Friday, December 30, 2011

2011 Eclipse Awards, Part I: The Individual Categories

Time for our annual retrospective on the year in racing and our Eclipse Awards ballot.  First, we'll do a post that solely deals with the individual awards; we'll address the Mess That Is Horse of the Year separately.

2yo fillies

This is one of the easiest ballots to fill out.  My Miss Aurelia was a stellar 4-for-4 and beat the very good Grace Hall in the BC Juvenile Fillies.  We'll give Grace Hall the edge over JF Turf winner Stephanie's Kitten for the silver medal, solely because of her dirt wins.

1.  My Miss Aurelia  2.  Grace Hall  3.  Stephanie's Kitten

2yo colts

This to us is also one of the easiest ballots to fill out, but we suspect some of the voters will make this more complicated than necessary.  Hansen beat Union Rags fair and square in the Juvenile and should be the division winner.  Now some will note that Union Rags had a tougher trip and had won 2 graded stakes races before the Juvy.  They're right.  But it's irrelevant.  Union Rags had the entire stretch to get past Hansen, and instead of running in a straight line, veered in and out and cost him any chance of victory.  Given that Hansen won his other two starts of the year in convincing fashion, he should be an easy winner here.  For the third slot, we'll go with the undefeated winner of the Juvenile Sprint.

1.  Hansen  2.  Union Rags  3.  Secret Circle

3yo fillies

What was a pretty strong crop of fillies that traded a lot of decisions early was decided pretty decisively in the BC Distaff.  Royal Delta backed up her win in the Alabama with a strong win in the Distaff, beating both It's Trick and Plum Pretty in the process.  That's how the awards line should read too.

1.  Royal Delta  2.  It's Tricky  3.  Plum Pretty

3yo colts

There are a few awards that are a complete and utter mess.  This is one of them.   Here are the races that were restricted to 3 year olds this year and their respective winners.  (Yes, we know they haven't run the Malibu yet.  We don't care.)

Florida Derby: Dialed In
Santa Anita Derby: Midnight Interlude
Wood Memorial: Toby's Corner
Arkansas Derby: Archarcharch
Blue Grass: Brilliant Speed
Kentucky Derby: Animal Kingdom
Preakness: Shackleford
Belmont: Ruler on Ice
Haskell: Coil
Secretariat (turf): Treasure Beach
King's Bishop: Caleb's Posse
Travers: Stay Thirsty
Jamaica (turf): Western Aristocrat

Set aside the fact that the 13 races were won by 13 different horses.  A whopping eleven of those horses failed to win another race after winning their Grade 1.  And of the two horses that did win another race after winning a Grade 1, one of them was Brilliant Speed's fairly uninteresting win in the Grade 3 Saranac.

The only other horse that did anything of note after winning his Grade 1 was Caleb's Posse, who won the Breeders Cup Dirt Mile over elders, and also won the Amsterdam earlier in the year.  It's a goofy set of races to use to crown a divisional champ, but it's the best we have.  For the other two slots, we'll go with the Derby winner, who was the best 3 year old we saw this year, and Stay Thirsty, who at least won the Jim Dandy before the Travers.

1.  Caleb's Posse  2.  Animal Kingdom  3.  Stay Thirsty

Older Females

Havre de Grace had a great year until the BC Classic; Blind Luck was only slightly behind her.   There are a lot of ways you could go for the third slot; we'll choose Awesome Maria, who was, well, awesome before getting hurt.

