June 24, 2024

Handicapping the Eclipse Awards post-Breeders’ Cup

Knicks Go with Joel Rosario riding wins the Breeders Cup Classic at Del Mar race track (Photo by Horsephotos)

An annual tradition in the immediate aftermath of every Breeders’ Cup is discussing how the weekend results affect the races for the 10 Eclipse Awards given to runners on the flat. As usual, there are of plenty of lead-pipe cinches, but also a few open to further debate.

Classic (G1) winner Knicks Go, of course, is the logical choice to be champion older dirt male, and is now an overwhelming favorite to carry Horse of the Year honors, too. Juvenile Fillies (G1) winner Echo Zulu should be a unanimous choice for champion two-year-old filly, while both Letruska (older dirt female) and Malathaat (three-year-old filly) had seemingly done enough prior to their losses in Saturday’s Distaff (G1) to earn their respective titles.

On the next rung of certainty, arguably, are the female sprinter and turf female titles. It’s likely most voters will value Ce Ce‘s win over Gamine in the Filly and Mare Sprint (G1) more than Gamine’s season, which had slightly more depth of accomplishment, including a victory over Ce Ce in the in the Ballerina (G1).

As far as turf female, War Like Goddess‘ half-length loss to the Japanese mare Loves Only You probably didn’t derail her Eclipse chances too much. The division wasn’t an especially strong one this year, with the only other notable candidate probably being the now-retired Althiqa, who narrowly won the Just a Game (G1) and Diana (G1) before losing her career finale in the First Lady (G1).

The more debatable divisions are as follows:

Two-year-old Male

Perhaps not as open to debate as one might argue with Corniche following up his American Pharoah (G1) win with a fairly dominant score in the Juvenile (G1). However, if there’s a significant mood within the electorate to not reward a colt associated with embattled trainer Bob Baffert, and who is currently ineligible to participate in next year’s Kentucky Derby (G1), one could still make a case for Champagne (G1) winner Jack Christopher.

A late scratch from the Juvenile, Jack Christopher’s Champagne is still, arguably, the best performance turned in by a juvenile colt on dirt so far this year. Keep in mind, too, that Corniche won his Juvenile in slightly slower time than Echo Zulu won the Juvenile Fillies, so his was not an overwhelmingly impressive triumph by any means.

Turf Male

This looks like a race between Turf (G1) winner Yibir and the older Domestic Spending, who had to forfeit a shot at winning Saturday himself after coming down with an untimely injury. Domestic Spending had previously captured the Old Forester Bourbon Turf Classic (G1) and Manhattan (G1).

From this viewpoint, Yibir gets the nod, mostly due to Domestic Spending’s unnecessary loss to an inferior rival in the Mister D. (G1) at Arlington.

Male Sprinter

Aloha West won the big one in Saturday’s Sprint (G1), but that was his only win in three stakes attempts all season. That’s pretty thin gruel by historical standards.

Although you have to go back a number of years, the Eclipse electorate has a history of giving the benefit of the doubt to beaten Sprint horses who had accomplished more within the division than the longshots that beat them. Examples include Groovy (1987), Safely Kept (1989), Housebuster (1991), Rubiano (1992), Not Surprising (1995), and Aldebaran (2003).

That might help the candidacy of Dr. Schivel, who captured the Bing Crosby (G1) and Santa Anita Sprint Championship (G2) before losing the Sprint to Aloha West by the flimsiest of noses.

Three-year-old Male

With five graded stakes wins, including the Belmont S. (G1) and Travers (G1), beaten Classic favorite Essential Quality had a terrific season. However, this division is muddled by the fact that Medina Spirit outfinished him in both of their meetings, in the Kentucky Derby (G1) and Breeders’ Cup Classic, plus earned a victory against older rivals in the Awesome Again (G1).

As mentioned above, a significant segment of Eclipse electorate might be unwilling to support a Baffert trainee, especially Medina Spirit, who potentially faces disqualification from his Kentucky Derby victory.

Then there’s Life Is Good. Perhaps the most visually impressive and talented of all three-year-olds in the crop, he suffers from having a relatively limited campaign and not having won a stakes beyond 1 1/16 miles. He did, however, defeat Medina Spirit in both of their meetings, in the Sham (G3) and San Felipe (G2), before injury dashed his classic prospects.

Essential Quality is perhaps the favorite, given the politics of the situation and the current climate, but we’ll have to see if any news between now and when the ballots are cast changes things.