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Confessions of a burned-out Eclipse voter
If there’s one thing I’ve learned, it’s not to discuss politics, religion, and Eclipse Award ballots.
If there’s one thing I need to learn, it’s that it’s sometimes okay to say “no.”
So, when I was asked to contribute my personal Eclipse ballot for 2011, I was at a crossroads.
Thinking back on past Eclipse discussions, I remember being vilified in the blogosphere after proclaiming my vote for Bernardini over Barbaro as champion 3-year-old of 2006.
Two years later, eyebrows were raised again when I selected Zenyatta over Curlin as 2008 Horse of the Year.
I actually received death threats when I announced that I was voting for Rachel Alexandra over Zenyatta as "mostest" horse of 2009.
Last year, I kept quiet.
Last year was a good year.
But most worm cans must be opened, so let’s try breaking down the 2011 candidates. There are no set criteria for Eclipse balloting other than common sense. Each voter has his or her own personal preferences. I look for overall accomplishment, head-to-head racing record, and quality of competition.
This past racing season may not have showcased the star power of years past, but many of the divisions are wide open – so much so that one of my top choices did not even make the final ballot. [MORE: 2011 Eclipse Awards finalists]
The race for champion jumper looks to come down to a photo finish between Black Jack Blues and Tax Ruling.
The wildly inconsistent Tax Ruling will likely receive many votes for his two Grade 1 victories over the jumps (Iroquois, Colonial Cup), but he was beaten more than 45 lengths in his seasonal debut in the Grade 3 Carolina Cup and was pulled up in the Grade 1 Grand National.
My selection, Black Jack Blues, only has a single Grade 1 win on his card, but that was the Grand National, a race in which he ran Tax Ruling into the ground early and kept on going to win by an easy seven lengths. Unchallenged in two starts since being imported from Europe, Black Jack Blues showed brilliance and class in both of those races. Either one of the two top contenders would make a worthy Eclipse winner, but my vote goes to Black Jack Blues.
Selection: Black Jack Blues
Going into the Breeders’ Cup, the top two juveniles were arguably Union Rags, winner of the Saratoga Special and Champagne, and Creative Cause, who took of the Best Pal and Norfolk. Both had their chance to lock down divisional honors in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile, and both were shown up by undefeated Hansen, who has yet to be headed in three lifetime starts. Union Rags ran a game second in the Juvenile, but it was Hansen who stole the show, and likely the Eclipse, with his gutsy gate-to-wire performance. A runaway winner of his first two starts, Hansen had to dig down and fight in the Juvenile. Hansen won when it counted the most and beat the horses he had to beat.
I won’t waste much space on this award as there should be an investigation if My Miss Aurelia doesn’t win unanimously. The Smart Strike filly won all four of her races, including the Grade 1 Frizette and Grade 1 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies, scored at distances ranging from 5 1/2 furlongs to 1 1/16 miles, and was simply in a different league than her peers.
Selection: My Miss Aurelia
Usually, this award goes to a 3-year-old who prevailed in one of the three Triple Crown races but, in 2011 those horses were plagued by inactivity and inconsistency. Animal Kingdom won the race they all want, the Kentucky Derby, and he was a game second in the Preakness before suffering through a terrible trip in the Belmont. Unfortunately, he was injured and his season ended in mid-June. Shackleford grabbed the Preakness and Ruler On Ice shocked in the Belmont, but this game is about winning, and Shackleford and Ruler On Ice went a combined 2 for 18 (both wins in entry-level allowances) outside of their scores in the Triple Crown series.
In my opinion, the best 3-year-old of 2011 was Caleb’s Posse, who won half of his 10 starts, defeated older horses, as well as Shackleford, in the Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile, took down Uncle Mo in the Grade 1 King’s Bishop, the flagship race for 3-year-old sprinters, and won stakes at distances ranging from 6 1/2 furlongs to 1 1/16 miles. Caleb’s Posse had his hiccups, to be sure, but so did all of the other logical contenders. With five stakes victories on his card, four in graded company and two at the Grade 1 level, Caleb’s Posse gets my vote as leading 3-year-old male.
Selection: Caleb’s Posse
As with the juvenile filly division, this one should be a no-brainer. Royal Delta beat all of the major contenders in the Grade 1 Alabama at Saratoga and finished off her season with a sparkling triumph against older females in the Breeders’ Cup Ladies’ Classic. Add in a win in the Grade 2 Black-Eyed Susan over subsequent Grade 1 Mother Goose heroine Buster’s Ready, and Royal Delta should win this hands-down.
Selection: Royal Delta
This is where the fur will begin to fly. For the most part, the handicap division was hampered by injuries and upset wins in major races by horses like Drosselmeyer (Breeders’ Cup Classic), Giant Oak (Donn Handicap), and Pool Play (Stephen Foster Handicap).