1.  Havre de Grace  2.  Blind Luck  3.  Awesome Maria

Older Males

Your second messy division.  Let's dispense with the horses that were turf phenomenon only, and get down to the six horses that have anything resembling a case.
  • Drosselmeyer.  While he did win the Breeders Cup Classic, he also lost badly to horses named Birdrun, S.S. Stone, and Yummy With Butter, and was 2-for-7 on the year.  No thanks.
  • Flat Out.  This guy's record just doesn't stand up.  He won the Suburban and Jockey Club Gold Cup in impressive fashion, but did lose six times, including to a bunch of other horses on the list.  And we can't give an award to a horse that went 2-for-8.
  • First Dude.  It's been forgotten, but this guy was pretty good earlier this year winning the Alysheba and Hollywood Gold Cup.  But that's not enough to take a title.
  • Game on Dude.  The strength of his campaign seems to actually be losing the Breeders Cup Classic.  He's got a pair of Grade 1 wins to his name and was pretty honest all year, but man, a 3-for-8 record just isn't that impressive.
  • Acclamation.  After running poorly in the Kilroe and DAFL in the Charles Town Classic, he ripped off 5 straight wins in California both on the turf and on the plastics, including a win in the Pacific Classic.  But can you really give the award to a horse that never won on a true dirt surface?
  • Tizway.  After running a pair of thirds in Florida and West Virginia, he won the Met Mile and Whitney (over Flat Out, amongst others), then was laid up for the year.  Probably had the two best wins on the year, but it's a short campaign.
So yeah, there are no good answers here.   The two best  recent examples of a muddled older horse division are 2000, when Lemon Drop Kid won despite only winning one G1 and a few G2's, and 2002, when Left Bank took home the award for winning the best race of the year, the Whitney, then retiring (then passing away, sadly).  The best field of the year was probably the Whitney, and we'll give the nod to Tizway based on that.

1.  Tizway  2.  Acclamation  3.  Game on Dude

Female Sprinters

Also a mess.  Sassy's Image and Hilde's Passion split decisions while Sassy's Image won the Grade 1 in Calder over Musical Romance, who beat neither of them in the F&M Sprint.  Gut instinct, we think Sassy's Image was the best horse to run this year, and we'll give her the nod.

1.  Sassy's Image  2.  Hilde's Passion  3.  Musical Romance

Male Sprinters

Amazombie's double of the Ancient Title and BC Sprint makes him the easy winner here.  The second choice should also be easy: Caleb's Posse won the King's Bishop and Dirt Mile, which to us are a hair below the other two races, but still should be enough to garner him a spot on the ballot. For third, let's go with Force Freeze, who won the Teddy Drone and ran good seconds in the Vosburgh and BC Sprint.

1.  Amazombie  2.  Caleb's Posse  3.  Force Freeze

Turf Females

Stacelita's our choice here despite running horrifically in the F&M Turf, where she had an excuse (irritated eye).  Prior to that, she won the Flower Bowl and Beverly D with ease, and just fell short against the males in the United Nations.  That puts her far ahead of Perfect Shirl, the winner of the F&M Turf who did little else the rest of the year.  The other two slots are something of a tossup; we'll go with Nahrain, who ran 2nd in the F&M Turf and won a big race on Arc day in France, and Together, who won a pair of Grade 1's in the autumn.

1.  Stacelita  2.  Together  3.  Nahrain

Turf Males

You can make an argument for BC Turf winner St. Nicholas Abbey or Acclamation here, but we like Cape Blanco, who won three Grade 1's in America this year.  There's some question over the quality of his wins versus St. Nicholas Abbey's win in the turf, but we'll take a longer campaign over a single race, especially when St. Nicholas Abbey had a mediocre year in Europe.

1.  Cape Blanco  2.  St. Nicholas Abbey  3.  Acclamation


Todd Pletcher's going to get a ton of support for winning 252 races and over $17 million.  Our problem with his candidacy is that his signature horse this year is...Stay Thirsty?  Blech.  Pletcher's odd assortment of horses was never more evident than the Breeders Cup, when he was shut out in all 15 races. 

Not shut out was Bill Mott, who guided Royal Delta to a championship and had the unlikely Drosselmeyer spring a huge upset in the Classic.  We'll give him the nod up top, over Pletcher and Bob Baffert, who quietly had a very good year.

1.  Bill Mott  2. Todd Pletcher  3. Bob Baffert


Ramon Dominguez won the most money and the second most races.  Good enough for us.

1.  Ramon Dominguez  2.  John Velazquez  3.  Javier Castellano


It was an odd year as there was no dominant owner.  The leading money winner is something called Midwest Thorougbreds, who had no horse that earned over $175,000.  Second were the Ramseys, thanks to Stephanie's Kitten and 10 other stakes wins.  I guess that's good enough to put them on top?  Sure. 

1.  Ken & Sarah Ramsey  2.  Coolmore  3.  Mike Repole

Breeders & Apprentice Jockey

Pass.  Not our forte.


Our Horse of the Year post will be up later today.

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