01/01/2015 1:15PM

Crist: Eclipse ballot has some tough choices


Eclipse Award ballots are due at 2 p.m. Sunday. Here’s how mine looks as of New Year’s Day in the 12 equine categories:

Steeplechaser: 1. Demonstrative; 2. Divine Fortune; 3. Makari. In a division with just six Grade 1 events, Demonstrative won three of them, and Divine Fortune won two. Demonstrative came out on top in three of their five head-to-head meetings. (Just imagine how much better the sport would be if the best of any of the flat-racing divisions squared off so often.)

Two-year-old male: 1. American Pharoah; 2. Texas Red; 3. Carpe Diem. Texas Red’s Breeders’ Cup Juvenile victory was fast and dominant, but American Pharoah trounced him in the FrontRunner and missed the big dance with an injury. Off that race, American Pharoah, a dual Grade 1 winner, gets the nod.

Two-year-old filly: 1. Take Charge Brandi; 2. Condo Commando; 3. Lady Eli. After the Breeders’ Cup, it seemed likely that voters would find Lady Eli’s dazzler in the Juvenile Fillies Turf more Eclipse-worthy than Take Charge Brandi’s Juvenile Fillies. Then, in a commendable piece of post-Cup campaigning, Take Charge Brandi won the Delta Downs Princess and the Starlet, clearly earning the title. Condo Commando, the winner of the Spinaway by 13 lengths and the Demoiselle by 11, deserves to be a finalist.

Three-year-old male: 1. Bayern; 2. California Chrome; 3. Shared Belief. I went into the Breeders’ Cup Classic believing that whichever of this year’s four exceptional 3-year-old males won the Classic would deserve the divisional and Horse of the Year titles. We can (and probably will) debate for decades how the rocky start of the Classic may have affected the outcome, but Bayern held them all off for the length of the stretch. He was erratic but, to me, the most brilliant: The Woody Stephens, Pennsylvania Derby, and Haskell were all sparklers. It was such a strong year for 3-year-olds that Tonalist, the winner of the Belmont Stakes and the Jockey Club Gold Cup – often enough to win the title – probably won’t even be one of the three finalists.

Three-year-old filly: 1. Untapable; 2. Stopchargingmaria; 3. Sweet Reason. The only question is whether Untapable will be a unanimous selection. She should be. The winner of the Kentucky Oaks, Mother Goose, Cotillion, and Breeders’ Cup Distaff dominated the division and was 6 for 6 against fillies. Stopchargingmaria and Sweet Reason both won two Grade 1s and were next best.

Older male: 1. Palace Malice; 2. Goldencents; 3. Private Zone. Where’s Main Sequence? Atop the male turf category, the division in which he belongs. This category should be for older dirt males, and Palace Malice was clearly the best of a weak group before being injured in the Whitney.

Older filly and mare: 1. Close Hatches; 2. Don’t Tell Sophia; 3. Belle Gallantey. Close Hatches ended her season with two bad losses but still towers over the division with her Grade 1 triple of the Apple Blossom, Ogden Phipps, and Personal Ensign.

Male sprinter: 1. Work All Week; 2. Private Zone; 3. Palace. This was the most difficult category on the ballot for me. The three top choices all were worthy, but Palace finished behind Private Zone in his last two starts of the season, and Private Zone won only one sprint race, so I landed on Breeders’ Cup Sprint winner Work All Week. He beat them both in the Sprint, and while that was his lone Grade 1 appearance, he won stakes races at three other tracks and five of six starts overall.

Female sprinter: 1. Judy the Beauty; 2. Sweet Reason; 3. Artemis Agrotera. Judy the Beauty was the lone dual Grade 1 winner in this division in pure sprints and earned the title on Breeders’ Cup Day. Sweet Reason’s victories in the Test and Acorn stamp her next best.

Male turf: 1. Main Sequence; 2. Wise Dan; 3. Karakontie. Main Sequence’s four Grade 1 triumphs in four American starts trump Wise Dan’s three Grade 1s. Karakontie’s Breeders’ Cup Mile may have been the best turf performance of the year.

Female turf: 1. Dayatthespa; 2. Stephanie’s Kitten; 3. Coffee Clique. Whoever won the Breeders’ Cup Filly and Mare Turf was going to take the lead in this division, and after Dayatthespa did, there’s really nowhere else to go. Stephanie’s Kitten won the Flower Bowl and was a close second in three other Grade 1s but couldn’t catch Dayatthespa when she need to in the Cup.

Horse of the Year: 1. Bayern; 2. California Chrome; 3. Main Sequence. Although I prefer Bayern as discussed above, any of these three would be a perfectly acceptable and worthy choice for Horse of the Year. As an Eclipse Award handicapper, however, I fully expect the popular California Chrome to win the 3-year-old trophy and this one.