01/15/2015 12:12PM

Crist: How I'd play the Eclipse Awards pick 12

Debbie Roma
Judy the Beauty is a shoo-in to be honored Saturday with an Eclipse Award for champion female sprinter.

Now that we’ve debated the merits of the finalists for Eclipse Awards, let’s turn to handicapping how the awards will actually turn out when the envelopes are opened at Gulfstream Park on Saturday night. Let’s play a mythical pick 12 for the dozen equine categories, and I think we can do it with just 12 combos.

(The five human categories comprise a more difficult pick five. I’ll sit out.)

You’d better have a lot of singles if you’re going to play a pick 12, and there are five cinches: Untapable (3-year-old filly), Close Hatches (older filly or mare), Main Sequence (turf male), Dayatthespa (turf female), and Judy the Beauty (female sprinter). There is not a single plausible alternative to this quintet. Much as governmental involvement in racing is never a good thing, there should be a congressional investigation if those five names are not called.

:: 2014 ECLIPSE AWARDS: Watch Saturday’s ceremony live at 8 p.m.

I’m willing to gamble just a little by singling four others who are more like 2-5 shots than the 1-100 shots above.

Demonstrative probably belongs in the cinch group, but given that the majority of voters did not see a steeplechase race all year, this category is never a certainty. There’s a good case to be made that this award should be chosen by committee instead of the general electorate.

Take Charge Brandi should be an overwhelming choice for champion 2-year-old filly after ending her previously obscure season with victories in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies, Delta Princess, and Starlet. There is, however, some support for Lady Eli, who looks like a special grass filly but doesn’t match up on achievement.

American Pharoah (2-year-old male) was a runaway winner of the Del Mar Futurity and FrontRunner, then missed the Breeders’ Cup with an injury. Texas Red, who finished a distant third in the FrontRunner, won the Juvenile in American Pharoah’s absence. Most voters will reason that American Pharoah won two Grade 1 races and their only head-to-head meeting and should prevail, but some voters begin and end their deliberations by writing in the name of the Juvenile winner.

The male sprinter category is like one of those races where your first impression is that anyone can win a chaotic contest, but then the more you think about it, one horse emerges as a clear and deserving favorite without much real competition. In this case, that’s Work All Week, the Breeders’ Cup Sprint winner. You can carp that the Breeders’ Cup Sprint was his only Grade 1 appearance of the year, but what are the alternatives? The other two finalists, Goldencents and Private Zone, are admirable and talented veterans, but both are milers with just two victories apiece in a year when Work All Week won five times.

That’s nine singles in 12 races so far, leaving three categories that offer the only mild suspense of the evening and where I’d want to spread out a little on my ticket.

The first is the older male award, which has become stuck in a semantic bog in recent years because voters have chosen to give a second award to the male turf winner since technically he is older and a male. The point of this title previously had been to honor the best older dirt horse. Main Sequence may well get the nod this year, but there’s been a good bit of kickback on the way this award has been reinterpreted. I think there’s an outside chance that Palace Malice, unquestionably the top older dirt male, could pull an upset here. That may, of course, be wishful thinking since I voted for him, but I’ll go two deep and root for the price.

:: 2014 ECLIPSE AWARDS: Full list of finalists and profiles

I’m similarly conflicted in the 3-year-old male and Horse of the Year categories, where I expect California Chrome to win but wouldn’t bet the ranch on it. It’s curious how he went from having virtually zero support the day after he finished third to Bayern in the Breeders’ Cup Classic but a month later was widely endorsed as a shoo-in after winning the Hollywood Derby on turf. The smart money says he’ll prevail, as have all of the last 16 3-year-olds who won the Kentucky Derby and Preakness, but I’ll add Bayern to my ticket.

If I get to Horse of the Year with a live ticket, I’m a winner because I’m hitting the “all” button. If I’m using Bayern in addition to California Chrome for 3-year-old, I have to use him for Horse of the Year. But there’s also a scenario where the two 3-year-olds each get about 30 percent of the vote and Main Sequence sneaks past them both to prevail in a photo.

So, that’s the play – nine singles, two doubles, and a three-horse all. A mere $24 at a $2 minimum or, even better, $1.20 for a dime.