September 25, 2020

Brown stable on pace for a rare three Eclipse champion season

Chad Brown (Coady Photography)

Chad Brown’s been voted three Eclipse Awards in a row as Outstanding Trainer, and it could be difficult to deny him a fourth if one particular achievement, that’s currently trending in his direction, comes to pass.

The Brown-trained Bricks and Mortar is far and away the leading turf male in the country, while reigning turf female champion Sistercharlie is currently the favorite to defend that title following back-to-back scores in the Diana (G1) and Beverly D. (G1).

Dunbar Road and jockey Jose Ortiz win the Mother Goose Stakes (G2) at Belmont Park on June 29, 2019 (c) Adam Coglianese Photography/Elsa Lorieul

On Saturday, Dunbar Road added to Brown’s embarrassment of riches in the three-year-old filly division with a decisive victory in the Alabama (G1), putting herself in contention for that title alongside her stablemate, Acorn (G1) and Coaching Club American Oaks (G1) winner Guarana.

Conditioning three individual champions in a single season is a bit of a rarity, but has been done multiple times in the Eclipse Award era (1971-present). For example, in 2007, Todd Pletcher was represented by Rags to Riches (three-year-old filly), Lawyer Ron (older male), and English Channel (turf male). Pletcher deservedly won a fourth consecutive Outstanding Trainer Eclipse Award that year.

On the other hand, having three individual champions in the barn is no guarantee of winning the Outstanding Trainer title. Just ask Pletcher’s mentor D. Wayne Lukas, who achieved the feat twice but missed out on his own personal honor.

In 1988, Lukas had Open Mind (two-year-old filly), Winning Colors (three-year-old filly), and Gulch (sprinter) in the barn, but missed out on his own fourth straight Eclipse to Shug McGaughey, who managed older female champion Personal Ensign to conclude an undefeated career while also deftly handling the likes of juvenile champion Easy Goer, multiple Grade 1 winner Seeking the Gold, and others for the Phipps family.

In 1995, Lukas was responsible for Golden Attraction (two-year-old filly), Thunder Gulch (three-year-old male), and Serena’s Song (three-year-old filly), but was again out-voted. That time it was by Bill Mott, who was honored primarily for his work with Cigar, a perfect 10-for-10 in a Horse of the Year campaign.

In the days before trainers like Lukas, Pletcher, and Brown dominated by sheer numbers with multiple strings, it would have been virtually impossible for a trainer to have three individual champions in a single season. Unless, that is, your private employer, one of the blue-blooded owner-breeders that previously dominated the sport, happened to have a very good year. One example of that was the late Eddie Neloy, who conditioned Vitriolic (two-year-old male), Queen of the Stage (two-year-old filly), and Buckpasser (older male) to division titles in 1967 for the Phipps family.

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Jockey Julien Leparoux gives Concrete Rose a congratulatory pat on the neck as the filly romps home in the inaugural Saratoga Oaks Invitational on August 2, 2019, at Saratoga (c) Adam Coglianese Photography/Janet Garaguso

A division that seemed somewhat underwhelming around the time of the Kentucky Oaks (G1) has evolved into an intriguing championship battle between the above noted Guarana and Dunbar Road. With Guarana headed to the Cotillion (G1) and Dunbar Road reportedly eyeing a race against older fillies and mares, either the Beldame (G2) or Spinster (G1), for her next start, we might not see this division title decided until Breeders’ Cup time. It would be a fascinating showdown and the hope is it happens.

Unfortunately, the turf side of the division suffered a terrible loss over the weekend when it was revealed that Belmont Oaks (G1) and Saratoga Oaks winner Concrete Rose would miss the rest of the season due to a hairline fracture. Races like the Queen Elizabeth II Challenge Cup (G1), at Keeneland in October, will be the poorer without her.