This is my 15th year voting for the Eclipse Awards (obligatory mention that I have a vote out of the way already), and I can’t remember a year with so little drama and so many cut-and-dried choices.
Of course there will be some differences of opinion (especially in the 2nd & 3rd spots), but it’s tough to get too worked up over female sprinter. I.e., that might be one of the more competitive categories vote totals wise, but some have argued that none of them deserve it as strongly as I could argue for any one choice. That said, I’m a big believer in “someone has to win” (which is the opposite of 2009 when I was against co Horses of the Year in the case of Rachel Alexandra and Zenyatta).
All my votes are below. We vote for a top 3 with only the TOP VOTE counting toward who wins the Eclipse Award and the 2nd– and 3rd-place votes used for finalist purposes only. I.e. it is possible to get more 1st-place votes than a finalist (and not be a finalist), but whoever gets the most 1st-place votes is the winner regardless of 2nd- or 3rd-place vote tabulations.
My vote: Classic Empire
Will win: Classic Empire
This is a slam dunk. He’s a multiple Grade 1 winner who won the Breeders’ Cup over the highly regarded (and now-retired) Not This Time with many lengths back to Grade 1 winner Practical Joke.
My vote: Champagne Room
Will win: Champagne Room
Since no other filly distinguished herself as a multiple Grade 1 winner, I’m happy to default to the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies winner among the Grade 1 winners. I considered Lady Aurelia, but as I told Marcus Hersh, I value the BCJF more than the Prix Morny.
My vote: Arrogate
Will win: Arrogate
I’m more interested in how people vote behind Arrogate, as there was some chatter about Gun Runner and/or Connect deserving consideration based on their late-season Grade 1 wins over older males, and while I generally value wins in open company (especially for Horse of the Year), the three-year old male division is a special beast because its best races are unquestionably the Triple Crown. For that reason, I put Nyquist 2nd and Exaggerator 3rd. Both showed they were the leaders of their division at the time most owners want to be the leaders of this division.
My vote: Songbird
Will win: Songbird
Another slam dunk on Classic Empire’s level (even more so), as there’s no question Songbird was the best three-year-old filly even after missing the Kentucky Oaks with a tour de force summer that included wins over many other Grade 1 winners while shipping East to Saratoga and Parx.
Older dirt male
My vote: California Chrome
Will win: California Chrome
Another slam dunk considering the only other horse on California Chrome’s level this year isn’t in his division. I went with multiple Grade 1 winner Frosted and Melatonin 2nd and 3rd despite poor Breeders’ Cup showings because those were the two horses with the best chance at Horse of the Year with a Classic win.
Older dirt female
My vote: Beholder
Will win: Beholder
Can’t imagine anyone voting for anyone else. Another category where the finalists will be interesting. I put Forever Unbridled ahead of Stellar Wind even though Stellar Wind beat Beholder twice because Forever Unbridled shipped and ran better in the Breeders’ Cup. Cavorting was tough to leave off, but I value making the Breeders’ Cup.
My vote: Drefong
Will win: ???
I went with the Breeders’ Cup Sprint winner but can’t fault anyone who sides with three-time Grade 1 winner Lord Nelson. However, for me, a big part of winning a championship is winning the marquee races, and not all Grade 1s are created equal. Drefong stepped up against elders and got the job done when his stablemate couldn’t. A.P. Indian gets a 3rd place nod as best from the East.
My vote: Finest City
Will win: Finest City
Another Breeders’ Cup default vote for me, as no female sprinter really established herself as the leader of the division at any point during the year. This division doesn’t have a lot of recognized patterns to Grade 1 races either, so I put more weight into the Breeders’ Cup for it since the Filly & Mare Sprint is a championship in that regard. 2nd and 3rd was extremely difficult.
Male Turf Horse
My vote: Highland Reel
Will win: Flintshire
Going against the grain here, but Flintshire lost both the Breeders’ Cup and the previous race. Yes, the ground was against him in the Hirsch, but what was the excuse at Santa Anita? He just got beat by a better horse, and the better horse deserve the championship. Flintshire’s year overall isn’t as good as his reputation would make you believe it is, though, is it? Just the two Grade 1 races, didn’t ship… obviously the type I’d love to own, but he had Horse of the Year buzz after the Sword Dancer. Come on.
Female turf horse
My vote: Tepin
Will win: Tepin
Even though I singled her on most tickets, for Eclipse Award purposes I’m glad Lady Eli lost because she probably would have won the Eclipse off that effort “after all she’s been through” and my unpopular opinion is that shouldn’t matter for these categories. Racing horses is hard. All barns put blood, sweat, and tears into taking care of these animals. The Lady Eli story is great, and that her connections shared it (and her) so willingly is deserving of praise, but there are other vehicles for that (Special Eclipse, TPA Big Sport of Turfdom, etc.), and to have denied Tepin an Eclipse Award after a pair of international Grade 1 victories against males would have been a shame (despite narrow losses in her last two). But that’s a moot point now, as Breeders’ Cup losses from all three likely finalists keeps Tepin on top.
Steeplechase horse (ABSTAIN)
Breeder (Clearsky Farm)
These are tough categories because there’s so many ways to slice and dice the stats and determine what’s important: Grade 1 wins, earnings, stakes wins, any win, size of operation, commitment to all levels of racing, etc.
I went with Juddmonte as owner because it seems so willing to let their horses be horses. Arrogate is this year’s best three-year-old who showed that in the second half of the year from a barn that excels with two-year-olds and classic types. Clearly, trainer Bob Baffert felt comfortable bringing Arrogate along at the horse’s pace.
Clearsky Farm bred Arrogate, Lord Nelson, and Abel Talsman, all Grade 1 winners this year, and all horses I considered for my ballot. Given its small numbers that’s an incredible season. I put Machmer Hall second again because I really like their approach from birth, and they get great numbers with a limited band.
Jockey (Mike Smith)
I asked on Twitter whether Ben’s Cat should be in the Racing Hall of Fame (when eligible), and someone responded that compilers shouldn’t be rewarded with the sport’s highest honor, and that’s what I had in mind when voting for Mike Smith this year, who from limited opportunities guided champions Arrogate and Songbird. I have no issue with votes for Castellano, either of the Ortiz brothers, Leparoux, or Geroux, but just think Smith had the best year. That said, I put Castellano 2nd on sheer number power and chose Jose over Irad, Julien, or Florent because I love how well rounded he is. Maidens, two-year-olds, turf, dirt, inner, outer, to paraphrase the greatest Youtube video ever, “Jose is in on it.”
Apprentice jockey (abstain)
Trainer (Chad Brown)
This was a tough one because it sort of flies in the face of my jockey pick in that I don’t want to vote for compilers, but the guys at the top of the game get a lot of the same opportunities, so that Brown put up better numbers gives him the slight edge. Still, I definitely strongly considered Baffert and Casse, who not only have two champions each but also seem to excel with different variables (especially Casse, with his turf, dirt, two-year-old program, international wins, etc.).
HORSE OF THE YEAR
My vote: California Chrome
Will win: California Chrome
I have no problem admitting Arrogate proved himself the better horse when he won the Breeders’ Cup Classic, and I will bet that opinion in the Pegasus World Cup if both horses are 6-to-5 (or California Chrome is favored), but from a Horse of the Year perspective, Arrogate’s head is not long enough to erase what California Chrome accomplished in what truly was a year-long campaign that excited race fans.