01/18/2015 10:30AM

Watchmaker: Few surprises in Eclipse voting


Given the finalists, I don’t think anyone could say there was even one mildly surprising winner in the 17 equine and human Eclipse Awards announced Saturday night. In a 2014 racing season that had some controversy – the running of the Breeders’ Cup Classic and PETA’s unfounded allegations against Steve Asmussen, to name two matters that immediately come to mind – it is almost a relief there were no controversial outcomes in these Eclipse Awards.

However, that is not to say there weren’t some surprises in the vote totals because, in my view anyway, there were. For example, although I thought California Chrome’s body of work in 2014 was a bit better than Bayern’s and voted as such in the 3-year-old male division, I’m surprised California Chrome outpolled Bayern so easily, 193 first place votes to 56. I thought it would have been closer than that. And California Chrome’s surprisingly decisive victory in the 3-year-old male division explains why he won the Horse of the Year title as surprisingly easy as he did – 143 votes to Main Sequence’s 53.

There were a couple other categories I thought were won in surprisingly easy fashion. I voted for Javier Castellano for champion jockey, but I didn’t expect him to win by a 169-vote bulge over John Velazquez. And while I thought Main Sequence was the only acceptable outcome in the male turf division, it’s interesting he won by an overwhelming 225-vote margin over Wise Dan. I expected, incorrectly as it turned out, Wise Dan, who did win three Grade 1 races last year despite illness and injury, would receive more support than only 18 first-place votes.

Conversely, I was surprised two divisions were as close as they were. American Pharoah’s 15-vote margin of victory over Texas Red in the 2-year-old male division was a closer call than expected. I can only surmise that the 111 people who voted for the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile winner Texas Red must have had Breeders’ Cup blinkers on because that’s the only way they could have missed American Pharoah’s thrashing of Texas Red in the FrontRunner in their only meeting.

Main Sequence’s 24-vote edge over Palace Malice in the older male division also was surprisingly close. I understand Main Sequence is a turf specialist, and the older male division traditionally has been the property of main-track horses. But Wise Dan won this division in 2012 and 2013 as a turf specialist, signaling a change in the philosophy of the Eclipse Award electorate. And Main Sequence’s four Grade 1 victories in 2014 dwarfed Palace Malice’s one.

Unfortunately, there were some votes that were just downright bizarre. Look, the Eclipse Awards are an example of democracy in action, and as long as voters treat the process with the respect it deserves (a very important point), no one should be so presumptuous as to tell someone else his votes are wrong. But it is clear some voters have no respect for the process whatsoever because there were, as always, a few votes that just defy reasonable explanation. Here are a few that jumped out at me:

Living the Life finished last in the Breeders’ Cup Filly & Mare Sprint, but someone thought she still was championship worthy off her win in the Grade 2 Presque Isle Downs Masters and voted for her over Filly and Mare Sprint winner Judy the Beauty in the female sprint division. Judy the Beauty took the division by 260 votes. That was the second biggest Eclipse Award vote margin behind Untapable’s unanimous selection. Yet someone thought Living the Life was better than Judy the Beauty.

That’s OK. Someone voted for Secret Circle for champion male sprinter despite the fact he did not win a race – not a single race – in 2014.

Two voters thought California Chrome’s two-length victory over Lexie Lou was better than Main Sequence’s victories in the United Nations, Sword Dancer, Joe Hirsch Turf Classic, and Breeders’ Cup Turf and voted for him over Main Sequence in the male turf division.

Nine voters – count ’em! – concluded that Goldencents’ victories in the Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile and Pat O’Brien Stakes were champion older male material.

And then there were two single Horse of the Year votes. One voter cast his or her Horse of the Year vote for Take Charge Brandi. Before that makes you lose your lunch, note that at least Take Charge Brandi was the 2-year-old filly champion. Another voter cast a Horse of the Year vote for Adelaide, whose lone win on this continent came in the Secretariat Stakes on the Arlington Million undercard, in case you forgot, which you might have.

I have one question for that Adelaide voter. What did you do with Mr Speaker, who beat Adelaide fair and square in the Belmont Derby in their lone meeting?