01/16/2014 1:49PM

Steven Crist: Eclipse Awards races looking chalky

Tom Keyser
Will the overall season of She's a Tiger (right) trump the by-disqualification victory by Ria Antonia in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Filles?

HALLANDALE BEACH, Fla. – If you’re looking for a lot of suspense at Gulfstream Park Saturday night, try the poker room or the late simulcast races. The Eclipse Awards in the track’s banquet room that night will for the most part be the posting of “official” signs ratifying foregone conclusions.

If someone were conducting pick-12 wagering on the dozen equine awards, I think you could very safely single in seven of the races: Will Take Charge (champion 3-year-old male), Beholder (3-year-old filly), Royal Delta (older female) Wise Dan (turf male and Horse of the Year), Dank (turf female), and Groupie Doll (sprint female).

Two others seem almost as certain, just short of cinchdom.

Wise Dan will probably win the older male title despite much discussion about whether this award should go to a dirt horse, as it usually has in the past. The practical problem this year is that those who believe this (and I am among them) appear to be divided on an alternative between Game On Dude and Mucho Macho Man, the two other finalists in the category, thus splitting any protest vote. Last year, when Wise Dan got 194 of 254 votes for Horse of the Year, he received only 139 of those votes for older male (Fort Larned was a fairly close second with 109 votes). It will be interesting to see how those numbers look this time around.

[Eclipse Awards 2013: Watch Saturday's Eclipse Awards dinner live]

She’s a Tiger also seems a likely winner as champion 2-year-old filly despite being placed second behind Ria Antonia for interference in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies. The rest of She’s a Tiger’s campaign is so vastly superior to Ria Antonia’s that it is difficult to believe a majority of voters will slavishly follow a single stewards’ decision in one race when choosing a champion.

Whether to reward a single Breeders’ Cup result amid an otherwise inadequate campaign is the question hanging over what could be the two closest calls of the night, the awards for male sprinter and 2-year-old male. In remarkably similar cases, a Bob Baffert trainee won a Cup race, but for both Secret Circle (Sprint) and New Year’s Day (Juvenile) it was their lone stakes appearance and only the second victory of any kind in a two- or three-race campaign.

In both categories there is a more-than-plausible alternative that a majority of voters may embrace. Shared Belief’s runaway victories in the Prevue and Hollywood Futurity stamped him the nation’s top 2-year-old, and Points Offthebench had a pair of Grade 1 sprint victories before his tragic demise while training for the BC Sprint, where he would have been heavily favored.

The 12th equine Eclipse is for champion steeplechaser, a category in which I abstained and for which I believe the decision should be made by a committee of jump experts rather than an electorate of flat-racing observers who for the most part do not watch a single race over hurdles all year. In that mythical pick 12, this is the one all-button race. Divine Fortune, Gustavian, and Italian Wedding each won a single Grade 1 race in a year when steeplechasing’s six Grade 1’s went to a half-dozen different horses.

As for the five elected awards honoring humans, you don’t need a 50-cent minimum to play that pick five pretty cheaply. Todd Pletcher is the heavy favorite for another outstanding trainer statuette over Baffert and Bill Mott, and Ken and Sarah Ramsey are odds-on in both the owner and breeder categories for their success with that herd of Kitten’s Joys and a strong superfecta of leading-owner titles at Gulfstream, Keeneland, Churchill, and Saratoga.

The two jockey awards, however, require a wider net. Javier Castellano set a single-season earnings record and also topped the victory board, but seems like a slight underdog against the feel-goodery of Gary Stevens’s comeback. That seems a little unfair to Castellano, but it wouldn’t be the first time that sentiment trumped logic at the Eclipse Awards.

As for the apprentice jockey award, your ticket should probably include all three finalists: Victor Carrasco, Manuel Franco, and Edgard Zayas. I abstained in this category and continue to believe it should either be eliminated as an Eclipse category or at least be voted on by The Jockeys’ Guild or some other group more appropriate than one that focuses on stakes racing and major venues. This is no knock on these young riders, but the Eclipse Awards may not be the right place to honor promising newcomers amid top-level champions, and its electorate may not be best equipped to choose among the leading candidates.

