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2010 Eclipse Awards: Trainer
Not that he was ever too far away from it, but trainer Bob Baffert returned to Thoroughbred racing’s spotlight in 2010.
Statistically speaking, Baffert in 2010 enjoyed his best year in wins and earnings in several years. Baffert’s 124 victories from 500 starters were his highest total since 2003 when he won 127 races. Baffert’s horses earned $11,103,463 in purse money -- third-highest among North American trainers in 2010 and his highest total since 2002 when his stable earned more than $12 million. Naturally, his success in 2010 translated to Baffert being a finalist for an Eclipse Award as North America’s outstanding trainer, an award he garnered three times from 1997-99 and for which he was a finalist in 2001 and 2009.
Baffert’s 22 graded stakes victories in 2010 were the most he’s won since 2000, and equaled the third-highest total of his career. Leading the way was the 3-year-old Lookin At Lucky, who won four graded stakes including the Preakness, a race Baffert won for the fifth time. It was Baffert’s ninth Triple Crown victory, and first since War Emblem won the 2002 Preakness.
Lookin At Lucky also won the Rebel, Haskell Invitational, and Indiana Derby. Richard’s Kid was a three-time graded-stakes winner, taking the Grade 1 Pacific Classic, Grade 1 Goodwood, and Grade 2 San Antonio. Other Grade 1 winners trained by Baffert in 2010 were A Z Warrior, El Brujo, E Z’s Gentlemen, and Gabby’s Golden Gal.
On Dec. 5, Baffert recorded his 2,000th career win when Free Pourin won a maiden race at Hollywood Park. That victory, fittingly, came for owner Mike Pegram, who was primarily responsible for Baffert making the switch from Quarter Horse to Thoroughbred trainer in the early 1990s.
Judging by the early success of horses such as The Factor, Uncle Sam, and Awesome Patriot, Baffert, who celebrated his 58th birthday on Jan. 13, looks poised to have another big year in 2011.
Statistically, 2010 may rank as only the third-best year Todd Pletcher has had in his 15 years as a trainer, but given the races he won and horses he trained, it may ultimately rank as his best. That’s why Pletcher is a leading candidate to win the Eclipse Award as North America’s outstanding trainer, a trophy he won four consecutive years from 2004-2007.
In a year in which he returned to the top of the North American earnings list, Pletcher in 2010 earned his first victories in the Kentucky Derby, Metropolitan Handicap, and Wood Memorial and won three Breeders’ Cup races, equaling his win total in the series from 64 previous starters.
In 2010, Pletcher’s horses won $23,307,098 in purse money, the fourth time Pletcher has topped the $20 million earnings plateau. Pletcher’s 274 wins rank fourth-best among North American trainers in 2010. The earnings and wins were his third best totals. In 2006, Pletcher won a personal-best 294 races, and in 2007 his horses earned a North American record $28,116,097 in purses.
"I don’t know if statistically it was quite as strong as 2007, but when you look at the purse structure in North America obviously it’s maybe comparable even if the earnings aren’t quite as high,’’ said Pletcher, 43. "To win the Derby and three Breeders Cups and some other races we never won before -- the Wood and the Met Mile -- obviously we had a great year and at the same time were a little bit unlucky in a few spots; we lost some big players, too, like Eskendereya, Dunkirk, and Battle Plan."
Eskendereya won the Wood Memorial and was a leading contender for the Derby before an injury forced his retirement a week before the race. No matter: Pletcher won the Derby anyway -- after having gone winless in the race with 24 previous starters -- with Super Saver.
Pletcher, who was the leading trainer on the New York Racing Association circuit for the first time since 2004, won 14 Grade 1 stakes in 2010, with Quality Road winning three -- the Donn, Met Mile, and Woodward. Life At Ten, Uncle Mo and Devil May Care both won two Grade 1 races. Uncle Mo won the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile. Pletcher also won the Juvenile Turf with Pluck and the Juvenile Fillies Turf with More Than Real.
John Shirreffs received a belated Christmas gift when, in early January 2010, owners Ann and Jerry Moss announced that the undefeated Zenyatta, coming off a historic victory against males in the Breeders’ Cup Classic, would return to the races as a 6-year-old. Shirreffs adeptly guided Zenyatta through another championship season, winning five Grade 1 stakes -- including the Santa Margarita, Apple Blossom, Vanity, Clement Hirsch, and Lady’s Secret -- with her before she was beaten a short head by Blame in the Breeders’ Cup Classic at Churchill Downs.
Shirreffs didn’t keep the gift for himself. He shared Zenyatta, first with the fans of Southern California and then, at Churchill Downs, he would allow crowds of people to take pictures and pet Zenyatta when she would go out to graze.
"How often does a person have a chance to get close to a horse like Zenyatta?’’ Shirreffs said the day after the Breeders’ Cup. "One of the things I think sports needs to do is to allow the fans to get closer. Horses like Zenyatta allow the fans to get closer.’’
Shirreffs, 65, won 14 races from only 84 starters in 2010, but nine of those victories were in stakes, and seven were in Grade 1 races. In addition to Zenyatta’s heroics, Shirreffs won two Grade 1 races with Harmonious, who took the American Oaks at Hollywood Park and the Queen Elizabeth II Challenge Cup at Keeneland, and who is expected to return in 2011.
Shirreffs also won stakes with Zardana, who shipped to Louisiana to beat 2009 Horse of the Year Rachel Alexandra in the New Orleans Ladies Stakes at Fair Grounds, and Neko Bay, who at age 7 took the Grade 2 San Pasqual in January and who finished second in the Santa Anita Handicap in March.
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