Voting has been under way for the past few weeks for the Eclipse Champions of 2001. So, before all the votes are cast come Friday, Jan. 4, we decided to disclose the way our ballot reads.
Horse of the Year honors should go to Point Given, although supporters of the Breeders Cup Classic, renamed this year, the “World Thoroughbred Championships” probably will go along with this year’s repeat winner, Tiznow.
But, should an outstanding horse be barred from consideration because illness or injury prevents him from completing the season and participating in the B.C. races?
We think not.
Had Bob Baffert been able to keep Point Given in training through the last week of October, surely Point Given would have been favored to win the Classic. And, in our mind, he would have won.
That’s not to take anything away from Tiznow whose gutsy surge after having been headed in the stretch by European invader, Sakhee, drew the admiration of racegoers in all parts of the world. But Tiznow’s record of two previous wins, only one a Grade I event, pales in comparison to Point Given’s victories in the Preakness, Belmont, Haskell and Travers.
So, let’s chalk two Eclipse’s for Point Given, the Horse of the Year and the Three-Year-Old of the Year.
Here is the category that belongs to Tiznow, earned, of course, with his dramatic victory in the Breeders’ Cup Classic.
Aptitude, with late wins in both the Hollywood Gold Cup (by disqualification) and the Jockey Club Gold Cup, was a cinch to take home this trophy but the loss in the big race at Belmont Park shifted the honor to Tiznow.
After the Donn Handicap at Gulfstream in February, it was thought that both Captain Steve and Albert the Great would play prominent roles in the division but both tailed off as the year progressed.
Probably the toughest category facing voters for this year’s Eclipse, is the three-year-old filly division. There will be support for Flute, who appeared to be the division champion after winning the Alabama but she tailed off in her final two races; Golden Ballet, who lost just one of her five starts before a sudden end to her career in May; Fleet Renee, conqueror of Golden Ballet in the Ashland; Xtra Heat, who dominated the sprint events, and the ill-fated Exogenous, who died of injuries suffered in a freak accident prior to the running of the Breeders’ Cup.
Our vote goes to Exogenous, who appeared to be gaining her best form with victories in the Gazelle over Fleet Renee, and in the Beldame when she left Flute in her dust.
The Sheikhs of Dubai nearly pulled off the greatest coup in the history of the Breeders’ Cup when they entered Godolphin’s Fantastic Light in the B.C. Turf and their turf champion, Sakhee, in the B.C. Classic.
Fantastic Light help up his end of the double threat by winning the B.C. Turf as the 7-5 favorite, culminating a fantastic year of racing in various parts of the world and winning four of his six starts. His two losses came at the hands of the sensational three-year-old Galilleo.
And, Sakhee appeared to be on his way to victory in the Classic until a mighty effort on the part of Tiznow and his rider, Chris McCarron, put the invader in the runnerup position.
Turf honors this year to Fantastic Light.
2-year-old colts and geldings
Without question, the hands-down winner of this division should be Johannesburg, the bay son of Hennessy that is owned by Mrs. John Magnier and Michael Tabor.
Undefeated in six starts in England and Ireland, all on turf, Johannesburg crossed the Atlantic to meet America’s best in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile. Although the country may not have been foreign since he was bred in Kentucky, certainly the surface was different from anything he had raced on in his brief career.
But, confidently ridden by Michael Kinane, Johannesburg drove to victory over Repent, winner of the Kentucky Cup Juvenile; Siphonic, who in December scored in the Hollywood Futurity, and the previously unbeaten Officer, who since has failed to find the winner’s circle.
Surely, Trainer Bob Baffert has attempted to put the nightmare of Breeders’ Cup Day behind him and with limited success. His outstanding two-year-old Officer has yet to recover but his sensational filly Habibti has certainly made up for some of the pain.
Beating Bob Frankel’s filly, You, in the Hollywood Starlet vindicated Habibti who never was prominent in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies race after stumbling at the start and being bumped around.
And, although the B.C. Fillies’ winner, Tempera, will receive some votes merely for having won that race, we believe Habibti deserves out vote for the fillies’ crown.
In the other categories, we favor Tiznow as champion older horse; Tranquility Lake in the older fillies and mares category; Squirtle Squirt as the top sprinter, and Banks Hill as the best older female turf runner.
And, in the selections for top trainer, we think Bobby Frankel stands out as does Jockey Jerry Bailey.
In an unusual voting method, Eclipse winners are chosen by a majority of three different groups. The first involves the editors and writers of the Daily Racing Form; the second by the members of the National Turf Writers Association, and the third by the National Thoroughbred Racing Association that distributes ballots among its racing secretaries as well as the chart callers of the Equibase organization.
Winners will be announced at the Eclipse Awards Dinner at the Westin Diplomat Resort & Spa in Hollywood, Florida, on Feb. 18.