perrault -- also defeated reigning Horse of the Year John Henry by a nose in the Santa Anita Handicap but was disqualified for interference. You could have voted for either horse in either category -- Older Male or Turf Male -- and slept like a baby. In the end they both got trophies.
So excuse me for giving myself a present this Eclipse Award season. Cape Blanco had a great year over here, as did Acclimation out West in races ranging from 9 to 12 furlongs. The fact that neither horse was able to answer the bell for the Breeders' Cup should not be held against them. In fact, nothing should be held against them -- especially having come along in the same season. As soon as I can figure out the protected password and secret handshake allowing access to my Eclipse ballot, I'll be going with Cape Blanco on grass and Acclimation as an all-around champion Older Male, then sit back and enjoy the fact that Acclimation will be back in 2012 to try and do it all again.
Eclipse Awards ?????????? I thought those were discredited in '08,'09 when they were bought with cases of wine like Sharon Stone passing out Rolex's for votes. The Eclipse awards are a joke.
Jay, This Zenyatta/Rachel thing is as hilarious today as it was back when..The reason Z didn't get the award in '08 & then '09 was two-fold..She ducked Rachel repeatedly in '09..The Mosses refused to run her on DIRT, at least the majority of the time. The racing world really doesn't give a hoot about plastic. Plastic is for plates & cups. What is it, like 90% dirt here ? When in Rome, do as the Romans, No ? How many races did Z win vs. males on Dirt, at any distance ever ? Zero for 1. None...Rachel ? 3 for 3, & all G1's, all in a 3 month period..Who went missing in the Woodward ? The big girl...Oh yeah!! There were Detention barns, travel, a sloppy dirt track inexcused scratch..Besides the fact that in '09, Z would have needed binoculars just to find Rachel Alexandra the Great's butt. How ironic is poetic justice Jay ? Z wins her HOY after losing her only race ever on Dirt vs. Males. The answer is quite simple to me. Run on plastic, & get what you deserve. Curt
I agree, CHoffman. Curlin's HOY award in 2008 was a joke, given that he was all out to beat Wonderin' Boy (may he RIP), and was defeated by two European milers and Tiago - basically folding like a piece of origami when the steroids were absent from his system. Mineshaft did not start in the BC Classic, but he won enought eastern grade ones to qualify. Sounds as if the people who have worked in the industry take into account a different type of criteria from the people who only comment on it...
You make decisions "on the fly" "with a shrug of the shoulders" "agonizing" harder than Solomon's? This is about horses in races...a game. You know what my favorite part of this year was? NO horse could be fawned over ad nauseum...not that you sportswriters didn't try...especially with Uncle Mo...this was my favorite year in a long time...and now you guys will all try to dismiss the year and the horses...well, not to me. I loved 'em all and won a bunch of money!
I do not understand how horses like Rachel or Havre de Grace would even be considered HOY horses....These two horses were good and competitive at 9 furlongs but these 2 were never classic distance horses. The eastern voters must have lowered their bar and must have forgotten what great horses were...the ability at least to run OPEN Grade 1 10 furlongs.... 2008 Curlin 2009 Zenyatta 2010 Blame 2011 Hopefully Cape Blanco or Acclimation..... Oh I forgot....today the 6-9 furlong speed horse are the norm. How sad.
I'm comfortable with your solution, but I wouldn't hold my breath. The only Grade 1 races held in lower regard than graded stakes races on turf in California are graded stakes races on synthetic in California. The east coast bias is even clear enough for this New Yorker to see.
