Updated on 01/06/2014 12:29AM

Steven Crist: Close call in many Eclipse categories

Tom Keyser
Beholder's victory in the Distaff gives her an edge in the Eclipse race for 3-year-old filly.

Much as I’d like to, I can’t put it off any longer. The Eclipse Awards ballots are due and here are my choices for the 11 equine flat-racing titles:

2-year-old male: Perhaps the toughest call on the ballot due to the increasing brevity of juvenile campaigns in general and the significant drawback of each leading contender this year: New Year’s Day won the BC Juvenile but that was his only stakes start and he never ran a fast race; Havana won the Champagne but tired to be second in the Juvenile; Honor Code lost his only Grade 1 start; and Shared Belief raced only on synthetic tracks.

Shared Belief, however, has two other things going for him: His races were consistently fast, and he did win both a Grade 1 and a Grade 2 stakes. I’ll take him over New Year’s Day and Havana in that order – though if you forced me to make a Derby Future bet today, I’d probably take Honor Code.

2-year-old filly: She’s a Tiger finished first in the BC Juvenile Fillies, but was placed second behind Ria Antonia for interference in deep stretch. Must we ratify the stewards’ decision? I can’t. The rest of Ria Antonia’s campaign was dismal, while She’s a Tiger was first or second in all four of her Grade 1 and Grade 2 starts. I’ll leave them in the order they crossed the wire at Santa Anita and give Streaming third by a nose over Sweet Reason.

3-year-old male: Will Take Charge in a romp. With five different 3-year-olds winning the Derby, Preakness, Belmont, Haskell, and Travers, Will Take Charge took command with his two big fall races in Grade 1 spots against his elders – second in the BC Classic and first in the Clark. I’ll put Orb second and Goldencents third.

3-year-old filly: This is a heartbreaker, the lone category where a worthy champion won’t officially be a champion and it’s a shame. Princess of Sylmar’s victories in the Kentucky Oaks, CCA Oaks, Alabama, and Beldame would cement a title nine years out of 10, but Beholder also won four Grade 1 races and won the Distaff on a day when the Princess fired her only blank of the year. You hate to punish her connections for their sportsmanship in running her once more, but they knew the risk they were taking and it backfired badly. Close Hatches gets the show spot.

Older male: I have always believed that this title is supposed to go to the best older dirt male, not to a grass specialist who happens to be older and male. Eclipse voters used to agree – they gave this title to Slew o’ Gold over John Henry in 1984 and to Bertrando over Kotashaan in 1994. It went to Wise Dan last year, but at least he also had strong dirt and synthetic efforts. This year, Wise Dan showed no such versatility, so I’m going with Game On Dude for his five graded wins including the California trifecta of the Santa Anita Handicap, Hollywood Gold Cup, and Pacific Classic. I’ll put Mucho Macho Man second and Cross Traffic third.

Older female: This wasn’t Royal Delta’s finest season, with just three wins in seven starts, but there’s really nowhere else to go, and when she was right she was clearly best. Joyful Victory and Tiz Miz Sue complete a tepid trifecta.
Turf male: Wise Dan’s four Grade 1 victories lay over the field. Point of Entry, one of our best turf horses to retire without an Eclipse, came up one start short, and Big Blue Kitten gets my vote for third.

Turf female: Easy. Dank won the Beverly D. and the BC Filly and Mare Turf, turning in the two strongest performances of the year in the division’s two best races. Laughing was next best, and in the absence of a good idea for third, why not Mizdirection for a second straight victory over males in the BC Turf Sprint?

Male sprinter: Secret Circle’s BC Sprint victory was an impressive one, but Points Offthebench had the better campaign and an additional Grade 1 victory. I’ll put Sahara Sky second and Secret Circle third.

Female sprinter: Groupie Doll’s campaign was not as strong as her 2012 one, but she won the big dance. Dance to Bristol runs a close second in the category, with Cluster of Stars third.

Horse of the Year: Much as I am tempted to voice some dissatisfaction with the narrowness of Wise Dan’s specialty by voting for someone else as Horse of the Year, I just can’t in good conscience argue that there is a worthier choice.

Will Take Charge’s campaign ended strongly, and it’s appealing to reward him for his perseverance and for running in so many of the sport’s big races, but he didn’t get good until July and it’s tough to promote his 5-for-11 campaign over Wise Dan’s 6-for-7 season.

Therefore: 1. Wise Dan; 2. Will Take Charge; 3. Game On Dude.