01/20/2013 9:49AM

Eclipse Award and Saturday Stakes Thoughts

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I don’t have a quibble with any equine Eclipse Award handed out Saturday night, save for Wise Dan getting the older male championship. I voted for Wise Dan to be champion turf male and Horse of the Year. But I voted for Fort Larned in the older male division because my interpretation of the spirit of that division's championship requires accomplishment on the main track. Fort Larned won the Breeders’ Cup Classic and Whitney on the dirt in 2012. Wise Dan did not win a race of any sort on the dirt last year.

But I’m really not all that worked up over Wise Dan getting the older male championship because, unlike Gio Ponti, who was named champion older male of 2009 despite failing to win a main track race of any type, at least Wise Dan won a main track race in 2012. That win was, of course, the Ben Ali, and though that was a Polytrack race, it still fits the definition of a main track race. However, no matter how big Wise Dan’s victory in the Ben Ali was, and it was huge in terms of both win margin and final time, a win in the Grade 3 Ben Ali falls well short of wins in the Grade I Breeders’ Cup Classic and Grade 1 Whitney. For me, anyway.

It has become, unfortunately, as much of an American racing tradition as the first Saturday in May, and early post times on Thanksgiving. I am talking about wacky, indefensible Eclipse Award votes. There were several again this year, but three really jumped out at me:

One voter thought It’s Tricky deserved the older female championship over Royal Delta despite finishing behind Royal Delta the two times they met in 2012, including a 9 1-2 length drubbing in the Beldame.

One voter thought The Lumber Guy’s victories in the Grade 1 Vosburgh and Grade 2 Jerome trumped I’ll Have Another’s trio of Grade 1 wins in the Santa Anita Derby, Kentucky Derby, and Preakness, and Grade 2 win in the Robert Lewis, and voted for The Lumber Guy to be champion 3-year-old male.

And the one that takes the cake, one voter, demonstrating a lack of the fundamental understanding that the Eclipse Awards are American racing championships, voted for Frankel to be Horse of the Year even though Frankel never set foot on an American track. Incredible.

Finally, a few words about two big stakes wins earlier Saturday, Ron the Greek’s 11 1-4 length score in the Sunshine Millions Classic at Gulfstream, and Oxbow’s 11 1-2 length romp in the LeComte at Fair Grounds.

Certainly, Ron the Greek’s task in the Sunshine Millions was made much easier when something went terribly wrong with odds-on favorite Mucho Macho Man. And I am always skeptical of big performances on wet tracks, and it was sloppy and sealed at Gulfstream Saturday. But it wasn’t like Ron the Greek was proving for the first time he was a good horse. We already knew he was off his two Grade 1 wins last year, including the Stephen Foster over none other than Wise Dan. What was impressive about Ron the Greek Saturday was the positional speed he showed. Ron the Greek spent much of 2012 rallying from downtown, but he was much closer early Saturday than we’ve become accustomed to, and he moved earlier, too. That just makes Ron the Greek a more dangerous horse.

Oxbow cruised on an easy early lead in the LeComte, setting slower fractions than 3-year-old fillies posted in the Silverbulletday one race earlier. And Oxbow beat a field of very questionable quality. But while Oxbow has a ways to go before he can be truly taken seriously, you have to be impressed with the way he ran away like a wild horse in the final furlong. That was pretty good, at least on this day.

Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Ahhhhh, but it appears that Singspiel "never set foot on an American track" and won an Eclipse Award in 1996, as "incredible" as that sounds, only to you, apparently. It appears that the "lack of fundamental understanding" in this case, is contageous.
Michael Watchmaker More than 1 year ago
Seriously? Singspiel won the Canadian International and finished 2nd in the BC Turf at Woodbine. Canada is part of North America, thus making Woodbine an American, if not U.S. track. Wow.
Jeff More than 1 year ago
Mike - I couldn't agree more with the lunacy of some of the EA voters. I know that the voting process is handled by a reputable accounting firm of some kind and maybe it's better that way. If some of these votes were made public... who knows what madness may follow. I have no problem with Wise Dan being HOY & Older Male HOY. He danced wherever the connections sent him (they went after $$$$ and felt he was better on the turf). His second in the Stephan Foster (with trouble lines) is sufficient and he tried every surface available to him. He ducked nothing and traveled to where the $$$ was. I think you are just a hard core "pure dirt racing" afficionado who cannot be convinced that Wise Dan would have run a 115-117 on any surface if he chose on that particular day he raced at Keeneland. It was a breath-taking performance and he moved like a machine (like Big Red) that day. Nothing would have beat him THAT day.
noocheroni More than 1 year ago
OXBOW & OTHERS THE YEAR OF THE "LUKAS"
michael More than 1 year ago
Mike, I have always been totally against sealed tracks. If it's sloppy, leave it sloppy. NY racing drives me nuts when they seal the track time and again when sloppy. I agree Wise Dan a nice horse, HOY, not at all. As far as ridiculous voting, they should identify the voters and their selections, and drum out the absurd voter, it ruins the game even superficially.
Dingle More than 1 year ago
Since when is "setting foot on an American track" any prerequisite for any of this. Everyone knows that Swain won an Eclipse Award in 1996 despite his having "never set foot on an American track".
Michael Watchmaker More than 1 year ago
You are mistaken. Swain never won an Eclipse Award.
Dingle More than 1 year ago
Oh stop it, indeed it was Singspiel who took the Eclipse that year despite his having "never set foot on an American track". (they were coupled during their 2-3 finish in the B.C. Turf, and I just wrote the wrong name) So again, since when is "setting foot on an American track" a prerequisite for an Eclipse Award????
Michael Watchmaker More than 1 year ago
As I noted to one other poster who somehow does not realize that Canada is part of North America, Singspiel won the Canadian International and finished second in the BC Turf at Woodbine. Woodbine might not be a U.S. track, but it is a North American track.
Manuel Fernandez-W More than 1 year ago
Mr. Watchmaker: The only disagreement I have with your voting is Wise Dan for horse of the year. I cannot understand how I'll Have Another did not get that award. Winning the Derby and Preakness is more than enough. But the horse had an undefeated campaign on top of those victories (including the Santa Anita Derby). Sorry, but I think is totally unfair. Unless the voters were taking into consideration O'Neil's transgressions, which will make it even worse.
Nick Arden More than 1 year ago
Racing at classic distances will be a thing of the past soon. The KD and Belmont and BCC will survive but the others will slowly shorten up. The Personal Ensign going to 9f is just the latest. The last 4 HOtY have won a combined 1 race at 1 1/4 or more. Zenyata in the 09 BCC. Sad.
Wesley Wright More than 1 year ago
I would like to see Wise Dan race 10f on dirt early in 2013. If he does well he should be in the BCC. Wise Dan is a gelding who will be 6 years old this year with no stud value. If he stays 10f on dirt of synthetic/polytrack he should try the Dubai World Cup. I dont think we have seen the best of Wise Dan yet. He could be racing well after he is 7yo.
Nick Arden More than 1 year ago
He's going to Keeneland for the Maker.
Brian More than 1 year ago
Cannot explain the rogue vote for It's Tricky. But, I am sure that the lone vote for the Lumber Guy was a shot at Doug O'Neill and the controversy that surrounds him.
BrandonLayer More than 1 year ago
Wise Dan may have had a better year than Fort Larned, but not a 3 Eclipse Awards to 0 better year. Fort Larned deserved something for the year he had. I disagree with Champion Older Female the most. I thought Groupie Doll deserved it over Royal Delta but I guess the award for Older Female is supposed to be more for 2 turn type females.
Mick More than 1 year ago
Only one major quibble for me, that was Little Mike getting shafted in the Turf category, his resume on Turf was much superior, and was completely deserving. Wise Dan is a great horse, and I have no problem with him winning his other two awards, but he shouldn't have received the turf award. Was quite pleased to see Dale Romans get the trainer of the year award.