Tis the season for filling out ballots
Last Saturday afternoon Santa Anita Race Course offered the last two Grade I races of the year and soon after which members of the National Turf Writers Association, the Daily Racing Form and the National Thoroughbred Racing Association were asked to submit their ballots for the Eclipse Awards, slated to be announced on January 16, 2016 at Gulfstream Park.
In hindsight, many of the divisional honors, including horse of the year, were decided long ago but voters were encouraged to wait until after Saturday's Grade I La Brea Stakes for three-year-old fillies and Grade I Malibu Stakes for three-year-old colts just in case the results of those events might sway a few divisions. While the La Brea was won by a filly that will not figure in the voting, the Malibu went to Runhappy, who had perhaps already secured champion sprinter with his victory in the Breeders Cup Sprint at Keeneland on October 31.
Here's a glimpse of the horses that I selected in each category.
Steeplechase - Dawalan - Although I never saw him compete - I could count on one hand the number of steeplechase races that I watched last year - Dawalan looks like a cinch for the award. he won both the Grade I Grand National and the Grade I Colonial Cup where he thumped two-time Grade I winner Bob Le Beau.
Two-year-old colt - Nyquist - This son of Uncle Mo won all five of his starts for trainer Doug O'Neill and capped his freshman campaign by capturing the Grade I Breeders Cup Juvenile at Keeneland. He won three Grade I races and earned over $1.6 million and appears the obvious choice for this title.
Two-year-old filly - Songbird - This daughter of Medaglia d'Oro won all four of her starts and capped her perfect freshman campaign by taking the Breeders Cup Juvenile Fillies at Keeneland. Like Nyquist, Songbird also won three Grade I races and earned over $1.5 million and appears to be a lock for this title.
Three-year-old male - American Pharoah - He may not have gone undefeated this year, but American Pharoah brought a revived interest in the Sport of Kings by becoming the first horse since Affirmed in 1978 to capture racing's Triple Crown. American Pharoah was favored in all eight of his starts this year and capped his stellar campaign by capturing the Breeders Cup Classic at Keeneland for his seventh win in eight starts on the season.
Three-year-old filly - Stellar Wind - She won four of six starts and earned nearly $900,000 and concluded her sophomore season by finishing second to an older rival in the Grade I Breeders Cup Distaff. This Virginia-bred daughter of Curlin is also in line to being named the Mid-Atlantic-bred horse of the year.
Older male - Tonalist - A number of horses are going to receive votes in this category and the eventual Eclipse winner may do so by plurality and not a majority. This four-year-old son of Tapit had a 3-2-1 slate and $1.6 million banked from seven starts and gets the nod over Liam's Map, who won three of four starts and capped his season by taking the Breeders Cup Dirt Mile.
Older female - Beholder - This five-year-old daughter of Henny Hughes won all five of her starts and earned over $1 million for trainer Richard Mandella. She won three Grade I races, including a convincing victory over male rivals in the Pacific Classic.
Male sprinter - Runhappy - Not only did he win six of seven starts and more than $1.5 million, he won races at five different tracks and was arguably the second-best three-year-old in 2015. Runhappy captured the Grade I Breeders Cup Sprint at Keeneland and came back last week to prevail easily in the Grade I Malibu at Santa Anita.
Filly-Mare sprinter - La Verdad - Although she was beaten in each of her last two starts, this Yes It's True mare trained by Linda Rice won five of eight starts and earned over $700,000. She was second to Wavell Avenue in the Breeders Cup Filly-Mare Sprint and then was sixth against male rivals in the Fall Highweight Handicap at Aqueduct.
Male turf - Big Blue Kitten - The seven-year-old son of Kitten's Joy won three of six starts and earned over $1.4 million, including wins in the Grade I United Nations at Monmouth and the Grade I Turf Classic at Belmont Park before running a solid third behind two European invaders in the Grade I Breeders Cup Turf at Keeneland.
Female turf - Stephanie's Kitten - This six-year-old daughter of Kitten's Joy won three of six starts and earned over $1.65 million and ended her campaign with victories in the Grade I Flower Bowl at Belmont and the Grade I Breeders Cup Filly-Mare Turf at Keeneland.
Horse of the year - American Pharoah - Not only did this Bob Baffert trainee win the Kentucky Derby, Preakness and Belmont Stakes to end the sport's 37-year Triple Crown drought, he capped his season by trouncing older rivals in the Breeders Cup Classic at Keeneland. His stellar campaign will likely carry Baffert, owner Zayat Stables and even jockey Victor Espinosa to the Eclipse Awards in their respective categories and American Pharoah is already the future book favorite to be named the horse of the decade for 2010-2019.