Tizway won two of the most important prizes in the Metropolitan Mile and Whitney Handicap, but he raced only four times due to lingering physical issues. Game On Dude would be a most deserving choice as he took two major Grade 1 races in Southern California and was dead-game in the Breeders’ Cup Classic, but he lost more than he won.
I believe that one older male was truly brilliant and dependable. A Grade 1 winner on turf and on the main track, Acclamation won five straight graded stakes from May through October and scored at distances ranging from nine to 12 furlongs. While it could be argued that he wasn’t beating up on the best competition around, he did defeat Game On Dude and the talented Twirling Candy on the square in the Pacific Classic and he humbled the good turf runners Jeranimo, Caracortado, Bourbon Bay, and Champ Pegasus. I don’t expect Acclamation to actually win the hardware, but he was consistently good in a year where consistency was sorely lacking.
There isn’t much to say. To many, Havre de Grace should be Horse of the Year as well as champion filly or mare. Her only losses this year came against champion Blind Luck (by a nose) and to males in the Breeders’ Cup Classic, and she defeated the boys as the favorite in the prestigious Grade 1 Woodward.
Selection: Havre de Grace
Amazombie didn’t finish off the board all year. He was good in the winter, winning the Sunshine Millions Sprint. He was good in the spring, taking down the Grade 2 Potrero Grande Handicap and Tiznow Stakes. And, he was very good in the fall, winning the Grade 1 Ancient Title Stakes before getting up to score in the Breeders’ Cup Sprint. An underrated performer, Amazombie ran hard all season and is a very deserving sprint champion.
I lost sleep debating whether to vote for Hilda’s Passion, a four-time graded-stakes winner who was certainly the fastest performer on the Beyer Speed Figures, or Musical Romance, who won only two graded races, but one of them was the Breeders’ Cup Filly and Mare Sprint. It came down to a game-time decision, and I voted for the latter, although I certainly see Hilda’s Passion’s obvious merits.
If you throw out Musical Romance’s turf and route races, she compiled a record of 8-5-2-0, and her largest margin of defeat was three-quarters of a length. Also, her Breeders’ Cup win came at the expense of 2011 Grade 1 winners Her Smile, Switch, and Turbulent Descent, and Grade 2 winners Great Hot, Irish Gypsy, Pomeroys Pistol, and Tar Heel Mom.
While a brilliant winner over Tar Heel Mom in the Grade 1 Ballerina at Saratoga, Hilda’s Passion made her money beating up on Tamarind Hall (lost to her once), Curlina, Tidal Pool, Amen Hallelujah, Stephanie Got Even, Ms. Vanenzza, and North Rodeo. That’s hardly a murderer’s row of filly sprinters.
Selection: Musical Romance
For me, it came down to my "crush" horse, Acclamation, and European import Cape Blanco, who shipped in to sweep the Man o’ War, Arlington Million, and Turf Classic Invitational, all highly coveted Grade 1 races on the grass. Cape Blanco nips Acclamation in Grade 1 turf victories by a 3-2 margin, but Acclamation also won the Grade 2 Jim Murray Handicap by seven lengths and the Grade 2 Clement L. Hirsch. From an accomplishment standpoint, it’s close.
Cape Blanco did defeat multiple champion Gio Ponti twice, but aside from that runner, a veteran who arguably lost a step in 2011, Cape Blanco didn’t exactly mash any killers. I have no argument with anyone who voted for Cape Blanco. Heck, if I voted on a different day, I may have gone for him as well. But, it’s Acclamation by a lip.
This was a strange division. Stacelita could easily win as she took down the Beverly D. and Flower Bowl Invitational after finishing third against males in the United Nations, but she bombed badly as the favorite in the Breeders’ Cup Filly and Mare Turf. Winter Memories was arguably the most brilliant, but she was beaten in her season finale in the Queen Elizabeth II Cup at Keeneland and never faced her elders. Dubawi Heights had a very good year and would be a deserving winner of this award, but she, too, faltered in the Breeders’ Cup. The Breeders’ Cup winner, Perfect Shirl, was a 27-1 outsider that didn’t win another race all season.
As for consistency, thy name was Never Retreat. Although the 6-year-old mare won only a single Grade 1, the First Lady at Keeneland, she also racked up three Grade 2 scores and one Grade 3 triumph while racing year-round, and she beat Perfect Shirl in the Canadian Stakes at Woodbine.
Selection: Never Retreat
Cases could certainly be made for Bill Mott for his Breeders’ Cup Ladies’ Classic–Breeders’ Cup Classic double, Bob Baffert for his many Grade 1 successes, and Steve Asmussen for his gaudy win total, but it’s hard to deny Todd Pletcher another trophy. Pletcher won the earnings title, finished third in wins, and won 43 graded stakes.
