One Eclipse Awards voter’s opinions

GunRunner
Gun Runer wins the Stephen Foster Handicap at Churchill Downs (Courtesy of Churchill Downs/Coady Photography)

Here is my ballot, which was due this week, for the Eclipse Awards.

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.

In general, I place an emphasis on Grade 1 stakes wins, followed by graded wins more broadly. And, in the human categories, I also try to account for quality over quantity, particularly in the human categories — meaning that I give the nod, generally, if two entities have the same numbers of graded stakes wins to the one that does it in fewer starts.

Horse of the Year

  1. Gun Runner,  2. Abel Tasman,  3. World Approval. Comment: Not much to debate here.

2-Year Old Male

  1. Bolt d’Oro,  2. Good Magic,  3. Solomini. Comment: Although Bolt d’Oro failed in the biggest juvenile test, he had the best campaign with two Grade-1 wins.

2-Year-Old Filly

  1. Moonshine Memories, 2. Caledonia Road,  3. Dream Tree. Comment: Same reasoning as the 2-year-old male category.

3-Year-Old Male

  1. West Coast, 2. Always Dreaming, 3. Battle of Midway. Comment: West Coast gets the nod, but this was not a stellar year for the division.

3-Year-Old Filly

  1. Abel Tasman, 2. Elate, 3. Paradise Woods. Comment: With three Grade-1 wins, she’s a worthy Eclipse winner (I assume she’ll win this) and finished a respectable second in the Breeders’ Cup Distaff.

Older Dirt Male

  1. Gun Runner, 2. Arrogate, 3. Collected. Comment: He’s the Horse of the Year in my book, so he’s a clear No. 1 vote in this divisional category.

Older Dirt Female

  1. Forever Unbridled, 2. Stellar Wind, 3. Songbird. Comment: Forever Unbridled’s campaign was abbreviated to be sure, but what she lacked in quantity she made up for in quantity.

Male Sprinter

  1. Roy H, 2. Mind Your Biscuits,  3. Imperial Hint. Comment: Two Grade-1 wins, including the most important race in the division for Roy H.

Female Sprinter

  1. Paulassilverlining, 2. Unique Bella, 3. By the Moon. Comment: Paulassilverlining peaked early in the year, but no other did enough afterward to get my vote.

Male Turf Horse

  1. World Approval, 2. Beach Patrol, 3. Talismatic. Comment: Three North American Grade-1 wins gives him the best campaign for what is a North American award. If this were to be viewed as an international category, Highland Reel almost certainly would be the choice — but he came up short in his visit to the states.

Female Turf Horse

  1. Lady Eli, 2. Off Limits, 3. Wuheida (GB). Comment: Lady Eli has the best resume and story to boot.

Steeplechase Horse

  1. Mr. Hot Stuff, 2. All the Way Jose, 3. Modem (GB). Comment: All things seemed to be equal, so the vote went to the horse with the greatest earnings of the major contenders.

Owner

  1. Winchell Thoroughbreds and Three Chimneys Farm, 2. Juddmonte Farms Inc., 3. Godolphin Racing LLC. Comment: Team Gun Runner.

Breeder

  1. Clearsky Farms, 2. Besilu Stables LLC, 3. WinStar Farm LLC. Comment: Clearsky only saw a handful of starts from its nursery alums, but garnered as many Grade 1s as bigger players.

Jockey

  1. Mike Smith, 2. Jose Ortiz, 3. Javier Castellano. Comment: See the comment in the preface above about getting the biggest wins in the fewest starts. If there’s a word for it — maybe proficiency — in the dictionary, Mike Smith’s picture is by the definition.

Apprentice Jockey

  1. Evin A Roman, 2. Katie Clawson, 3. Hector Rafael Diaz Jr. Comment: Seems a clear winner.

Trainer

  1. Bob Baffert, 2. Chad Brown, 3. Mark Casse. Comment: Again, the most impact with fewer starters than other big names. That said, this was a close call that almost went to Brown — and I fault no one for giving him their vote.

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