Few surprises in my Eclipse Award ballot

As I’ve said, now, on an almost annual basis, I really try to have solid reasoning for my top choices as a voting member of the National Turf Writers And Broadcasters. Choices for second and third, especially in the more prestigious categories, get some deliberation but they won’t keep me up at night. That’s because only first-place votes really count, and the others are just used to establish lists of finalists.

Horse of the Year
1. California Chrome, 2.  Arrogate,  3. Tepin. Why: California Chrome was the marquee horse all year long, even in defeat to Arrogate in the Breeders’ Cup Classic. Arrogate had two of the most spectacular races of the year and did beat older horses in the Classic, but the resume needed something more for my Horse of the Year vote. A vote for Arrogate certainly is defensible.

2 Year Old Male
1. Classic Empire,  2. Practical Joke,  3. Not This Time. Why: Classic Empire won three graded stakes, two of which were Grade Is — including the most important one for the category in the Breeders’ Cup. But for dumping his rider in the Hopeful Stakes at Saratoga Race Course, he’d be perfect. As it is, Classic Empire is a clear winner in this category. Practical Joke won that Hopeful and the Grade I Champagne, but the third-place finish in the Juvenile puts him second on this ballot.

Two-Year-Old Filly
1. Champagne Room,  2. Miss Sky Warrior,  3. Sweet Loretta. Why: The Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies is a tiebreaker here among several fillies that had good — but not dominating — years.

3 Year Old Male
1. Arrogate,  2. Exaggerator,  3. Nyquist. Why: Three Grade I wins, including a classic (the Preakness Stakes) and a second in another classic (the Kentucky Derby) in many years would be enough for division honors. Sorry, Exaggerator. Where Arrogate’s resume might have been light for Horse of the Year, the Travers Stakes and Breeders’ Cup Classic winner towers over his own division.

3 Year Old Filly
1. Songbird,  2. Cathryn Sophia,  3. Catch a Glimpse. Why: The only realities to beat Songbird in her sophomore season were a fever that knocked her out of the Longines Kentucky Oaks and Beholder’s amazing effort in the Breeders’ Cup Distaff. A no-brainer.

Older Dirt Male
1. California Chrome,  2. Frosted,  3. Melatonin. Why: See Horse of the Year discussion.

Older Dirt Female
1. Beholder,  2. Stellar Wind,  3. Forever Unbridled. Why: The Distaff win gives Beholder the nod here, despite being beaten twice in the year by Stellar Wind in Grade Is. Also, Beholder was never worse than second in six starts.

Male Sprinter
1. Drefong,  2. A. P. Indian,  3. Lord Nelson. Why: The Breeders’ Cup Sprint gives Drefong the vote narrowly.

Female Sprinter
1. Finest City,  2. Taris ,  3. Constellation. Why: The Breeders’ Cup Filly & Mare Sprint decides it in a year where there’s no overwhelming resume.

Male Turf Horse
1. Flintshire,  2. Tourist,  3. Highland Reel. Why: This may have been the toughest call. Flintshire had two Grade I wins but lost to Highland Reel in arguably the most important race for the category, the Breeders’ Cup Turf. Tourist was the top male miler, and I wouldn’t fault someone voting for him. Highland Reel won the biggest race in a great international campaign, but, in a general sense, having more than one North American start is preferred for a North American championship. That’s not a knock on what Highland Reel did in Hong Kong, the United States, France, Great Britain and Dubai (Ireland too, if you want to throw in one of his worst finishes of the year).

Female Turf Horse
1. Tepin, 2. Miss Temple City,  3. Lady Eli. Why: Tepin’s international resume gives her the edge here with three Grade/Group I wins over Miss Temple City who had three as well.

Steeplechase Horse
1. Rawnaq, 2. Top Striker, 3. Scorpiancer. Why: Because, among other reasons, he’s already the champion.

Owner
1. Juddmonte Farms Inc., 2. Spendthrift Farm LLC, 3. Klaravich Stables Inc. and Lawrence, William H. Why: Juddmonte did the most with the fewest starts among the biggest names this year.

Breeder
1. Clearsky Farms, 2. John Antonelli, 3. WinStar Farm LLC. Why: Breeder of Arrogate and Lord Nelson.

Jockey
1. Mike Smith, 2. Florent Geroux, 3. Javier Castellano. Why: Rider of Songbird and Arrogate.

Apprentice Jockey
1. Ocasio, Luis M., 2. Gomez, Kevin, 3. Luzzi, Lane J. Why: The leader in wins and earnings.

Trainer
1. Brown, Chad, 2. Baffert, Bob, 3. Pletcher, Todd. Why: Although Baffert had fewer starters, Brown had one more Grade I win, more graded wins and was the earnings leader

unnamed
The finish of the 2016 Breeders’ Cup Classic. (Breeders’ Cup/Eclipse Sportswire)

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