Tiz the season for filling out ballots

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Ted Black

December 20th, 2017

While many Americans are rushing to the malls and stores to put the finishing touches on their holiday shopping, members of the National Turf Writers Association and United States Harness Writers Association are analyzing the detailed information packets and preparing to finalize their voting for the numerous respective division champions and horse of the year.

For the dozen of us who have to complete both ballots, studying the information and filing out the ballots is occasionally arduous but more succinctly a genuine labor of love. I sincerely doubt any of us would trade our ballots for a last-minute trip to the mall at this stage of the game. Below are a glimpse of my selections for both thoroughbred and standardbred champs, with the t-breds listed on top.

Champion two-year-old male - Bolt d'Oro - Despite finishing third as the 3-5 favorite in the Grade I Breeders Cup Juvenile, this son of Medaglia d'Oro deserves the title. He reeled off three straight sharp scores prior to the BC Juvenile, including a pair of Grade I wins and an emphatic score in the Front Runner at Santa Anita in a clocking considerably faster than the two-year-old fillies and even faster than older mares that day.

Champion two-year-old filly - Dream Tree - Bob Baffert trainee completed her freshman campaign 3-for-3 with a sharp score as the 2-5 choice in he Grade I Starlet at Los Alamitos. BC Juvenile Fillies winner Caledonia Road will get ample support but prevailed at 17-1 against a very suspect group.

Champion three-year-old male - West Coast - After the Triple Crown series in the spring proved how genuinely mediocre this group is this Baffert trainee emerged on the scene by capturing four straight stakes - coincidentally the first on Belmont Stakes day - and recorded powerful victories in both the Grade I Travers and Pennsylvania Derby then was third behind older rivals Gun Runner and Collected in the Breeders Cup Classic.

Champion three-year-old filly - Abel Tasman - This Baffert trainee collected three straight Grade I scores before finishing second in the Cotillion as the odds-on choice and second in the Breeders Cup Distaff behind older foe Forever Unbridled. Gets the nod over Elate, who won a pair of Grade I events then was fourth as the 2-1 choice in the Distaff for trainee Bill Mott.

Champion older dirt male - Gun Runner - Eight months ago many voters and onlookers alike would have conceded horse of the year to Arrogate following his victories in the Grade I Pegasus World Cup and the Grade I Dubai World Cup. But he failed to win any of his subsequent three starts and was absolutely dismal in two of them. While Arrogate floundered late, Gun Runner emerged with four consecutive Grade I victories and capped the campaign with a two-length score in the Breeders Cup Classic for trainer Steve Asmussen, while Arrogate finished a nondescript fifth in his career finale.

Champion older dirt female - Forever Unbridled - It's typically difficult to make a case for any older horse that only made three starts during the season, but this Dallas Stewart trainee won two Grade I events and a Grade II and capped the season by taking the Breeders Cup Distaff. Likewise, many might have conceded this title earlier to Songbird who won twice in unimpressive fashion before being nailed by Forever Unbridled in the Personal Ensign. Stellar Wind won three Grade I's but offered nothing in the Distaff.

Champion male sprinter - Roy H - This Peter Miller trainee won five of six starts and ended his campaign with a determined score in the Breeders Cup Sprint and gets the nod over Imperial Hint, MInd Your Biscuits, El Deal and turf specialist Green Mask.

Champion female sprinter - Unique Bella - Even with the Grade I La Brea Stakes still on the agenda next week, this three-year-old filly won four stakes easily before a lackluster effort in the Breeders Cup F-M Sprint captured by 66-1 outsider Bar of Gold. A case could be made for Paulassilverlining and Finley'sluckycharm and perhaps Lady Aurelia.

Champion turf male - World Approval - Among the 17 legitimate candidates in this category this Mark Casse trainee gets the nod after winning five of six starts, including three straight Grade I wins to end the season capped by a shapr score in the Breeders Cup Mile. Highland Reel is undoubtedly the best turf horse on the planet, but he only made one start in the U.S. and can't get much support for his third-place finish in the Breeders Cup Turf, especially with Talismanic and Beach Patrol finishing ahead of him.

