2014 racing season parallels 2002 but my Eclipse Award votes do not
Going through my first Eclipse Award vote in 2002, I promised myself that I would not become like some of my curmudgeon colleagues and lament the talent pool on particularly down years.
A lot has changed in 12 years. Voters now use the internet to type in and submit their votes versus writing and faxing them in. On a personal level, I voted Azeri Horse of the Year in 2002 but would never do so now because she did not contest “open” company by virtue of an eight-race campaign against females only (see: Untapable).
Indeed, 2002 was a year with some similarities to this one: a dual classic winner who failed to defeat older horses, no dominating older male, and a Breeders’ Cup Classic entwined in a controversy (fix 6 versus break gate).
In 2002, Medaglia d’Oro’s Breeders’ Cup Classic runner-up was not enough to earn him champion three-year-old male honors over War Emblem, who had won the Kentucky Derby and Preakness before annexing the Haskell. This year, late-season surges from Bayern and Shared Belief were ultimately not enough to dislodge dual classic winner California Chrome from the top spot of the division, though unlike War Emblem California Chrome had a surge of his own by winning the Hollywood Derby at Del Mar following the Breeders’ Cup.
I sided with California Chrome and his four Grade 1 wins at four different tracks and on two different surfaces. Bayern brought his show on the road, too, even defeating California Chrome in the Pennsylvania Derby at Parx, but he had half the Grade 1 wins, and his Classic victory rightfully merits scrutiny (though in the end I prefer to think of my vote as rewarding California Chrome’s four Grade 1 wins and his connections’ ambition to try turf with a lot on the line than as an indictment of the Classic outcome). I still think Shared Belief is the best of the bunch, but awards, unlike races, are decided by paper and the ledger says he didn’t compete in the Triple Crown, finished behind California Chrome in their only meeting this year, and won one less Grade 1 race.
The biggest challenge for me was reconciling my premium on defeating “open” company with the fact that California Chrome had not done that (as Bayern had done in the Breeders’ Cup and Shared Belief in the Pacific Classic and Awesome Again), but four Grade 1 wins including two classics was the right number for a divisional award, though I stood firm on Horse of the Year.
The above is not to say that California Chrome won’t win Horse of the Year because he will. I can’t even disparage the choice. It’s not for me because I try to be consistent about what guides my vote. I’m in favor of the status quo that does not issue guidelines to voters, but I do think voters should apply their guidelines consistently. E.g., if you voted Wise Dan as champion older male last year, then Main Sequence certainly deserves your vote this year.
And speaking of Main Sequence and older male, he did not get my vote in that category, as I feel it is for main track “handicap” horses, so I went with Palace Malice, who had a Left Bank (2002 older male winner) with only one Grade 1 victory but dazzling graded stakes efforts elsewhere (Brisnet.com dubbed his romp in the Grade 2 New Orleans Handicap at Fair Grounds its performance of the year).
Main Sequence did, however, earn my vote as champion turf male and Horse of the Year, marking the fourth consecutive year I’ve voted a star turf horse as Horse of the Year (Cape Blanco, Little Mike, and Wise Dan in 2011-2013, respectively).
Rather than break the promise mentioned in the first paragraph of this story, I’ll call this run on turf horses having Horse of the Year campaigns a sign that American turf racing is getting better versus the handicap division getting worse.
Here are my votes:
Some other thoughts:
- *For male sprinter I chose Breeders’ Cup winner Work All Week, but I can’t fault anyone who landed on Private Zone.
- *H. Graham Motion got my trainer vote because in a year when no one stood out to me, I felt like using it to reward the horsemen I feel is the best ambassador for our sport. Nothing wrong with those who landed on Pletcher, Baffert, or Brown, but Motion is seemingly live in ever stakes race even without having the favorite, and he did train my choice for Horse of the Year after all.
- *I abstained in the apprentice jockey and steeplechase categories because I do not know enough about the potential finalists and if I’m just going to vote off numbers someone sends to me then I shouldn’t be voting at all.
- *I am not a Horse of the Year belwether recently--having gone against the grain in 2010 (Blame), 2011 (Cape Blanco), 2012 (Little Mike), and likely this year--though I did agree with the electorate 2002-2009.