01/17/2012 4:19PM

Indefensible Eclipse Award Votes

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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]

Gary G More than 1 year ago
I think the overriding factor is that ultimately very few people care who wins an Eclipse Award other than the people in the industry. I am a longtime bettor and racing fan, and the opinions of other people are what I bet against in parimutuel racing. I care not at all who wins these awards since the actual racing, of which I do care, is done on the track by the horses, not voted upon. That is all that matters. These award votes are so subjective and arbitrary that they become meaningless to most people. Maybe a points system would be more compelling. 10 for a G1, 7 - G2, 5 - G3, 3 - ungraded and 1 for other wins, with bonuses for Beyers above a certain mark, etc. That would be more interesting to me, but still, if I can't bet on it, only marginally so.
Steve Hewlett More than 1 year ago
I definitely think that Eclipse Award ballots should be made public and that on the ballots there should be a mandatory section for each category where the voter must explain the rationale for their vote in a paragraph. If the explanation section isn't filled out then the vote is tossed for that category. If this sounds like too much work then you shouldn't be an Eclipse Award voter. Those voters who continue to cast utterly indefensible votes in the merit sense should be dropped poste haste to ensure the integrity of the process. There will always be disagreements, which is fine. The problem is the absolute nonsense votes that are completely indefensible and which should have been cast by someone knowledegable enough to cast an informed vote.
jerry More than 1 year ago
This year i did not care who won or lost. I had no problem with the winners only with the who had the vote. Why do many major sports allow the fans choose and not the writers.The eclipse awards belong to the fans who put the dollars at tracks and on line.The writers can write stories all year long but please do not tell me who my favorites are. We support the sport we love but get no credit to pick what and who we like. Only the ntra winner and a few others said a word about the fans. With the sport in a bad spot do not take the fans for granted, some day the will not be there. Then who will the writers write for.
BB More than 1 year ago
I attend the track regularly with a number of friends. The subject of HOY NEVER surfaces. Now if you want to talk about take-out being too high, taxes too high, concession prices too high, being charged admission/parking so one may gamble, why the BC is now only held at two tracks, etc., subjects that impact the fans and bettors.......now those subjects manage to enter the conversation multiple times.
bobby branch More than 1 year ago
Sports writers voting for "the best" of the year doesn't work. We don't vote for the Super Bowl champ, the NBA champ, the World Series champ, etc. NCAA football continues to decide its champion thru the polls (which is all the BCS is); in reality, there has never been an NCAA football champion at the highest level decided on the field (this year alone there are 5-6 teams who have an argument). So vote, then enjoy complaining and/or debating.
Jason More than 1 year ago
Mike - To make the 3 YO comment about Cambina, wouldn't you have to include Winter Memories, Summer Soiree and Star Billing in the same sentence...? Of that bunch, she's the filly I'm most interested in seeing this year. Tough luck trips in both the Yellow Ribbon and BC Filly and Mare Turf and she was finishing strong in both.
Unbias Railbird More than 1 year ago
HdG HOtY . .. You gotta be kidding. Whats the point of voting when year after year it's the same old story. Z would've pounce all over HdG and RA had they all met. Unfortunately, T-bred racing as a whole is in serious decline.
bob raimonto More than 1 year ago
This column on mindless Eclipse voting by alleged experts is excellent. Whether or not one agrees with all of Mike's assertions, it is clear that he genuinely loves and respects the sport, as do we all. Should fans be allowed to vote for thoroughbred racing's best equine and human competitors? Would this intensify interest in racing, or just result in many more questionable picks and an epidemic of ballot stuffing? this issue is worth examining.
Old Timer More than 1 year ago
It's hard to add to what has been said here. I like your "favorites" and the Jack Daniels comment. I'd add Uncle Mo for 3 yo champ as another "favorite". There were half a dozen horses more deserving than him. Drosselmeyer takes the cake though when he didn't even finish in the money on the lawn.
b. cade More than 1 year ago
I agree with Dave B. There will forever be a few whose votes are unaccountably ridiculous. Yet trying to weed them out will prove futile. The larger number of voters will hold sway, so let it go. There is a terrific year ahead with so many high caliber horses returning. Have fun!