Updated on 01/09/2017 2:50PM

Eclipse Awards: Arrogate, California Chrome, Songbird to battle for Horse of the Year

Emily Shields
Arrogate beats California Chrome in the Breeders' Cup Classic. Will California Chrome turn the tables on Arrogate in Horse of the Year voting?

Arrogate and California Chrome battled it out in the Breeders’ Cup Classic and are the leading contenders for Horse of the Year after they were named as two of the three finalists for the year’s top honor – along with the 3-year-old filly Songbird – when the three finalists in each of 11 equine and six human Eclipse Award categories were announced on Thursday.

All three finalists for Horse of the Year are heavy favorites to win divisional titles, with Arrogate the leading prospect to be crowned champion 3-year-old male, California Chrome champion older dirt male, and Songbird champion 3-year-old filly.

Songbird is a decided outsider for Horse of the Year, but the choice between Arrogate and California Chrome basically boils down to this – does an overall body of work supersede a lone meeting? That is what the voters – representing Daily Racing Form, the National Turf Writers and Broadcasters Association, and racing secretaries and Equibase field personnel who vote under the banner of the National Thoroughbred Racing Association – had to ask themselves. Of the 264 eligible voters, 248 returned ballots.

California Chrome won his first six starts of the year, including such prestigious races as the Dubai World Cup and the Pacific Classic, before being caught by Arrogate in the final strides of the Breeders’ Cup Classic. That race culminated a meteoric rise for Arrogate, whose only prior stakes start was a track-record performance against fellow 3-year-olds in the Travers.

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California Chrome was Horse of the Year in 2014. If he prevails for 2016, he will become the seventh horse to earn multiple Horse of the Year titles since the Eclipse Awards were founded in 1971, joining two-time winners Secretariat, Affirmed, John Henry, Cigar, Curlin, and Wise Dan, and three-time winner Forego. But he would be only the second horse, following John Henry in 1981 and 1984, to be named Horse of the Year in non-consecutive years, and the first entire horse so honored, as John Henry was a gelding.

If the award goes to Arrogate, he will join Tiznow, in 2000, as the only horse to win titles the same year as champion 3-year-old male and Horse of the Year without competing in a Triple Crown race.

Voting closed on Tuesday. Voters were asked to select the top three in each division to determine the finalists. The 248 voters are pooled, and the person or horse who received the most first-place votes in their respective division will be declared the champion.

The winners will be announced at the 46th annual Eclipse Awards dinner the evening of Jan. 21 at Gulfstream Park
California Chrome, who in 2014 was Horse of the Year and champion 3-year-old male, looks to add the title of champion male dirt runner for 2016. The other finalists in that category are Frosted, the Met Mile winner, and Lord Nelson, who is also a finalist for champion male sprinter.

In addition to Arrogate, the other finalists for champion 3-year-old male are Exaggerator, who won three Grade 1 races including the Preakness, and Nyquist, the Kentucky Derby winner. Nyquist was the champion 2-year-old male of 2015.

In addition to Songbird – whose only loss in eight 2016 starts came by a nose against Beholder in the Breeders’ Cup Distaff – the other finalists for champion 3-year-old filly are Cathryn Sophia, the Kentucky Oaks winner, and Queen’s Trust, winner of the Breeders’ Cup Filly and Mare Turf. Not making the top three was Carina Mia, who won the Acorn Stakes and was second twice to Songbird in the Coaching Club American Oaks and Cotillion.

Three-time Grade 1 winner Lord Nelson’s rivals for champion male sprinter are Drefong, the Breeders’ Cup Sprint winner, and A.P. Indian, who won the Vanderbilt and Forego at Saratoga.

Lord Nelson is owned by the Spendthrift Farm of B. Wayne Hughes, who seems certain to go away with at least one title, as Beholder – who closed her career with a thrilling victory in the Distaff – is the overwhelming favorite to be named champion female dirt horse, which would be her fourth year-end title. The other finalists in that category are Cavorting, who won the Ogden Phipps and Personal Ensign, and Stellar Wind, who split her four races against Beholder.

Spendthrift Farm is also a finalist for champion owner, along with Prince Khalid Abdullah’s Juddmonte Farms – which campaigned Arrogate and male turf finalist Flintshire – and Ken and Sarah Ramsey, who don’t have any horses among the divisional finalists but did lead the nation’s owners in purse earnings for races in North America. Among those not making the cut were California Chrome LLC, the partnership that owns California Chrome and whose earnings would have led the table if the Dubai World Cup was included, and Seth Klarman and William Lawrence, whose partnership led the nation in graded stakes wins.

The California Chrome connections were also left out of the finalists for breeder, trainer, and jockey.

Although California Chrome’s breeders, Perry Martin and Steve Coburn, might very well have bred a horse who is a two-time Horse of the Year, they failed to make the top three for champion breeder. The finalists are Clearsky Farms, which bred Arrogate and Lord Nelson, and WinStar Farm and Darley, who finished one-two in earnings for races in North America. Had the Dubai World Cup been included in the table, Martin and Coburn would have finished second in earnings.

Art Sherman, the trainer of California Chrome, did not make the list of trainer finalists. Bob Baffert, the trainer of Arrogate as well as divisional finalists Drefong and Lord Nelson, did. The other finalists are Chad Brown – who led the nation in purse earnings and Grade 1 wins, powered by the exploits of Flintshire and Lady Eli, among others – and Mark Casse, who is favored to have two champions, Tepin (female turf) and Classic Empire (2-year-old male).

Victor Espinoza, California Chrome’s jockey, also failed to crack the top three. The Eclipse Award for champion jockey will be decided among three-time reigning champ Javier Castellano, who led the nation in earnings; Jose Ortiz, who led the nation in wins; and Mike Smith, who tied for the most Grade 1 wins and was the regular rider for Arrogate and Songbird. In addition to Espinoza, another top rider who failed to make the top three was Florent Geroux, who tied Smith for most Grade 1 wins.

The male turf division has three strong finalists in Breeders’ Cup race winners Highland Reel (Turf) and Tourist (Mile), plus Flintshire, who was second in the Turf but won the Manhattan and Sword Dancer.

Tepin is favored to win her second straight title as champion female turf horse, but that division also has depth, with the other finalists three-time Grade 1 winner Miss Temple City, and Lady Eli, who recovered from a bout with laminitis and won the Flower Bowl.
Classic Empire, winner of the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile, should give Casse, Tepin’s trainer, another title as champion 2-year-old male. The other finalists are Not This Time and Practical Joke.

Breeders’ Cup winners Champagne Room (Juvenile Filles) and New Money Honey (Juvenile Fillies Turf) are finalists for 2-year-old filly along with Lady Aurelia, who began her career in the United States before winning major races at Royal Ascot and in France.
The finalists for female sprinter are Finest City, who won the Breeders’ Cup Filly and Mare Sprint, and Haveyougoneaway and Paulassilverlining, who finished behind Finest City in the Breeders’ Cup.

Rawnaq, Scorpiancer, and Top Striker are the finalists for champion steeplechaser. Not making the cut was the late Bob Le Beau, who won a Grade 1 race – beating Scorpiancer – but curiously was not included in the statistical supplement sent to voters.

The finalists for champion apprentice jockey are Kevin Gomez, Lane Luzzi, and Luis Ocasio. Luzzi’s father, Mike, won this award in 1989, so they could become the first father and son so honored.