Selection: Todd Pletcher
Let’s go back-to-back with Ramon Dominguez, who led the nation in earnings, finished second in wins, and booted home 27 graded stakes winners, including Hansen in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile and Havre de Grace in the Woodward. John Velazquez deserves great consideration for another excellent season as well, and Javier Castellano had a fine year.
Selection: Ramon Dominguez
Ryan Curatolo cut his teeth on the tough Gulfstream and NYRA circuits, but Rosario Montanez led all apprentices in wins and earnings.
Selection: Rosario Montanez
Day in and day out, Midwest Thoroughbreds sent out live horses. The outfit easily led the nation in wins and finished second to the powerful Godolphin operation in earnings.
Selection: Midwest Thoroughbreds
It was another dominant year for Frank Stronach’s Adena Springs, the leader in starters, wins, earnings, and graded stakes wins.
Selection: Adena Springs
Horse of the Year
We could go so many ways. Havre de Grace was the dominant older female and defeated the boys in the Woodward; Game On Dude won the Goodwood and the Big Cap and came to play in the Breeders’ Cup Classic; Tizway won two of the most historically important races for older handicappers; Cape Blanco was untouchable on turf; Hansen and My Miss Aurelia ran the table for juvenile performers; Royal Delta claimed some major scalps. They all deserve a piece of the pie, but I’ll stick with Acclamation.
Like Havre de Grace, he won five graded stakes in 2011, including three Grade 1 events. He won on turf and he won on the main track. When some of the big names didn’t win out in the Breeders’ Cup, it left the door open for him. And this racing fan believes that he kicked it down with his midseason form. I won’t be surprised if he doesn’t win even one Eclipse, let alone the three that I handed him. He may not even be named champion California-bred with Breeders’ Cup Sprint winner Amazombie also on that ballot. That’s what kind of year it was in 2011. Acclamation was a consistent winner of top-level open races in a year of inconsistent performers. Shouldn’t that count for something? While I’m sure my selections will spark the usual debate and name-calling ("dolt" is usually the most prevalent), at least you can’t say that I’m cursed with the dreaded "East Coast bias."
HI EVERYBODY FOR THE FIRST TIME OF THE HISTORY..THE RE BALLOT FOR APPRENTICE ECLIPSE...THAT YOUNG GENERATION COULD BE THE JOCKEYS OF TOMOROW..AND THEY TORTURE THEM..THE REPORTERS SOME VERY FAMOUS WORKING IN HRTV OR ESPN..NEVER WATCH THE RACES ALL OVER THE COUNTRY AND THEY DAESENT KNOW NOTHING ABOUT RACES..THEY COMPARE CURATOLO FROM NY RIDING WITH THE TOP JOCK IN THIS COUNTRY AGAINST KYLE FREY KID S RIDING IN PARX WHERE NOBODYS WATCH WITH NO STAKES RACES OR GRADE.. AND THEY SAID THAT THIS ONE IS THE BEST ONE IN THE USA.....WHAT STUPID PEOPLE..THEY ARE LUCKY TO HAVE JOB...
I love your selections,however I would love to see "rapid redux" trainer david wells pick up trainer of the year,what he has done with that horse has been astounding.to me its not always about money,its making a average horse into a great one.
