Not only are we in the waning days of the current year, but also of a decade that saw tremendous highs and lows in racing. As always, what happened on the track offered a semblance of continuity to the sport while the landscape changed, for better or worse.
Like every decade before it, the 2010s produced its share of memorable and not-so-memorable champions. But who were the best of the best from each flat Eclipse Award division during this 10-year stretch? Here’s our opinion on the best championship campaigns of the “teens.”
(While the 2019 Eclipse Awards have yet to be announced, we have a pretty good idea who’ll win a majority of the equine honors, and those runners have been duly considered for the “All-Decade” honors that follow).
From his authoritative maiden win on Travers Day through similarly dominant performances in the Champagne (G1) and Breeders’ Cup Juvenile (G1) at Churchill Downs, UNCLE MO (2010) kicked off the decade with a campaign that proved hard to eclipse (no pun intended), especially as it included the division’s signature event.
Honorable Mention: American Pharoah (2014), Shared Belief (2013)
Like her male counterpart, SONGBIRD (2015) proved unstoppable while successfully carrying her form to neutral territory in Kentucky, where she led from start-to-finish in taking the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies (G1) at Keeneland, and in faster time than the colts ran in the Juvenile later in the day. She also romped in the Del Mar Debutante (G1) and Chandelier (G1).
Honorable Mention: My Miss Aurelia (2011), Awesome Feather (2010)
It’s hard to overstate the historical impact of AMERICAN PHAROAH (2015), who literally reassured not only racing fans but the public at large that the sport’s signature series, after 38 years of bewildering drought, was still capable of being won. No resorting to scheduling and distance changes necessary. He saved his best for last, though, with his Breeders’ Cup Classic (G1) performance at Keeneland.
Honorable Mention: Arrogate (2016), Justify (2018)
With an average margin of victory of 5 1/2 lengths through her first seven starts of the campaign, SONGBIRD (2016) simply continued being herself while dominating from coast-to-coast. It required an epic performance from an older rival, four-time champion Beholder, in the Breeders’ Cup Distaff (G1) to dethrone her for the first time in one of the great races of the decade.
Honorable Mention: Monomoy Girl (2018), Untapable (2014)
Older (Dirt) Male
Example A of a horse that truly hit his best stride at full maturity, GUN RUNNER (2017) conquered all before him in every single U.S. appearance, and more than returned the favor on Arrogate in the Breeders’ Cup Classic at Del Mar after finishing second to that rival in the Dubai World Cup (G1).
Honorable Mention: California Chrome (2016), Blame (2010)
Older (Dirt) Female
No division throughout the decade seemingly yielded as many Hall-of-Fame worthy champions as this one. But the choice is a relative easy one when you consider how ZENYATTA (2010) nearly snatched victory from the jaws of defeat in the Breeders’ Cup Classic against Blame. Granted, she dug her own hole to try and climb out of, but none of the other honorees in the decade would have come as close to doing so as she did.
Honorable Mention: Beholder (2015), Havre de Grace (2011)
There’s very little separating his two championship campaigns, but 2012 is probably the most memorable in the reign of WISE DAN, who had two tremendous challengers for division honors that season in Point of Entry and Little Mike. “Dan” also displayed versatility on the dirt and synthetic, making him one of the best all-rounders in American racing history.
Honorable Mention: Bricks and Mortar (2019), Cape Blanco (2011)
She might have lost a step at the tail-end of the campaign, but the 2016 version of TEPIN must be acknowledged as the more ambitious of the two given her victories against males in the Queen Anne (G1) at Royal Ascot and the Woodbine Mile (G1). Only missing by a half-length in her Breeders’ Cup Mile (G1) title defense after that globe-trotting is not a deal breaker here.
Honorable Mention: Goldikova (2010), Sistercharlie (2018)
He’s not officially in contention for this yet, but it would be a grave injustice if MITOLE (2019) were not having proven himself not only the most accomplished sprinter of the past year but also among the best older males regardless of specialty. From 6 furlongs to a mile, he was hard to beat.
Honorable Mention: Runhappy (2015), Roy H (2017)
Her follow-up championship campaign would pretty much beat everybody in the decade, too, but the 2012 version of GROUPIE DOLL, who won her last five starts by a combined margin of 25 lengths, is the preeminent standard of a sprinting filly and mare in the past decade. So much so we’ll have only one honorable mention.
Honorable Mention: Covfefe (2019)