"Rogue" Eclipse Award votes need explaining

Profile Picture: Vance Hanson

January 18th, 2016

Besides revealing who has won and by how much, the NTRA's annual press release of Eclipse Award voting results gives the racing media and fans an opportunity to chuckle, cringe, or shake their heads at individual choices of certain voters.

These so-called "rogue votes" can be amusing to a point, but ultimately show a lack of seriousness a small minority of voters take the process with respect to some of their selections.

A few examples from this past weekend:

  • Songbird, arguably one of the most impressive juvenile fillies seen this century, missed being a unanimous selection by the choice of one voter, who felt the grass filly Catch a Glimpse was better.
  • Include Betty received two votes for champion three-year-old filly. On paper, it was one of the more wide-open races of the year, but anyone who watched Include Betty finish behind the main contenders for the award in the Kentucky Oaks (G1), Coaching Club American Oaks (G1) and Alabama (G1) could not have logically selected her.
  • California Chrome received two votes for champion older dirt male despite finishing second in his only two starts of the year: the San Antonio (G2) and Dubai World Cup (G1).
  • Curvy was a well-beaten fifth in the Flower Bowl (G1), won the E.P. Taylor (G1) in Canada, and still got one vote for champion turf female.
  • Chiropractor got one vote for champion turf male on the basis of winning the Hollywood Derby (G1), a restricted race run in late November, by a head.
  • The steeplechase division is not everyone's cup of tea (44 abstentions), but even the humblest observer should recognize that African Oil, who two voters supported on the basis of winning a single stakes for novices at Saratoga, was not better than either Dawalan or Bob Le Beau, who competed in, and sometimes won, the division's best races on a regular basis.
  • Individual voters with strong opinions, like myself, could put a number of other votes in the "rogue" category. Golden Horn, who finished second in the balloting for turf male with 63 votes, failed to win a single graded stakes in the U.S. If there is but one ironclad rule voters should receive with their ballots, it's that a horse they place first should have at least one graded stakes win in the U.S.

    What should be a bare minimum standard has been violated twice. Trillion was the inaugural turf female champion in 1979 on the basis of finishing second behind males in the Canadian International (G1), Turf Classic (G1), Oak Tree Invitational (G1), and Washington D.C. International (G1) in the span of 20 days. In two of those races, she finished behind turf male champion Bowl Game by less than a length. A situation similar to Trillion's is highly unlikely to be replicated in the future, and Golden Horn's brief campaign in this country, by comparison, did not rise to that standard.

    In 1997, Singspiel won turf male honors despite not having run in the U.S. at all. In two races on the North American continent, he won the Canadian International and finished second in the Breeders' Cup Turf (G1), a race that originated in the U.S. which happened to be run at Woodbine that year. Beginning in 1998, the responsibility of grading Canadian stakes came under the purview of Canadian authorities rather than a U.S.-based committee. With that in mind, when electing U.S. champions, performances in Canada arguably should not carry equal weight with U.S. form as was the case years ago.

    Of the three voting entities, only the National Turf Writers and Broadcasters (NTWAB), to which I belong, publishes the votes of its members. Some or perhaps all of the most egregious "rogue votes" might have been made by NTWAB members. Whether that was the case will be found out in due course. If not, then those made by voters belonging on the rolls of the other two entities are destined to remain anonymous.

    The end goal should not be to humiliate voters or have them removed from the register, but to do more to limit the number of individual "rogue votes." Any person or persons who voted for the horses mentioned in the bulleted list above, for example, should be strongly encouraged by their organizations and the wider Eclipse electorate to explain their decision(s) in writing or in another public forum.

    In tight races, having too many voters wandering far off the reservation or thinking outside the box could potentially have a detrimental effect on the ultimate outcome of a divisional race. That would be a disservice to the horses more deserving of a championship and to the process itself.