01/07/2016 1:48PM

Crist: Does Baffert need American Pharoah's coattails?


When the Eclipse Award for outstanding trainer is dispensed next Saturday night, the winner will be the latest answer to a riddle that has surrounded the title since its inception: Is the trainer of the year the trainer of the Horse of the Year or the trainer who had the best overall season?

There is no definitive answer in the past performances. At the 44 awards ceremonies since the Eclipse era began in 1971, the Horse of the Year’s trainer has won the award only 12 times, and there has been no particular rhyme or reason to why it happens when it does.

Charlie Whittingham won the award in the years he trained Ack Ack (1971) and Sunday Silence (1989) to Horse of the Year titles but not when he campaigned Ferdinand to that honor in 1987. Bobby Frankel won four straight Eclipses from 2000 to 2003 without a Horse of the Year, and then when he had one with Ghostzapper in 2004, the award went to Todd Pletcher. That was the first of seven Eclipses in the last 11 years for Pletcher, all without a Horse of the Year in his shed row.

In the last 25 years, the training honoree has trained the Horse of the Year only four times: Steve Asmussen with Curlin in 2008 and Rachel Alexandra in 2009, and Bill Mott with Cigar in 1995 and 1996. It happened a lot more often in the early years of the award: Seven of the first 11 winners trained that season’s Horse of the Year; since then, only five of 33 have.

This year, there are three truly outstanding finalists representing both sides of the choice between outstanding performance with one horse or with many.

On one hand, there is the obviously spectacular work of Bob Baffert with American Pharoah, who not only became racing’s first Triple Crown winner in 37 years but also finished the season with a smashing Breeders’ Cup Classic victory. Then you have the sensational overall seasons by Todd Pletcher and Chad Brown, both of whom improved on their own gaudy numbers in 2014, when they ran 1-2 for the award.

In 2015, Pletcher’s horses led the nation with $26.2 million in earnings, including 47 graded stakes races. He won 15 Grade 1 races, including two Breeders’ Cup events, with an astounding 13 different horses, four of whom (Liam’s Map, Rachel’s Valentina, Rock Fall, and Stopchargingmaria) are finalists for divisional Eclipses.

Brown, with fewer starters, earned $20.2 million, won nine Grade 1s (and two Cup races) with seven different horses, and could have as many as three divisional Eclipse winners with Big Blue Kitten, Stephanie’s Kitten, and Wavell Avenue. He dominated American grass racing like no one else ever has in a single season: On grass alone, Brown’s charges won eight Grade 1s and $15.5 million, a record for single-season earnings on that surface.

By comparison, Baffert finished third to them with $16.2 million in purses and won eight Grade 1 races, with American Pharoah providing six of the Grade 1s and more than half of the outfit’s purse earnings. American Pharoah was the only horse he even ran in the Breeders’ Cup. Baffert did magnificent work with the big horse but clearly has had deeper overall years since winning the last of his three straight training awards from 1997 through 1999.

Should winning the Triple Crown be an automatic path to the training Eclipse? From a very limited sample size, it hasn’t worked out that way. Laz Barerra won it when Affirmed wore the Crown in 1978, but both Lucien Laurin with Secretariat in 1973 and Billy Turner with Seattle Slew in 1977 were denied: The 1973 award went to Allen Jerkens, and Barrera won it every year from 1976 through 1979.

What about this year? Despite the low success rate for trainers of Horses of the Year and even Triple Crown winners, and despite the tremendous seasons by Brown and Pletcher, Baffert is the odds-on choice. The 37-year drought between Triple Crowns and the run of 12 straight failures by Derby-Preakness winners to seal the deal in the Belmont made this one an even greater achievement. The runaway victory in the Classic put an exclamation point on the historic campaign.

Any of the three finalists would be a worthy winner after an excellent year, but this was American Pharoah’s year, and it will almost surely be Baffert’s as well.