Hail No More than 1 year ago
You go on with it Mr. Horton, a big congrats! You Rock, Pop!
Hail No More than 1 year ago
Would've been nice to present the Horseplayer of the Year his trophy at the podium. Great speech supporting the Horseplayer, but it need's much more emphasis..
Panama Stallion More than 1 year ago
Question: Why doesn't Mizdirection get any traction as Champion Female Sprinter?
Margi Foley More than 1 year ago
Steve, I think you are pretty much spot on with all you said here. I just have to take exception to one thing you said. To call what Gary Stevens did this year so much "feel-goodery" , coming from you, is just incomprehensible. His come-back (I prefer to call it a career resumption) at age 50 after 7 years on the ground has to be one of the greatest stories in the history of American sport. As usual, thoroughbred racing blew it marketing-wise. Since mainstream media has pretty much abandoned horseracing, it's up to us to "bring it to their attention" so-to-speak......and we didn't! Shameful! Castellano deserves the Eclipse Award. The numbers he put up were phenomenal. If he's announced the winner tomorrow night, I will be neither surprised nor disappointed. But for you to say that voters who support Gary Stevens for the award are doing so because of sappy sentimentality is just way out of line, in my opinion. What he did this year is certainly unheard of historically in our sport, or any sport for that matter, and to reduce it to "feel-goodery" is insulting to the history of the sport, and lord knows, that's something I never would have expected from you.
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Anonymous More than 1 year ago
you are so full of ship this must be a scam
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Anonymous More than 1 year ago
this is horse a racing board you must think horse players are stupid .
Pagani Zonda More than 1 year ago
Your taliking to a computer posting spam...lol. Just flag the b*st*rds.
gallopingtom More than 1 year ago
Princess of Sylmar should've skipped the B.C. And ran against males in the Clark or Cigar mile. A win in either race would've sewn up HoTY. Oh well, Mr. Stanco has my respect for at least going to battle. Too bad voters will not consider his actions. With that said, I love Beholder she is a really nice horse, but I'll take the Ky Oaks and Alabama over the Distaff every year. Those races have too much history and prestige that the B.C. distaff can't match IMHO.
nick More than 1 year ago
Gee, Breeder's Cup Distaff has only been running for what now, 30 years? How long does it need to be around to have history and meaning?
Debbie West More than 1 year ago
I agree. MMM for Best older male. He ran an excellent race in the BC Classic and beat some really really good horses. He should not be punished for taking ill during the year and getting time off. He's a smart horse who runs his heart out every time and if you watch his workouts - he works hard during them. Do the right thing all - give him the eclispe. He and his connections deserve it. Don't cheat him like you did Zenyatta a few years ago. She deserved HOY.
ghost2_ More than 1 year ago
It doesn't matter WHY he didn't run during much of the year. The fact is that he did not. He also ran only two really good races all year. Also, what does it matter if he "runs his heart out" and "works hard" during workouts? Results during races are what count! Plenty of horses try hard and do well in workouts, then fizzle when it counts. Should they too get awards for effort? Of course not. That would be ridiculous. Winning the BC Classic and Vox Populi are MMM's rewards, and those are exactly what he deserves. No less, but also no more. Not giving him an Eclipse Award is not "cheating" him. It's simply not giving him something he doesn't deserve.
Shawn Britton More than 1 year ago
Mucho is older male horse of the year! He crushes dude and beat best field of the year.I will never cut on Wise Dan but one thing is for sure his comp this year is a lot weaker than last year comp. he beat nobody just like dude
fuggedabodit More than 1 year ago
I dont think this article is debatable...it's right on!
Amy Hurley More than 1 year ago
I don't see any reason why professionals who cover the sport and presumably have the knowledge and expertise to vote on 4 other human Eclipse Award categories should not also be qualified to vote a champion apprentice. Winning the Eclipse is a worthy goal for these young riders and certainly a fine reward for their hard work - many of them ride at more than one track and also work several horses in the morning, something that most journeymen rarely do, unless it's a stakes horse. And, for what it's worth, I'll go with Carrasco this year.