Grass Championships Wide-Open at the 2018 Eclipse Awards

Profile Picture: J. Keeler Johnson

December 7th, 2018

When Eclipse Award voters fill out their ballots at the end of the year, they will be faced with several challenging decisions, and while the battle for Horse of the Year is receiving most of the attention, the showdowns to determine the 2018 champion turf horses figure to be just as contested.

There certainly won’t be a unanimous choice for Champion Grass Male or Champion Grass Female, though the two categories are up in the air for different reasons. Grass Female figures to be a battle between two standout stars, while Grass Male is wide-open because no horse was able to compile a typical championship-worthy campaign this year, leaving about a half-dozen horses with varying credentials to vie for the title.

Let’s dig a little deeper into the two categories and consider some of the options that Eclipse Award voters will consider:

Champion Grass Female

Enable was almost assuredly the best turf horse of either gender to compete in North America in 2018, as she demonstrated by forging to a gallant victory in the Breeders’ Cup Turf (gr. I). By winning the Turf, Enable made history as the first horse to win France’s prestigious Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe (Fr-I) and the Breeders’ Cup Turf in the same year.
But Enable only ran once in North America, and while that is technically enough to be considered for an Eclipse Award, many voters are reluctant to support these one-and-done European shippers who fly in, win a Breeders’ Cup race, and fly out. That’s why the Eclipse Award could wind up going to the very deserving Sistercharlie, who compiled a more traditional North American campaign with Grade 1 victories in the Breeders’ Cup Filly & Mare Turf (gr. I), Beverly D. Stakes (gr. I), Diana Stakes (gr. I), and Jenny Wiley Stakes (gr. I). That’s four Grade 1 wins at four different tracks, and her only loss came by a head in the New York Stakes (gr. II) at a fifth different track.
Would Sistercharlie have defeated Enable in a head-to-head meeting? Maybe, maybe not, but even if you think Enable is the better horse, that doesn’t mean Sistercharlie isn’t a deserving Eclipse champion based on the overall strength of her season. This will be a close vote, but I’m guessing that Sistercharlie will get the nod.

Grass Male

With Enable winning the Breeders’ Cup Turf and another one-and-done European Expert Eye claiming the Breeders’ Cup Mile (gr. I), the two races that would typically determine Champion Grass Male have instead left the division in chaos. Assuming voters don’t fully embrace Expert Eye off his single run in North America, who else is worthy of winning the title?

It would be unorthodox, but I think Stormy Liberal has a chance. No turf sprinter has ever been voted Champion Grass Male, but Stormy Liberal compiled a reasonably strong campaign this year, winning the Breeders’ Cup Turf Sprint (gr. I), Eddie D. Stakes (gr. III), and Green Flash Handicap while finishing second in the Daytona Stakes (gr. III) and the Al Quoz Sprint (UAE-I) in Dubai. In this wide-open year, what more can you ask for? Stormy Liberal won a Breeders’ Cup race, he held his own against international competition in Dubai, and he ended the year with four straight victories.
Aside from Stormy Liberal, Oscar Performance won the Woodbine Mile (gr. I) and the Poker Stakes (gr. III) but was soundly beaten in the Breeders’ Cup Mile; Robert Bruce won the Fort Marcy (gr. III) and the Arlington Million (gr. I) but finished mid-pack in the Breeders’ Cup Turf; Channel Maker won the Joe Hirsch Turf Classic (gr. I) and the Bowling Green Stakes (gr. II) but came home eleventh in the Breeders’ Cup Turf; Catholic Boy won the Belmont Derby (gr. I) and Pennine Ridge Stakes (gr. III) but never faced older horses; Sadler’s Joy finished best of the Americans when third in the Breeders’ Cup Turf, but counted the Mac Diarmida Stakes (gr. II) as his lone win for the year… you get the picture. If a turf sprinter is ever going to win champion grass male, this looks like the year.

Which horses would you vote for in the two champion grass horse categories?