So many misguided and naïve comments, hence the reason why only a select few are privileged to vote on eclipse awards. First we have a poster who states that a horse with no 2 turn wins should go out to California and run in a meaningless Hollywood Derby at 1 ¼ mile. It seems as if I’ve seen this person post before, on another blog or website, maybe someone should clue this person to the fact that dirt horses don’t perform so well on turf, just cluing you in. The same poster stated that his prerequisite for HOY for HDG was for her to win a 1 ¼ race, well neither Rachel Alexandra or Zenyatta won a 1 ¼ mile race during their HOY campaigns, enough said there. Next we have a poster that fields that a horse with I believe it to be ungraded 60k stakes at Belmont, and a BC Classic should even be mentioned among serious candidates for the award, you have to find a way to get a grip, and then we have the most embarrassing of all, the person that states that beating $5k claimers 19 times is a feat that should be awarded an eclipse. The year Pepper’s Pride finished her streak no one found a need to look at a horse running in the lower level to give an eclipse award. It’s a travesty and a slap in the face to the connections of horses that step up in class to be mentioned with a horse whose connections primarily drop them in class to bolster a streak. It very much reminds me of the cowardice showed by Jerry Moss and the connections of Zenyatta in not taking on the best of the best more than twice in her supposedly incredible career. Last to all of the Acclamation supporters, please remind me of a time where a HOY winner had a 5th place and last place finish on the resume. I would probably have to go back a while to be able to find a horse with such a weak resume supposedly in contention for eclipse honors. Acclamation ducked the top turf races in America, to take down Grade 3 and Grade 2 quality fields in Cali. No need to make mention of the allowance horses that he was taking on. In my opinion he deserves no award and I feel strongly that he will come away with not one mention on Eclipse night. Its sad to continue to hear west coasters try to act as if there is a bias against their horses. There isn’t, the bias is feeling that west coast racing is some type of standard that the industry should try to up hold. Never in my time of being a fan have I ever remembered West Coast racing being so weak, soft and just below the standards that were previously set. 3 and 4 horse fields, empty stands and grade 1 races with the flavor of allowance optional claimers. That is the quality of horse racing if you can call it that in California, so please don’t get upset when a horse like a Zenyatta or an Acclamation whose people wont campaign in a championship manner gets snubbed at the Eclipse awards for certain categories. It’s the nature of the beast and its about the quality of the race and competition that you face. And for you Acclamation fans, the Man O’ War, Arlington Million and Joe Hirsch were 3 opportunities for the connections to prove that their horse was best in the US, Cape Blanco came many miles to face the best on 3 occasions, Acclamation’s people wouldn’t put him on a plane for the 3-5 hour flight to face that best that the US had to offer, they were content to beat Falcon Rock in Cali. This my friends is the reason acclamation’s connections will leave the awards empty handed.
Hi Jay, Posters who are dissing the Big "D" for HOY or Older Male Honors obviously failed to bet Him in the Classic! Do I smell sour grapes? I did, and I cashed a lucrative Exacta and Trifecta for one of my biggest Breeder Cup scores. Handicappers who did not bet the Big "D" are using a fatelly flawed System. Two important factors convinced me that the Big "D" hasd a realistic chance to win the Classic: Mike Smith was in the Irons again and the Classic was run at CD, one of "D"'s favorite Dirt Courses! In short, Mr "D" demolished the entire field in this year's Classic! I hope Commentators, Handicappers and Voters replay the Classic again and again to see a Champion who richly deserves HOY and Older Male Honors! Those who disparage the Classic running time as "One of the Slowest" ever are clinging to a useless Handicapping Factor. Please remember the old but true Racing Adage below: "Time is Only Important if You are Doing it in the Big House!" Diceman
Jay: I would be happy if Acclamation won the older male Eclipse. I knew Acclamation had no shot at the male turf Eclipse, which I thought would be close between he and Cape Blanco, when the majority of turf writers classified it as a "done deal"(with Cape Blanco the winner). Perhaps Cape Blanco does deserve it, but I thought it would at least be open to discussion. But the male turf Eclipse is going to Cape Blanco, and it will be an avalanche. So, Acclamation's only chance at an Eclipse is for Older Male. I have advocated, ever since the Pacific Classic, that Acclamation is the best male horse to have raced in California all year. He beat the likes of Jeranimo and Caracortado going a middle distance on turf, Champ Pegasus, Bourbon Bay, and Celtic New Year going long on turf, and Twirling Candy and Game on Dude going 10 furlongs on synthetic. The best in Cali was Acclamation. But I'm not expecting Acclamation to get the older male. I sense very little support for Acclamation. In my opinion, it's going to come down to Game on Dude and Tizway. Because I see little chance of Acclamation winning, mainly because he didn't win outside Cali, I have been a supporter of Game on Dude. Although he doesn't have Acclamation's winning percentage, Game on Dude ran across the country on dirt and different types of synthetic, and only ran "poorly" over Del Mar's synthetic, and even then he was nosed out for 3rd. Game on Dude ran arguably the best race in the Classic, won the Big Cap and Goodwood, ran huge in the Hollywood Gold Cup, and ran well in the $1million Charles Town Classic(ahead of Tizway). Game on Dude ran, and ran well, in front of most Eclipse voters, and for that reason I believe he will win the Eclipse. And I'm ok with that.
Acclimation should be out of the running due to Sky Beauty Rule instituted by West Coast types years ago.
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