Updated on 12/28/2012 5:11PM

Simon: Eclipse voting process needs structure


When it comes to Eclipse Award voting, I have one nagging question: Who thinks up these rules? Well, no, that’s not quite right. Rather, who doesn’t think up these rules? No, that’s not right, either. How about … why are there no rules?

For those not familiar with the time-honored Eclipse Award voting process, here it is in a nutshell: Take your ballot and vote for whomever you want, using whatever self-constructed methodology or guidelines, whimsical or otherwise, you see fit. It has been this way for 41 years, since the Eclipse Awards were instituted in 1971 to streamline the process of designating divisional champions, when the voting of three organizations was consolidated. But as racing has evolved into an increasingly international sport, that free-for-all system of voting is no longer adequate. In fact, it seems high time for some standards to be put in place.

Under the present system, each voter receives a ballot with Daily Racing Form past performances for leading candidates in each equine division. Nowhere, in fact, does it even stipulate that the awards are supposed to be for performance in North America. It may be assumed, but new voters may have their own thoughts. These "suggested" nominees are determined by a committee of the three sponsoring organizations—the National Thoroughbred Racing Association, Daily Racing Form, and National Turf Writers and Broadcasters—with the horses presented usually being all divisional Grade 1 winners, along with some selected toss-ins.

The only dictum that comes with the ballot is that one must vote for three in each division, with said voter being summarily disqualified if he or she fails to do so. But only first-place votes are counted to determine the winner. The Eclipse Award committee wants at least three finalists to announce, because, heaven forbid, there is a unanimous selection and everyone knows the winner before the envelope is opened … though in reality, few Eclipse Awards are a surprise. They also want finalists to ensure strong attendance at the event, a fair enough point, plus it’s an honor being a finalist, if even a distant one.

The present standard-less system allows each voter to determine his/her own definition of what the Eclipse Awards are. Some view it as strictly merit-based, with the most accomplished horse receiving their support. Others may see it as something of a handicapping exercise, determining which horse might have been best at year’s end, even if seemingly outranked class-wise through much of the season. Still others may simply go with the horse that won the perceived championship race, often a Breeders’ Cup event. And then there are those sentimentalists who throw all rational thought out the window and allow their hearts to do the voting.

Non-equine categories come with their own set of un-standardized problems. Included with the past performance supplement are lists of leading owners, breeders, trainers, jockeys, and apprentice jockeys—statistically sliced, diced, ranked, and presented by overall earnings, graded stakes earnings, graded stakes wins, etc. While use of these criteria may seem like a fairly benign system, think again.

The leader boxes for owners, breeders, et al., are clearly marked as North American … but with the stipulation: "Includes Dubai World Cup Day." Huh? Why would the process of determining North American champions include racing in Dubai? And why only one country outside North America? What about England, Ireland, France, Japan, and Australia, and anywhere major races are held in which American-based horses compete? And why are breeders not given credit for American-breds that compete in major races worldwide? Voters are apparently asked to ignore results of such races as the Epsom Derby, Arc de Triomphe, Melbourne Cup, and Japan Cup, to name a few.

The presentation of worldwide data—if that data is to be included for voters—is not difficult to obtain. The Jockey Club has complete racing data for 25 countries today, plus stakes winners worldwide for all the other countries.

Because the Dubai World Cup races are included in the statistics, Godolphin was far and away the leading owner by 2012 earnings. Its runners earned $8 million in the Dubai World Cup alone. Godolphin had a splendid year in North America as well, with nine graded stakes wins (tied for most by an owner) and would have received ample consideration for outstanding owner honors in any event, be it North American or worldwide statistics.

The reason Dubai races are included is twofold: The races used to be part of a worldwide series that included important international races in Europe and the Far East, and all participating races were in the statistics, but when that series went by the wayside, the Dubai races were grandfathered in. Plus, some years ago, a few North American jockeys’ agents complained very loudly when the Dubai races were about to be dropped, saying the races drew a lot of American runners and the results could not be ignored as they were important in the jockeys standings. (Few North American riders compete abroad in any other events, so the agents don’t care about anywhere else.)

It is unfortunate that breeders and owners do not have lobbyists strong enough to get all international races that affect their interests included in the statistics.