Hi Dan, Great writeup on your Eclipse picks. Don't get stressed too much because we all have to argue about things once the winners are chosen! lolYo I know this is more a handicapping forum but what a horrible incident at Santa Anita on Friday. I wonder at the time of your writing a response if there is a bit of an inquiry into things (although I'm sure it will pass as 'racing'). In the fifth was Coal Region Kid..a horse in form put with a rider Guiseppe Ercegovic who had 3 lifetime mounts in 2008 before this ride. It just looked fishy and sure enough, the horse broke down horribly. A terrible sight for the spectators. As handicappers we know to stay away from this horse because of the suspicious rider change...its just awful. Anyway...just wish the horse never made it to post. I was wondering if you could post the pps of Three In The Bag and Hesogoodwithmoney. I was surprised to come across both these horse as still racing in 2011. They were real battlers on the New York circuit in the past years. And because its Eclipse time can you post the pp's of Bum? Think he was a horse at the opposite end of the spectrum. Thanks so much, Greg
HDG: Garrett should have the ridgling on the lead turning for home and I think he will have just enough left to win this at 6F. Joel should have his gelding right there as well and can hold on for 2nd or even win this. Lots of others eligible for a piece but I will try for a price with the hot apprentice (Flores) and also use Baffert's other horse under. HDG wager: $4 TRI PW: 9-11 / 3-5-9-11 / 1-2-3-5-9-11..........$96 $1 TRI PW: 9 / 11 / 1-2-3-5.................................$4 Good luck and good health to all, I'm still breathin'
Just a note about the GP DD and P3 controversy from yesterday (BTW, I agree that the payoffs need some further explanation from the track). Without hopefully being accused of the dreaded "redboarding", I liked #1 Gentlemen's Bet in GP8 yesterday. Don't worry guys/thongs, I made all of a $10 WPS on the 30+/1 FTS, so it more than covers the other stupid bets I made the rest of the day (as I do my 3wk crash-course training for contest playing)...but no "lobster dinner for all"! Catalano, as already mentioned, is good (~20%) with FTSs. In addition, if you subscribe to gradeoneracing.com (very well worth the price - I've already paid for my full year subscription just from yesterday!) , you would have seen that Gentlemen's Bet had a couple of excellent works at KEE and CD in the fall, with the Nov6 CD work described as "...this one worked lights out in a monster 101 flat beating Millenium Star, a workmate by ten. They don't work faster from the gate and showed he could run a ton. Speedy, win early type..." Gentlemen's Bet was also a Group 2 Breeze Figure from last February's F-T sale (he was scratched from that sale) with a stride length over 2ft (26.37 vs 24.14) longer than the average stride length in the sale. IMO, if you are willing to do the "not in the past performance's investigation", maiden races continue to be a great place to find high price winners. Also... for HG today, to avoid confusion my previous wager should technically read as: $100EX #9/11 (not $100EX 9,11) Sorry for the error.
HG--- $50 tri---9/2/5,11 Lefty out...
Hello Dan, Please crank up the wayback machine. I'm intrested in a horse named Rag Bag. He ran @ Dover Downs. Yes there was flat racing at one time in Dover. There was clover in Dover. Rag Bag raced in 1969 or 1970. Thanks
SANTA ANITA – Friday (01-07-2012) Race 1 – My Diane, Babessa, Missy Ky I You DD: Sissy Wells Race 2 – Bench the Judge, Warren’s Tony R, Miles Heir DD: Coo Cachoo Race 3 – Dani’s Sis, Coparcenary, Key Allegro DD: Silver Luna Race 4 – Anniversary Girl, So Belle, Thisismystage DD: Wild Rose Race 5 – Itssultryinthecape, Dee Dee’s Legacy, Bruno’s Wager DD: Rummysecret War Race 6 – Linda Lou, Brown Is Beige, Picture Perfect DD: Vikkilee Race 7 – Hope and Believe, Runflatout, The Director DD: Thinking of Girls Race 8 – Tropiluk, Sky Larkin, Paperrockscissors DD: Donnotaurus
hello for your choice for the top apprentice im not agree Dan Ryan is was out during 7 weeks cause fracture clavicle in Belmont also Rosario as being in 2010 with 370 races normaly is account spot at 3 000 000 usd and Ryan ride with the elite of jockeys in us j velasquez j castellano and r dominguez 1 2 3 at the list of us jockeys !!! if he was in parx is not the same !!! right? and Ryan won 5 stakes !! what do you think?????? THAT WHY SUPPORT SOLDAT RYAN IS THE BEST
Dan- Gotta disagree on the turf horse. I saw Cape Blanco at the Million and he was just special. Then he won the Sword Dancer with a Fractured Knee! But that's why they allow over 200 people to vote-not everyone is going to agree. As for HOY, I couldn't fault too many votes but what about My Miss Aurelia. She beat the best 2yo fillies in the world and in a year when the older horses (other than Cape Blanco!) traded wins with one another she was CLEARLY the best in her division. (And I'm not sure she wouldn't have trounced older horses if she were allowed to run against them) When I'm out in Vegas for the HPWS in February, if the price is right she might even be worth a Derby Future. Here's my theory on what happened on the "fishy pick three" yesterday. On some of the betting sites (Xpress Bet is one) once you've put an amount in for a wager, it stays unless you change it (even if you change the type of wager) So my guess is someone with a good amount of $$$ in their account made a $100 win bet, then decided to play some the pick 3 and didn't change the amount back to $1. (And the Cat firster was very useable, I had him before I started to pare my ticket down to an affordable level,) He's LETHAL with young horses and firsters. I think he's still a little underrated because of his time with Calabrese. (After all anyone on this blog could win a high % of races if we could claim horses for 25 and drop them to 10 on a regular basis) But since they've split he's proven he can FLAT OUT TRAIN! One quick Gulfstream pick for today: 5th race-5-Outstanding Hope beaten 2 lengths off a layoff and was very competitive with better over the summer. 6/1 ML and he'll be a single for me in my dime pick 6 so I can spread later.