Updated on 01/13/2012 8:57PM

2011 Eclipse Awards: Havre de Grace tops list of finalists

Barbara D. Livingston
Caleb's Posse (above) and Acclamation were the only horses to be voted finalists in two categories.

Led by Havre de Grace, the front-runner for Horse of the Year, the divisional finalists for the 2011 Eclipse Awards were announced on Thursday by the three organizations that vote on the awards, the National Thoroughbred Racing Association, Daily Racing Form, and the National Turf Writers and Broadcasters.

Havre de Grace won 5 of 7 starts last year, with a pivotal victory coming against males in the Woodward Stakes at Saratoga. She is one of three finalists for champion older female, along with Awesome Maria and Blind Luck.

While the three finalists for 16 divisions – 11 equine, and 5 human – were released on Thursday, the finalists for Horse of the Year will not be announced until the night of the 41st annual Eclipse Awards dinner, a black-tie affair to be held Jan. 16 at the Four Seasons Beverly Wilshire Hotel in Beverly Hills, Calif.

Havre de Grace failed in her final start of the year, when she ran fourth in the Breeders’ Cup Classic, but a significant number of Breeders’ Cup winners parlayed their victories that weekend at Churchill Downs into a finalist spot. Among the divisional finalists are BC winners Amazombie, Caleb’s Posse, Hansen, Musical Romance, My Miss Aurelia, Perfect Shirl, Regally Ready, Royal Delta, Stephanie’s Kitten, and St Nicholas Abbey.

Caleb’s Posse, the winner of the BC Dirt Mile, is a finalist in two divisions, for champion male sprinter and champion 3-year-old male. Acclamation is the only other horse who is a finalist in two divisions, for champion older male and champion male turf horse.

A total of 248 out of an eligible 267 voters cast ballots. Voters had to rank three finalists in each division, and the top three finalists announced Thursday were determined by a 10-5-1 points scale. But the divisional champion is determined strictly by first-place votes.

There were several surprising omissions among the finalists, most notably trainer Graham Motion, who won his first Kentucky Derby with Animal Kingdom. Both Animal Kingdom (as champion 3-year-old male) and the colt’s owner, Team Valor, are finalists in their respective divisions, but Motion did not crack a top three that included Bob Baffert, Bill Mott, and Todd Pletcher.

“Mott’s probably the front-runner, and he had an amazing year, but Graham had a pretty amazing year, too,” Barry Irwin, the chief executive officer of Team Valor, said from his home in Kentucky. “All three of those guys had great years, so if either of the others were left out, you’d be equally surprised. It’s just unfortunate.”

Also overlooked was Steve Asmussen, who finished second to Pletcher in purse earnings and trains My Miss Aurelia, the overwhelming favorite to be named champion 2-year-old filly.

And despite Havre de Grace being the likeliest winner as Horse of the Year, neither her owner, Rick Porter’s Fox Hill Farm, her trainer, Larry Jones, nor her breeder, Nancy Dillman, are among the finalists in their divisions.

“If Havre de Grace wins older female, and hopefully Horse of the Year, that’s enough of a reward for me and Larry,” Porter said from his home in Florida. “Nancy Dillman, there’s a case where she deserves to be a finalist.”

Never Retreat, who traversed North America winning five times in 11 starts last year, is not a finalist for champion female turf horse, a category to be decided amongst Dubawi Heights, Perfect Shirl, and Stacelita, the lukewarm favorite.

“I don’t know what to say,” Chris Block, Never Retreat’s trainer, said when reached in Chicago. “I don’t want to say appalled, because that’s a strong word, but I am appalled. Disappointed would be an understatement. I don’t know what more she could have done. From a mile to a mile and a sixteenth, you’d be hard-pressed to find a better mare on the turf than her. It’s a big disappointment, and shows a lack of respect for Never Retreat.”

Also, the brilliantly fast The Factor was not among the list of finalists for either champion male sprinter or 3-year-old male, despite winning two Grade 1 races during the calendar year.

When it came to the human awards, purse earnings seemed to significantly sway voters. The three finalists for champion jockey – Javier Castellano, Ramon Dominguez, and John Velazquez – were the top three in earnings for the year. Dominguez, the regular rider for Havre de Grace, is considered the favorite to win the Eclipse for the second straight year.

Similarly, the three finalists for breeder – Frank Stronach’s Adena Springs, Brereton Jones, and Ken and Sarah Ramsey – were the money leaders in that division.

The Ramseys were the only people to be named finalists in two categories. They are also up for champion owner, along with Team Valor and Midwest Thoroughbreds, which led the nation in wins.

Several of the likely champions – such as Havre de Grace for older female, Royal Delta for 3-year-old filly, and My Miss Aurelia for 2-year-old filly – are slam-dunks, but a number of categories are considered close, and their announcement will provide high drama at the Eclipse dinner.

Among the most compelling divisions should be champion female sprinter, where legitimate cases can be made for all three finalists: Hilda’s Passion, Musical Romance, and Sassy Image.

Champion older male is a toss-up between Acclamation, Game On Dude, and Tizway, who could not have had more diverse campaigns. Acclamation scored his victories on either grass or Polytrack, Tizway won two of New York’s biggest races but ran just four times, while Game On Dude competed all year long and won two Grade 1 stakes, but he lost more races than he won.

Acclamation is also a finalist for champion male turf horse, with Cape Blanco the favorite.

Animal Kingdom and Caleb’s Posse are considered the front-runners for champion 3-year-old male over Shackleford, with the decision likely coming down to whether voters prefer the horse who won the biggest race of the year for the division, or a horse who ran all year and won a Breeders’ Cup race against older rivals.

Caleb’s Posse could win that category, but BC Sprint winner Amazombie is considered the favorite over him for champion male sprinter.
Champion 2-year-old male, another tough call, could be decided by the same margin that the unbeaten Hansen defeated the previously unbeaten Union Rags in the BC Juvenile.

Irvin Naylor has a hammerlock on the steeplechase division. All three finalists – Black Jack Blues, Decoy Daddy, and Tax Ruling – are owned by him.

In the champion apprentice jockey category, a statistical error led to a revote, but after the second vote the three finalists remained the same: Ryan Curatolo, Kyle Frey, and Rosario Montanez.

2011 Eclipse Awards divisional finalists

2-year-old male
Creative Cause
Union Rags

2-year-old female
Grace Hall
My Miss Aurelia
Stephanie’s Kitten

3-year-old male
Animal Kingdom
Caleb’s Posse

3-year-old female
It’s Tricky
Plum Pretty
Royal Delta

Older male
Game On Dude

Older female
Awesome Maria
Blind Luck
Havre de Grace

Male sprinter
Caleb’s Posse
Regally Ready

Female sprinter
Hilda’s Passion
Musical Romance
Sassy Image

Male turf
Cape Blanco
St Nicholas Abbey

Female turf
Dubawi Heights
Perfect Shirl

Black Jack Blues
Decoy Daddy
Tax Ruling

Midwest Thoroughbreds
Ken and Sarah Ramsey
Team Valor

Adena Springs
Brereton Jones
Ken and Sarah Ramsey

Bob Baffert
Bill Mott
Todd Pletcher

Javier Castellano
Ramon Dominguez
John Velazquez

Apprentice jockey
Ryan Curatolo
Kyle Frey
Rosario Montanez