And last, why is there no minimum number of starts required in North America to be eligible for an Eclipse Award? The standard today is none. Nowhere in the rules does it say that a horse must make even a single start on this continent. As such, there is nothing to prevent someone from voting for English-raced Frankel as Horse of the Year. That may sound preposterous, but it’s not against the rules. (What rules?)

In Canada, to be eligible for a Sovereign Award, its Eclipse Award equivalent, a horse must make at least three starts in the country to be eligible (two starts for juveniles).

The committee in charge of the Eclipse Awards can do the award a great service by coming up with some guidelines. It can begin by defining a minimum number of starts, and in what country or countries, and devise standards for statistics that are either North American or worldwide. Just pick one, any one, and let everyone know what the rules are.

Patricia Diers More than 1 year ago
Amen. The criteria now --oh, sorry- what criteria?
Reggie Evans More than 1 year ago
As far as I know, there are no rules when it comes to the divisional champs but in order to be HOY, a horse has to have started at least once in North America. I'll always remember Singspiel winning champion turf horse in 1996 despite never winning a race in the United States. Also, can anyone explain to me why Arazi, Goldikova, Miesque, and many others can be named champion off of one race but it's silly for me to say I would have voted for Ghostzapper in 2005 off of one race? Who says that the one race has to be in the Breeders' Cup?
chairmanwong0 More than 1 year ago
Not surprsing that there's no consistency in racing. Why can't dirt composition be the same everywhere? Why can't synthetic be the same everywhere? Why do turf courses get more water than others? Why are race conditions not the same everywhere? Because powerful stables that are part of the Board at the racetracks will create "conditions" that favour them. Instead of calling them the elipse awards, lets call them the Illuminati Awards. They are only for the chosen ones.
Donna Servis More than 1 year ago
What about the Eclipse Award for Apprentice Jockey of the Year. I know many think this category should be forgotten but from an Agent who TWO years in a row I have had the honor of representing two leading contenders in this category. Last year my Apprentice was disqualified as his bug ran 8 months in one year & 4 months in another. Not only disqualified but the committee made it look like he cheated. This year I am lucky enough to represent the leading money earner Apprentice Jockey of the year and guess what??? the committee decided to add a Jockey from NY in the Apprentice of the year category who was judged last year and again they want him judged this year...His bug ran approximately 9 months last year & 3-4 months this year...Who's earnings are being considered with journeyman earnings...It is my opinion that this is very hypocritical...Coming from a racing family my goals with the Apprentice Jockeys when we start working with each other is The Eclipse as I thought it was an honorable Award in racing...Not after what was done to both of my Jockeys, two years in a row. I just wish someone would listen to our story & post something in one of the racing papers...
[removed] More than 1 year ago
This comment has been deleted
Slew32A More than 1 year ago
Isn't Dubai synthetic?
Greg Hopper More than 1 year ago
Yes it is
Mary Simon More than 1 year ago
If Dubai's included, why shouldn't we include the whole world? Period? ... And why should a horse ever have made even ONE start in the U. S.--if the Eclipse Award is a global honor? Go, Frankel! Or, not.
Grazyna Mianska More than 1 year ago
The Dubai races are run on Grass and on Kitty Litter not on dirt.
Thomas Barrett More than 1 year ago
you have to question the process..blame should have been hoy over zenyatta..but voters realized they erred in giving it to rachel the year before, therefore voters gave themselves a do over...do overs are not how hoy should be decided.
Slew32A More than 1 year ago
Really? Rachel beat the boys. Are we supposed to assume Zenyatta would have run as well against the boys the year before?
Nick Arden More than 1 year ago
You don't have to assume, she won the BC Classic against the boys.
Slew32A More than 1 year ago
Gee your right but hardly a classic field.
Greg Hopper More than 1 year ago
Agreed Thomas. When BLAME defeated Zen heads-up in the biggest race and then was denied HOY it took a lot of the meaning out of both the Classic and the HOY award.
Senor Enrico More than 1 year ago
Are races or reputation from previous years aloud to be used. Zenyatta won the 2011 HYO for what she did in 2010. Her 2011 campaign did not merit HYO.
Barbara Bowen More than 1 year ago
Yeah, true, given that Zenyatta was retired and pregnant in 2011.
B More than 1 year ago
I've had it in my head for a long time that there was a rule that in order to be eligible for an Eclipse, a horse had to make at least one start in North America. I guess I was wrong. Did there used to be such a rule?!
