December 5, 2020

Few championships up for debate after Breeders’ Cup decides most

Zulu Alpha bursts up the rail to capture the Pegasus World Cup Turf (Ryan Thompson/Coglianese Photos)

The last thing the present year needed was another tumultuous election debate (or two). Thankfully, standout performances throughout Breeders’ Cup weekend at Keeneland ensured that there will be few equine Eclipse Award divisions open to serious discussion in the coming weeks.

Virtually clinching titles before last weekend were Swiss Skydiver for 3-year-old filly, Monomoy Girl for older dirt female, and Moscato as champion steeplechaser. Add to that list several more slam dunks: Essential Quality (juvenile male), Vequist (juvenile filly), Authentic (3-year-old male), Improbable (older dirt male), and Gamine (female sprinter).

RELATED: State of the Eclipse races: Swiss Skydiver clinches, other divisions coming into focus

Although he’s sure to receive some support following a decisive, feel-good victory in the Breeders’ Cup Sprint (G1), Whitmore ultimately flattered the candidacy of the unlucky Volatile more than his own. Limited to three starts this season, Volatile won them all including a 1 1/4-length decision over Whitmore in the Alfred G. Vanderbilt H. (G1) at Saratoga in his final career start. The lightly-raced Vekoma, who was scratched from the Sprint, also figures as a finalist.

Rushing Fall just failed to hold off European invader Audarya in the Filly and Mare Turf (G1), but the performance was good enough to beat every other major domestic contender for the title. Favored off earlier wins in the Beaugay (G3), Jenny Wiley (G1), and Diana (G1), Rushing Fall deserves the nod over the one-and-done European winner of the Breeders’ Cup Turf (G1) Tarnawa.

Turf Male

With Europe sweeping the major Breeders’ Cup turf events, the turf male award arguably should be the most debated title up for grabs. I can understand how it might not be, though, with Channel Maker running a solid third in the Turf despite having been smoked in the same race the previous two years. Perhaps most voters will concentrate on his last three races and ignore all that happened prior to Aug. 29.

This voter can’t do that. As impressive as Channel Maker’s victories in the Sword Dancer (G1) and Joe Hirsch Turf Classic (G1) were, there’s no getting around the fact that in both he was beating the same, tired faces that have generally populated many of the longer-distance turf events on the East Coast for several seasons. From February through early August, the most consistent feature of Channel Maker’s record was crossing the finish line out of the money, even against overnight stakes company.

Zulu Alpha consideration

Taking a contrarian view as I often do at Eclipse time, my support will likely be thrown to Zulu Alpha, who unfortunately came down with an untimely injury and was not pre-entered in the Breeders’ Cup Turf. A more consistent performer throughout his campaign than Channel Maker, Zulu Alpha’s season-opening win in the Pegasus World Cup Turf (G1) over globe-trotting mare Magic Wand and eventual Manhattan (G1) winner Instilled Regard was also of higher quality than either the Sword Dancer or Turf Classic. Zulu Alpha later captured the Mac Diarmida (G2) over Channel Maker and the Elkhorn (G2) while placing in two other appearances.

Horse of the Year

As for Horse of the Year, Authentic likely sewed it up with his Breeders’ Cup Classic (G1) score. Like Curlin in 2007, Authentic lost to a filly in a Triple Crown race after winning a Triple Crown race but subsequently beat the best field assembled all year which included all serious contenders for the honor.