December 12, 2018

Vote for People’s Choice Award: Finalists include Arrogate, Lady Eli, Soumillon, O’Brien

Lady Eli is one of four People's Choice Award finalists announced by the Dubai Racing Club (NYRA/Coglianese Photography)

Fans have voted for Ben’s Cat as the posthumous winner of the 2017 Secretariat Vox Populi Award, and for San Luis Rey’s tragic Lilac Fire as the NTRA Moment of the Year, but who will receive the People’s Choice Award announced by the Dubai Racing Club?

American stars Arrogate and Lady Eli, and record-setting Europeans Aidan O’Brien and Christophe Soumillon, are the four finalists up for the honor, described by the Dubai Racing Club as “a fan-voted accolade recognising the most compelling 2017 moment in horseracing.”

You can cast your ballot through March 10, Super Saturday’s day of course-and-distance preps for the Dubai World Cup, at http://www.hhracingawards.com/vote. (According to that site, you vote there but then have to log in to your Facebook account for the vote to register.) The award will be formally bestowed during World Cup week, at the March 29 HH Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum Horseracing Excellence Awards ceremony two days before the $30 million extravaganza.

Arrogate’s Unforgettable Last-to-First Performance at the Dubai World Cup” is a natural finalist, not only because of the venue, but because it propelled the Juddmonte Farms colorbearer to the status of World’s Best Racehorse for the second consecutive year. Heavily favored at Meydan after sweeping the Travers (G1), Breeders’ Cup Classic (G1), and Pegasus World Cup (G1), Arrogate appeared to blow the race right out of the gate. But the Bob Baffert charge overcame his poor position, rallying to defeat Gun Runner going away and break the North American earnings record. While Arrogate never hit the heights again, Gun Runner’s subsequent streak to claim U.S. Horse of the Year honors only underscored what a massive effort it took from Arrogate to beat him in Dubai.

“Lady Eli’s Amazing Comeback” is the other equine option, to recognize the Chad Brown trainee’s return to the highest level of performance after a life-threatening bout with laminitis. Although she launched her comeback in the second half of 2016, Lady Eli concluded her career by winning an Eclipse Award as U.S. champion turf female in 2017 – a happy ending few could have foreseen in her darkest hours in 2015.

Voting is open through March 10 (Image courtesy Dubai Racing Club)

The humans in contention for the People’s Choice Award both rewrote the record book in their respective disciplines.

Soumillon rode a European record 306 winners (on the Flat) in 2017, bettering the mark of 300 set by Pierre-Charles Boudot in 2016. The Aga Khan’s retained rider in France, Soumillon found no track too small as he traveled in pursuit of Boudot. The 36-year-old Belgian’s dedication was ultimately rewarded on December 16 at Lyon La Soie, where he tied and then surpassed the record in the course of a four-win evening. Soumillon subsequently tacked on a few more for good measure and padded his total to 306 by year’s end.

O’Brien established a new world record of 28 Group/Grade 1 wins in a single calendar year, and that despite having several of his stable stars out of commission. Chasing the late Hall of Famer Bobby Frankel’s record of 25 (from 2003), O’Brien drew level with him thanks to Hydrangea’s hard-fought success in the October 21 British Champions Fillies & Mares (G1). One week later, Saxon Warrior racked up number 26 in a thrilling Racing Post Trophy (G1). Mendelssohn’s Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf (G1) on November 3, and the warrior Highland Reel’s Hong Kong Vase (G1) on December 10, increased their trainer’s margin.

The People’s Choice Award was inaugurated last year, and its first honoree was Hong Kong jockey Kei Chiong Ka-kei, who swept four races on one Sha Tin card as a female apprentice on that super-competitive circuit.

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