January 17, 2017

Taris a notable omission from Eclipse finalists

Taris draws off beneath the TwinSpires in the Humana Distaff on 2016 Kentucky Derby Day (Churchill Downs/Coady Photography)

It’s an annual ritual to be disappointed by the omission of worthy candidates from the lists of Eclipse Award finalists. That’s the nature of the beast, given the tough choices one has to make as an Eclipse voter, the diverging personal criteria for making these judgment calls, and also the method of weighting all votes (first-, second-, and third-place) to arrive at the three finalists.

Following Thursday’s announcement of the 2016 Eclipse finalists, most of the social media reactions (that I saw) revolved around critiques of the human categories, especially owner, breeder, and jockey. I tend to be a little more exercised by the inclusions – and corresponding omissions – among the equine contenders.

The biggest disappointment for me was how much of the electorate neglected Taris in the champion female sprinter category. Of course, I knew she couldn’t be champion, since her abbreviated season consisted of only three starts, one in a sprint, and most tellingly none after early May. Indeed, I couldn’t vote Taris as champion myself (not after there was a logical result in the Breeders’ Cup Filly & Mare Sprint [G1]).

But I heartily and enthusiastically gave Taris my second-place vote, and thought she’d attract enough support to be a finalist in an otherwise forgettable division. She didn’t make the cut, however, with Filly & Mare Sprint winner Finest City, Haveyougoneaway and Paulassilverlining listed as finalists.

It’s a shame that Taris was sidelined by injury, and ultimately retired in August, for she turned in perhaps the most authoritative performance in this division, on dirt, in a U.S. graded race of 2016. I refer to what ended up being her career finale, a 5 3/4-length rout of the Humana Distaff (G1) on Kentucky Derby Day. The Simon Callaghan trainee blazed seven furlongs in 1:21.03, while appearing to be in hand in deep stretch, or what the old chart callers might term “speed to spare.”

Believing that Taris endured bad luck en route to her third in the 2015 Breeders’ Cup Filly & Mare Sprint at Keeneland, I was hopeful after the Humana Distaff that she’d have the final word in the 2016 renewal over her home track. Unfortunately, Taris never made it to the Breeders’ Cup, and my hypothesis never made it to the testing stage at Santa Anita.

The division also lost its obvious candidate for stardom, and I’d contend, didn’t retain another. Three-year-old Carina Mia had shown flashes of it versus her own age group, but it didn’t translate when venturing against her elders. Haveyougoneaway picked a great time to peak with her Ballerina (G1) and Honorable Miss (G2) at Saratoga, Paulassilverlining was admirably consistent, 2015 Filly & Mare Sprint upsetter Wavell Avenue was usually thereabouts (her distant fourth behind Taris at Churchill being an exception), but none jumped up and waved, “I’m a champion.”

Finest City likely did that by capturing the decisive Breeders’ Cup Filly & Mare Sprint, rounding off a solid campaign also featuring a track record-setting victory in the Great Lady M. (G2). Outside of this discipline, she was a near-miss runner-up to Avenge in the nine-furlong John C. Mabee (G2) on turf and third to Beholder and Stellar Wind in the Vanity Mile (G1).

Still, I maintain that the division was dealt a real blow by the loss of Taris, its all-too-ephemeral leader. Her brilliant first Saturday in May lingered in my memory, with a wistful twinge about what might have been. Apparently not enough voters harkened back that far to give Taris the consolation prize of being a finalist.

Not that she minds, of course. Taris has an upcoming date with Curlin to think about, and dreams of motherhood next year. Here’s hoping that her babies enjoy better luck!

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