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Watchmaker: Where the Eclipse Award races stand now
Obviously, the Breeders’ Cup has a profound effect on Eclipse Award voting. And unfortunately, that will include this year’s controversial and terribly unsatisfying Breeders’ Cup Classic. Keeping in mind that no one should make his Eclipse decisions just a couple of hours after the Breeders’ Cup is over, let’s take a look at how things appear to stand as of now in each Eclipse Award division.
2-year-old male – Texas Red galloped in the Juvenile, the race that is by far most the important in the division. But he romped over a field that was depleted by injury. And Texas Red’s win seemed to flatter American Pharoah, who walloped Texas Red in the FrontRunner and was one of those unable to run Saturday, as much as it advanced his own candidacy. American Pharoah has two Grade 1 victories, and it feels as though he’s still the leader in the clubhouse despite Texas Red’s score in the big one. But things could get much closer if Texas Red adds a big late-season stakes to his résumé.
2-year-old female – This has been a weak division all year, which means it’s the right time to break with the tradition of awarding this Eclipse Award to a dirt performer and give it to Lady Eli, the most impressive individual, even if the Juvenile Fillies Turf winner has yet to compete on dirt. Lady Eli was sensational in winning Friday. And Take Charge Brandi extending the reign of chaos among the dirt fillies with her implausible upset of the Juvenile Fillies only made Lady Eli’s candidacy more attractive. Things could tighten up if Take Charge Brandi somehow validates her Breeders’ Cup upset with a win in something like the Golden Rod on Thanksgiving weekend. But short of that, Lady Eli is the most talented 2-year-old filly seen this year, regardless of surface. By a long way.
3-year-old male – What a mess the Classic, and the inexplicable non-disqualification of Bayern, made of this division. If Bayern were taken down like he should have been, it wouldn’t have helped Shared Belief’s candidacy. With a Bayern disqualification, Shared Belief still would have been a loser in the Classic, even if he never had a fair chance to show what he could do. But a Bayern disqualification would have made California Chrome a much clearer choice for this title. Under the messy circumstances, I think California Chrome is the best choice for this Eclipse Award because I think his Grade 1 wins in the Kentucky Derby, Preakness, and Santa Anita Derby are greater in total than Bayern’s Grade 1 wins in the Breeders’ Cup Classic (which might never have happened if Bayern didn’t also take out Moreno at the start) and Haskell. But of course, the real shame of it all is that Shared Belief, who ran great to finish fourth, didn’t have a fair shot to add to his Grade 1 résumé this year of the Awesome Again and Pacific Classic. And notably, both of those wins were over older horses.
3-year-old female – Untapable’s score over older opponents in the Distaff just put the exclamation point on a campaign during which she always seemed like the obvious divisional champion. This should be unanimous.
Older male – The older male division, which was so deep the first half of the year, just fell completely apart from the summer on. Palace Malice was arguably the best dirt male, but he didn’t win a race after the Met Mile, and all the major divisional races since were decided musical-chairs-style. Into this vacuum steps Main Sequence, the dominant turf male, with four Grade 1 victories this year from as many U.S. starts. The reluctance of the Eclipse Award electorate to vote for a turf specialist in this division went the way of the dodo thanks to Wise Dan and a few years of subpar handicap horses. It just feels right to look outside the “dirt first” box in this division once again.
Older female – There were indications that Close Hatches was in steep decline going into the Breeders’ Cup, and her last-place finish in the Distaff confirmed it. And that, combined with her empty fourth in the Spinster, means that Close Hatches closed her year in ugly fashion. Still, she deserves this divisional title on the basis of her overall body of work – three Grade 1 wins and the all-important score over Princess of Sylmar and Beholder (even if Beholder wasn’t at her best) in the Ogden Phipps.
Turf male – This one is a no-brainer. With four Grade 1 victories this year from as many U.S. starts, Main Sequence being the champ is as certain as the sun rising in the east tomorrow.
Turf female – In a division where no one put forward a really compelling championship case, the 1 1/4 lengths that separated Dayatthespa and Stephanie’s Kitten at the end of the Filly and Mare Turf was probably the difference maker. Dayatthespa won the Grade 1 First Lady, while Stephanie’s Kitten won the Grade 1 Flower Bowl but also finished second in the Grade 1 Beverly D. and Grade 1 Diana. But Dayatthespa gets the nod for winning the head-to-head meeting in the biggest race and securing a second Grade 1 victory.
