01/17/2012 4:19PM

Indefensible Eclipse Award Votes


Reasonable people can disagree about the merits of Acclamation, Game On Dude, and Tizway for champion older male of 2011, a title that went to Acclamation at Monday night’s Eclipse Awards dinner in Beverly Hills. And they can debate whether Animal Kingdom or Caleb’s Posse was more deserving of being last year’s champion 3-year-old male. But this isn’t about reasonable people having an honest difference of opinion.

When only three votes make the difference between Animal Kingdom being a champion and Caleb’s Posse not being one, it underscores two things: Every Eclipse Award vote is an important one, and everyone who has the honor of voting for the Eclipse Awards should recognize that they assume a responsibility that should not be taken lightly.

It is for that reason that some of the first place votes in the 2011 Eclipse Awards were infuriating to anyone with real respect for the sport. I’m not talking about iffy first place votes, I’m talking about indefensible ones. Such as:

Secret Circle for 2-year-old male – This is a nice colt who completed a 3 for 3 season with a game score in the inaugural Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Sprint. But none of his victories came even in a graded stakes of any sort, let alone a Grade 1 event.

Uncle Mo for 3-year-old male – Another fine colt, but one whose reputation far exceeded what he actually accomplished on the track last year. Only one of his two victories last year came in a graded stakes, and that was a Grade 2 score. And Uncle Mo competed in a division with a boatload of Grade 1 opportunities.

Awesome Feather for 3-year-old filly – She only made it to the gate twice last year, although she did manage to win the late-season Grade 1 Gazelle. Still, I would like to meet the two voters who actually thought Awesome Feather surpassed Royal Delta in terms of strength of campaign, talent, or any other measure.

Drosselmeyer for turf male – This is one of my “favorites.” Drosselmeyer made one start on turf in 2011 and finished seventh, beaten 10 lengths, in the Sword Dancer. This might be a warning that it’s best to keep the Jack Daniel’s locked up in the liquor cabinet until after you hit send on your ballot.

Cambina, Cozi Rosie, and Goldikova for turf female – Cambina’s major claim to fame was a dead-heat win in the Grade 1 American Oaks. But apparently one voter wasn’t concerned that race was restricted to 3-year-olds, or that Cambina came back to finish off the board in three subsequent Grade 1 starts, including an eighth in the Breeders’ Cup Filly and Mare Turf. Cozie Rosie won two Grade 2 stakes, but not a Grade 1. Yet neither that, nor the fact that she lost both of her decisions to Dubawi Heights, who managed to win not one but two Grade 1 races (and which was only good for second in the real world to Stacelita) was able to dissuade one voter. As for Goldikova, she’s an all-time great, no question. But despite a weak third in a bad Breeders’ Cup Mile in her only U.S. start in 2011, two Eclipse Award voters incredibly thought she met championship standards.

Court Vision for Horse of the Year – This is my other “favorite,” and I think it might even surpass on the absurdity scale the four votes Rapid Redux received for our sport’s highest annual award. Court Vision made five starts in 2011. He finished fourth in the Maker’s Mark, ninth in the Woodford Reserve Turf Classic, fourth in the Colonial Turf Cup, seventh in the Woodbine Mile, and then got up by a nose at 64-1 in possibly the worst Breeders’ Cup Mile ever. I could speculate that one of the people who voted for Goldikova might have reasoned that the horse who beat her should be Horse of the Year, but I don’t even want to kid about it.

Look, when you have a large group engaging in a process, you’re always going to have a joker or two. We all learned that in assemblies back in elementary school. And I’m not even certain that making every Eclipse Award ballot public will sufficiently address the problem of wacky Eclipse Award votes because it might not result in enough embarrassment for the offender. Perhaps the three voting blocs could put together a panel to monitor everyone’s ballots, looking to weed out voters who show signs of impropriety, or who prove to be simply unqualified. There should be no room for this sort of stuff in our Eclipse Awards. They are too important.

[STEVEN CRIST: 2011 Eclipse Award vote totals]