Champion female turf - Lady Eli - In a group that includes 16 noms, this Chad Brown trainee won three of five starts and was favored in all of them. She settled for fifth after a troubled trip in the Breeders Cup F-M Turf and still gets the nod courtesy of two prior Grade I scores. Off Limits bypassed the BC F-M Turf but ended her season with three straight stakes scores and will get support along with fellow Grade I winners Antonoe, Avenge, Dacita, Dream Dancing, La Coronel, New Money Honey, War Flag, Wuheida, Zhukova and Zipessa.

Horse of the year - Gun Runner - Back in March after he finished second to Arrogate in the Grade I Dubai World Cup, few people would have given this Steve Asmussen trainee any chance of a division title let alone horse of the year. But while Arrogate flopped in two of three starts upon his return from the desert, Gun Runner reeled off four straight Grade I wins and capped his campaign with a two-length score in the Breeders Cup Classic and six lengths clear of Arrogate. Finished the campaign with five wins and $7 million banked in six starts and posted an 11-3-2 slate and $9 million bankroll in 18 career outings.

Below are my selections for the numerous division champions in harness racing

Two-year-old colt pacer - Lost In Time - Emerged during the summer with a victory in the Grade I Metro final at Mohawk and then capped his freshman campaign with a victory in the Grade I Governor's Cup at the Meadowlands. Breeders Crown winner Stay Hungry will get support in this group.

Two-year-old filly pacer - Youaremycandygirl - Trainer Ron Burke is known for his work with older pacers, but this juvenile filly was clearly best among this division and ended the season with a sharp score in the Grade I Three Diamonds at the Meadowlands.

Two-year-old colt trotter - Fourth Dimension - Enjoyed a superb campaign and ended it with a win in the Grade I Valley Victory and now among the favorites for the sport's most coveted prize next summer - the Grade I Hambletonian.

Two-year-old filly trotter - Manchego - Takter trainee was easily the best in this division and will contend for trotter of the year and horse of the year honors this year and again next season.

Three-year-old colt pacer - Downbytheseaside - Trainer Brian Brown had the two best sophomores much of the season in this one and Fear The Dragon, but during the fall Downbytheseaside separated himself from the pack with emphatic scores in the Matron Stakes and Progress Pace at Dover Downs and likely favorite for pacer of the year.

Three-year-old filly pacer - Agent Q - Maryland-bred filly gets the nod over Blazin Britches but this vote is going to be very close.

Three-year-old colt trotter - What The Hill - Despite being disqualified from first and placed last in the Hambo for interference he rebounded to win the Breeders Crown and beat older rivals in the TVG Final.

Three-year-old filly trotter - Ariana G - This Takter trainee was dominant among sophomore filly trotters and held her own against the boys. Wins this honor easily and will be among contenders for trotter of the year and horse of the year.

Older male pacer - Keystone Velocity - Went through some peaks and valleys but won the George Morton Levy Memorial series final at Yonkers, won the Ben Franklin final at Pocono Downs and capped the campaign with a gritty, track record score in the Potomac Pace at Rosecroft Raceway in Maryland in 1:47.3.

Older female pacer - Pure Country - This Takter trainee was mediocre early in the season but ended the campaign on a high note and likely secured her third consecutive division title.

Older male trotter - Crazy Wow - This Burke trainee will likely concede this title to Resolve, but he enjoyed a more consistent campaign.

Older female trotter - Hannelore Hanover - Undisputed queen of this division again will get ample support for trotter of the year and horse of the year.

Pacer of the year - Downbytheseaside - Ended the season on a stellar note and should garner this title easily and get ample support for horse of the year as well.

Trotter of the year - Ariana G - As indicated in an earlier column, although she is unquestioned division champ again she will be hooked in a serious battle for this title against freshman champ, Manchego, and the reigning queen, Hannelore Hanover. Of the 150 votes expected to be cast in this category, look for Ariana G or Hannelore Hanover to get 60-65 each and there will be likely fewer than five votes separating the two when the ballots are counted.

Harness horse of the year - Ariana G - Again, with Hannelore Hanover, Machego and Downbytheseaside also getting solid support for the coveted title among the 150 voters, expect the winner to get fewer than 40 percent of the total and win by a plurality and possibly by as little as two or three votes for the whole prize.