Male sprinter – There hasn’t been a decisive leader in this division all year, so why would things be any different after Work All Week’s upset in the Sprint? The Sprint was Work All Week’s first Grade 1 score and only his second graded score after winning last month’s Grade 3 Phoenix. That’s a pretty light résumé for a championship aspirant. But the good news for Work All Week, aside from his win in the big one, is there are hardly any male sprinters around with better records. Palace lost to Work All Week on Saturday. But Palace did win two Grade 1 races, and won them at a major venue in Saratoga. This is a tough one that requires more consideration. At this moment, I’m inclined to go for Palace but reserve the right to change my mind.
Female sprinter – Win the Filly and Mare Sprint, and you’re pretty much assured of winning this divisional title. But the satisfying aspect to Filly and Mare Sprint winner Judy the Beauty being the almost-certain champion here is that this year she also has a win in the Grade 1 Madison as well as a pair of Grade 3 scores. That’s a perfectly acceptable championship résumé for this group.
Horse of the Year finalists – Main Sequence and Untapable, because both were dominant in their divisions, and California Chrome.
Oh no, horse of the year is Wise Dan. To run 1-1/16 mi. in 1:39 and change while on the mend from life-threatening colic surgery is heroic.
It's absolutely absurd to believe that Jockey Matt Garcia purposely made such an extreme left hand turn to take out Shared Belief and Moreno. No jock would put his life on the line and that of others to win a race no matter how big. Anyone who makes such a ridiculous claim has no credibility and is only voicing sour grapes. As to whether Bayern deserved to be DQ'd yes of course that can be debated. I feel the stewards just couldn't bring themselves to take down the horse who crossed the line first in such a big race. Nothing nefarious just lack of intestinal fortitude on the big stage.
I agree with you in all categories, though I would lean towards Work All Week for Male Sprinter. In his one Grade 1, Palace was no match for him in the only time they met and his record is so consistently impressive. I'm not going to cry about this though as I'm still crying over the Classic. I agree with you that Bayern, who ran a great race, did not deserve to being declared the winner and with that being said & as you said, it follows without that win, he does not deserve either HOY or the 3 year old male honors. The 3 year old male award should go to Chrome and HOY should be between him and Main Sequence. I don't think the filly deserves it was not a strong year for the females, though that is not her fault, and she was soundly beaten by, this time, a well deserved win by Bayern. I think the resumes of Chrome & Sequence are stronger. Let's hope we are right, but if there were wagering on this, I would not be placing a bet.
I wouldn't use the results of the Classic to determine HOTY, the pace was altered and the best horse on paper was wiped out. To keep fighting on and to only be beat by 4 lengths after that much trouble tells me he probably would have won. If you were to determine HOTY without the Classic result it would have to come down to CC or SB. Baffert & Garcia should be ashamed as to what happened. Just take the tainted trophy and money and try to say as little as possible, Plus, behind the scenes apologize to the connections of SB & Moreno.
I take it you're not voting for Garcia as jockey of the year.
From the Racing Post: "Disqualifying the first two past the post would be farcical in the extreme and if that had happened we'd all be asking why the stewards had left their marbles at the door while debating the biggest race in the US calendar." European racing does it right way...
Agree 100% with Steve Ulen about Mike Smith NOT claiming foul. If he truly believes the start of the race compromised his chances to win, then he had an obligation to claim a foul. Bayern is a nice horse....yes!! But, when you come out of the gate and cross over three paths, that is NOT incidental contact or bumping. That is out and out interference and warrants being disqualified.
Mike, you conveniently leave out the fact that Bayern beat CChrome straight up in the PA Derby. Somehow, that doesn't count because it is arbitrarily assigned G2 status? The race included Tapiture (2nd in BC Dirt Mile), and Candy Boy (6th in Classic).
Mike, Can you us any reason why Mike Smith said after the race that the incident "cost him the race" but never lodged an objection? I understand he rides big races for Baffert & you don't want to bite the hand that feeds you but still. If me truly believed that is cost you the race (let alone possible the biggest race of the year & most likely HOY) the why not claim a foul? I'd be interested to hear what he said to stewards. If he actually said "it cost me the race".Confused by the statement after he did nothing to present his case. Love to hear a reply. Thanks, Steve
According to recent history, to have the Kentucky Derby & Preakness Stakes winner in this race at all, let alone coming within a neck of winning it - is truly special, especially after getting only one prep race in since his well deserved summer vacation. California Chrome et al, have done more for Thoroughbred Horse racing this year than all the “others” put together. If that doesn't make him HOY,I don’t know what would. To give HOY honors to a confirmed one dimensional horse like Bayern is beyond belief ... and that’s coming from a relative newbie tying to follow this crazy sport.