Marilyn Shively More than 1 year ago
If not now for Baffert, when for goodness sakes? of course he deserves the eclipse award. As fine a horse as Pharoah is, he didn't train himself. I know he is smart, but not that smart. A trainer has to know how to get a horse to peak for the triple crown races. If it was easy it wouldn't have taken 37 years for a horse to do it. Thank if Smarty Jones had a trainer with some experience, he might have won the triple crown. Hoping sanity prevails and Baffert wins the award he so deserves.
Ray Sousa More than 1 year ago
Give it to the guy that managed to win races without any drug positives in the last 5 years... I mean otherwise it's just a matter of who has the richest owners who can afford the best horses and best drugs. Why act like that's not the case and award guys that are breaking the rules. Why not have a veterinarian of the year award for the guy that has the withdrawal times of drugs down pat. I bet he works for one of these guys. Until the issue of doping is addressed and testing is reliable these awards mean bubkus.
Gaye Goodwin More than 1 year ago
There is a reason why that horse HAD to fly back to SoCal between races back East where other connections would have left him.
Jay More than 1 year ago
What is the reason? After Jan. 2009, if you dope, then you will get caught. There is no way to get away with it, especially in the span of the 3 TC races in 5 weeks or 4 races in 8 weeks including the Arkansas Derby. You sound like another sore loser who lost everything betting on horse racing in 2015.
Bruce Battaglia More than 1 year ago
Both Pletcher and Brown had barns full of well bred expensive horses and both did great jobs with spotting them and winning.Pletcher with the dirt horses and Brown with his turf horses. Baffert was easilythe standout trainer of the year with the way he made himself and AP available to the media and public. What Mr. Baffert did with his horse and personal time put people in the stands and made racing a big time sport again. HE did a great job and was racings unpaid ambassador for the sport. This is a no brainer-Baffert is without a doubt the man of the year and if you asked Pletcher or Brown I would bet they both agree. Great job Mr. Baffert. Hope you have many more years like last year.
Gaye Goodwin More than 1 year ago
It is NOT a public relations award, and Bob Baffert ( along with Jill and Body ) never met a camera he didn't like. Chad Brown had an OUTSTANDING year.
WilliamSLaForge More than 1 year ago
Bob Baffert did a great job with AP much of the time, however, there were some mistakes made. (Partly could be the owners fault too) After shipping AP over 2,500 miles in four time zones back to California after the Haskell win August 2, then he was shipped over 2,500 miles in four time zones again-to NY for the Travers August 29, arriving just a few days before the race. It seemed like Baffert wanted his star to be at his Barn where his family and crew was rather than taking the horse to where it was best for the horse. Baffert said "We knew we were doing the impossible shipping him back and forth". Keen Ice went straight from the Haskell in New Jersey to NY for the Travers and trained over the Saratoga track even though Keen Ice was based in Kentucky. There are reasons for that. AP was galloped too fast just a day before the Travers. AP was a tired horse when he entered the Travers starting gate, (with Espinoza stating that he "lacked his usual energy" -and that is because of his connections. Keen Ice is a nice horse, but he needed a tired AP to win that day. The blinkers in AP's debut race was a mistake. Baffert did a great job other than that, but AP was just a truly great racehorse.
Candy Chitty More than 1 year ago
I totally agree with you William. Baffert knew where he'd messed up but knowing WHY Pharoah lost the Travers is important and you're right, that's why he lost. But even tired, wow what an effort !
Classhndicapper More than 1 year ago
Chad Brown had more wins, more money earned, a higher win percentage, equal number of Grade 1 victories, more in the money finishes in graded races, and Grade 1 winners on both dirt and turf. Take American Pharoah's Grade 1s and earnings away from Baffert and he's not even in the conversation. Baffert will probably get the award because of the great job he did with AP, but this a tough year for Chad Brown to lose.
Gaye Goodwin More than 1 year ago
I think C had Brown should win. Baffert cannot train a turf horse to save his life
Jay More than 1 year ago
Todd Pletcher did a great job of turning a brilliant horse Materiality, who displayed his brilliance by running 110 BSF in winning the Florida Derby, into a plodder in the big races. He also avoided getting exposed, like he was with Uncle MO in the BCC, by racing Liam's Map in the Dirt MIle instead of the BCC.
Gaye Goodwin More than 1 year ago
That, or there was an arrangement
Jay More than 1 year ago
Keep on crying!!!
Jay More than 1 year ago
Honor Code lost his last 2 races by 15 lengths, including losing the biggest race of his career the 2015 BCC by 11 lengths. If this horse can win an eclipse award, then everything else is possible.
Frank More than 1 year ago
Not defending Honor Code (cause I dont care).... But I see by your posts Jay you are a gullible person who still thinks there is purity in Horse racing....and you are an AP fan... Let me ask if AP was so special -- why did he lose the Travers to a horse that only won a maiden race -- N1x? I watched the the replay of the race -- AP half was as slow as the Belmont so he wasnt being pushed -- why did he lose?
Jay More than 1 year ago
Keen Ice won the Travers with the fastest time since 2001. With the time that Keen Ice finished in the Haskell and Belmont stakes, he would have won those 2 races most of the time in the past 15 years. I know who you are. You are a sore loser who pick Honor code in the classic and lost big. You also picked materiality in the Belmont stakes and lost big as well. Learn to avoid picking plodders and you won't have to cry so much like what you are doing now... LOL!!!
Frank More than 1 year ago
I agree -- Chad Brown is Trainer of the year. This year baffert was just in the right place at the right time. Horse Racing made sure his horse would win TC and BCC -- it was all part of reality TV they scripted...
Jay More than 1 year ago
You sound like a sore loser. I bet you lost everything betting on horse racing in 2015 using crist/beyer picks.
Gaye Goodwin More than 1 year ago
No, Frank is spot on ... racing is desperate. DESPERATE. Making the king of hop a savior was one of their more inane moves.
Jay More than 1 year ago
I having a blast seeing both of you crying... LOL!!!
Chad mc rory More than 1 year ago
Why do the workout searches not come up on DRF. I get an error code 404 now, when it had been working great previously. Chad Brown is your Trainer of the Year.