chad mc rory More than 1 year ago
Didn't need one... Ask a bug boy.
Mary Simon More than 1 year ago
A ten-pound bug boy.
chad mc rory More than 1 year ago
Hey Mark, These awards are your opportunity as a Guild Member to be subjective and even a bit personal, if you will, as you pick your favorites for the year. About rules - there is one. Be professional, which means don't put a Foreign Horse on top even though you could. This is about North American Racing... a ten-pound bug knows that.
Mary Simon More than 1 year ago
Heck, there are even qualifying guidelines for the Presidency of the United States. (Minimum age requirement, residency and birthplace, etc. While I could argue that an IQ requirement should also be included, I won't.) Chad ... never underestimate the willful ignorance of the voting public, be it for a general election or a racing championship. How would it hurt to specify what precisely we're voting for? I don't have a problem with that, at all. What I do have a problem with is that we've got one Eclipse-eligible turf horse who never set foot in the United States. His lone North American victory came in Canada--where, ironically, he is ineligible for a Sovereign Award because he started there only once. Yet, surprise! He's eligible for an Eclipse Award. Go figure.
chad mc rory More than 1 year ago
Hi Mary, Many rules are unwritten and for good reason. To 'be professional' should be enough for Turfwriters. While one horse or another may ship and win in North America, it doesn't seem to be enough of a 'body of work' to earn a top award, or does it? The PP's are for reference, yes but as one thoughtful commentor here said these awards are not for bean counters to simply tally. An adding machine still would have no recognition for the run Secretariat made in the Clubhouse Turn at Pimlico. How do you weight that with 'rules'? Thank you Mary for all you have given us.
Mary Simon More than 1 year ago
Thanks, Chad, for your thoughtful and curious commentary. ... I personally don't have a driving passion, one way or another on this subject. But, I do think--at the very least--that an Eclipse Award eligible should have made at least one start in the states. I'm just not comfortable with the horse who ran once in Canada, and won, and is on the ballot. ... Canada has their own championship award, and deemed that horse ineligible. Since when did the Eclipse Award become a world-wide honor? From a personal perspective, I'd love it if that were true ... but, I don't think it is.
Ann Maree More than 1 year ago
Nice try, Mark. I admire your hubris to think after 41 years you can bring order out of chaos! In order to come up with guidelines, you will have to get the current voters (or a committee, heaven forbid) to agree and that isn't likely to happen. Reason: you will have to get those who prefer a subjective approach to agree to eliminate that as a basis for judging winners. And, if you are successful in doing that, then you might as well do away with the voting process altogether, and hand it over to a group of bean counters with green eye shades. No, I think while the current lack of specifics on what can be considered in determining a winner is messy and inexact, it is preferable to an arbitrary set of standards that attempts to apply one set of guidelines across the board. Ex: had the "three starts" rule been in effect here, Goldikova would not have been eligible, as she only made the one start each year in the Breeders Cup. I will admit, it is scary to leave what can and should be considered in the hands of the voters to figure out for themselves, however, I find that preferable to an arbitrary set of standards being imposed. This is a little bit "tongue in cheek", as I think I appreciate what you are suggesting, and some tweaking is probably called for. When I first became aware that there are no "guidelines", someone pointed me to an old article in Thoroughbred Times that gave the following as a requirement: A horse has to have raced at least once in the U.S. during the current year. Someone else referred to Joe Hirsch who was quoted as saying something like, "there are no rules...it's whatever you want it to be!" Finally, have you asked yourself why no one has come up with some guidelines in 41 years? I would bet it has been thought of each and every year for the past four decades! Why mess with perfection!
chad mc rory More than 1 year ago
We have a winner! Let Equibase keep stats...
Mary Simon More than 1 year ago
Not sure how you extrapolated all of that from Mark's relatively benign viewpoint. What's the problem with having some kind of meager guideline to go by. I've known plenty of Eclipse voters through the years who sure could have used one. As it stands, he's right. If someone wanted to vote for Frankel as Eclipse Horse of the Year, they could. But, as Chad so astutely put it: Even a ten-pound bug should comprehend that this is a North American award. Personally, I think a horse should have made at least one start in the United States to qualify for inclusion. Even Canada doesn't allow a Canadian non-starter eligibilty for a Sovereign.