01/20/2013 9:49AM

Eclipse Award and Saturday Stakes Thoughts


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.