Opinion Columns

Hovdey: A night of high notes ends on a sour one

At first glance, the Eclipse Awards ceremonies held at Gulfstream Park last Saturday night were a very traditional, by-the-numbers replay of dinners gone by. There was the gracious, personable host juggling introductions with a handful of thin jokes. There was the collection of video highlights, many of them flashing past with daunting speed. And there were the acceptance speeches, dizzy in their variety, from the raucously joyful to cool and classy, capped by an off-the-cuff ramble that channeled the spirits of both Don Rickles and Professor Irwin Corey.

Watchmaker: Form holds up in Eclipse Award voting

Decades of racing results have taught us that favorites win 33 percent of the time. But chalk ruled at the Eclipse Awards ceremony Saturday night at Gulfstream Park. A strong case can be made that favorites went a whopping 17 for 17 in the equine and human categories voted on by the Eclipse Awards electorate at large.

This is good. Although I had a different choice at the top of my ballot in two of those 17 categories, I have absolutely zero issue with the winners in the two divisions in which I knowingly, and with justifiable reason, went against the grain.

Hovdey: Horse of the Year vote often shows respect for elders

The announcement of the 2016 Horse of the Year will cap the evening Saturday at Gulfstream Park when the Eclipse Awards are presented for the 46th time. If social-media chitchat and informal polls are right, then California Chrome, a 5-year-old last year, will top Arrogate for the honor, despite the fact that Arrogate, then 3, beat the older horse the only time they met in the Breeders’ Cup Classic. And, of course, polls are never wrong.

Hovdey: Parallel minds intersect at Eclipse Award of Merit

Joe Hirsch won the Eclipse Award of Merit for 1992 because he was a tireless ambassador for Thoroughbred racing, because he was instrumental in the birth of such events as the Arlington Million, the Japan Cup, and the Dubai World Cup, and because he spent most of his career as a one-man Michelin Guide for any young reporter who needed a crash course in the game.

He was also a journalist.

Watchmaker: Pegasus shows lack of depth in many stakes divisions

Full disclosure: I was a Pegasus World Cup skeptic when the concept was announced last May. Although I knew some big-time racing connections would certainly pony up the $1 million buy-in, I doubted there were as many as 12 horses anywhere in the world who were worthy of such a commitment. I also wondered who might be willing to accept this level of risk in a 1 1/8-mile race such as this at Gulfstream Park, where the configuration of such a race means a very short run to the first turn, spelling almost automatic doom for any horse breaking from at least posts 10, 11, and 12.

Hovdey: Pegasus provides awards postmortem

Swanky ceremonies to honor the 2016 Longines World’s Best Racehorse will be held Tuesday, Jan. 24, at Claridge’s Hotel in the heart of London’s Mayfair district.

This is not to be confused with the 2016 Cartier Racing Awards of last Nov. 8, which also were presented in London at the Dorchester Hotel, or the dressy dinner at Gulfstream Park up the road from Miami next Saturday, which will salute the winners of the 2016 Eclipse Awards.

Hovdey: Some room at the top of older mare division

Now that Beholder is safely retired after what is certain to be recognized as a fourth championship season, there is the usual vacuum of power at the top. The queen is gone. Long live the next one, whoever it is.

The list of obvious choices to fill the void begins with Songbird, now 4 and on the threshold of her second straight Eclipse Award for her exploits of last season. She is nearing the end of a freshening at WinStar Farm in Kentucky and is due to be sent to Jerry Hollendorfer at Santa Anita around Jan. 20.

Hovdey: Will of iron runs in Stevens brothers' blood

Scott Stevens was in a funk. The new year was 10 days old, and after 17 rides at Turf Paradise he still was looking for his first winner.

“Any way you look at it, I’m oh-for-seventeen,” Stevens said. “I thought I’d keep last year right on going. But at least I had a second and a third yesterday, and it looks like I’m on some live ones today.”

Watchmaker: Gormley shows he doesn't need it all his way

Benoit & Associates
Gormley, left, and American Anthem battle in the Sham Stakes on Saturday at Santa Anita.

January may be barely a week old, but for many the real road to the May 6 Kentucky Derby began Saturday at Santa Anita in a sloppy-track Sham Stakes. Gormley and American Anthem put on quite a show in the Sham, slugging it out from beginning to end, and virtually distancing the five others who shared the starting gate with them

Hovdey: Chrome bids adieu to his California home

A dozen or so of California Chrome’s loyal fans were gathered at Art Sherman’s Los Alamitos barn in the wee hours of a chilly Friday morning to pay homage to their chestnut hero as he prepared to leave for Florida and his final start in the Pegasus World Cup on Jan. 28.

It was a little before 2 a.m. The mood was reverent. Then Sherman pulled up in his Mercedes GLC 300, and the party started.

“Are we ready?” Sherman announced, playing to the small crowd.

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