Picking award winners isn’t a total Eclipse!

Jan 7, 2003 6:34 AM

The ballots for 2002’s Eclipse Awards have been submitted and are being tabulated by Ernst & Young for the National Thoroughbred Racing Association. Although the results have not been revealed, as yet, the NTRA has come up with a new wrinkle whereby they list three or four finalists in each category.

Just as a matter of explanation, the voting is conducted by three groups: the National Turf Writers Association, the Daily Racing Form, and the NTRA. Individual ballots within each group are tabulated and one vote is assigned to the selection made by each group.

As a long-time member of the National Turf Writers Association, I have had the privilege of participating in the polling since the Eclipse Awards were established.

So, here goes:

2-Year-Old Colt or Gelding. Finalists: Sky Mesa, Toccet, Vindication.

In our opinion, the award has to go to Vindication, who was undefeated in his four starts and clearly mastered the field in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile.

There was a lot of tub-thumping late in the season by the connections of Toccet, who had a terrific season on the East Coast before failing badly in the BC Juvenile. However, he did follow that effort with wins in the Laurel Futurity, the Remsen and he even came west to win the Hollywood Futurity over Vindication’s stablemate, Kafwain. Still, his efforts failed to overcome Vindication’s superiority.

2-Year-old Filly. Finalists: Awesome Humor, Storm Flag Flying.

Again, there seemed to be little choice here. Storm Flag Flying not only won the BC Juvenile Fillies race but that was accomplished after she had won two previous Grade I events. Although they both raced in the east, Storm Flag Flying never faced Awesome Humor whose best effort was a win in the Spinaway.

3-Year-Old Colt or Gelding. Finalists: Came Home, Medaglia d’Ooro, War Emblem.

Here’s where we probably separated our choice from the others when we selected Came Home, a gritty colt who never lost a race in California while compiling a record of six wins in eight starts.

True, his two losses were in the Kentucky Derby and the BC Classic. But his victories included the Pacific Classic, a Grade I event in which he defeated older horses. That is one honor that he has over the other two finalists.

War Emblem’s season really revolved around two races, the Kentucky Derby and the Preakness. But, he only won five of his 10 races and failed in his one attempt against older horses.

Medaglia d’Oro had only two major victories among his four wins. They were the Jim Dandy and the Travers. In his second place finish in the BC Classic, he finished a neck in front of Milwaukee Brew who was beaten by more than two lengths by Came Home in the Pacific Classic.

3-Year-Old Filly. Finalists: Farda Amiga, Imperial Gesture, Take Charge Lady.

This was probably the hardest category to judge since a strong case could be made for all three of the finalists. We went with Farda Amiga who was three for five before finishing second to the great Azeri in the BC Distaff. She also had victories over Take Charge Lady and Imperial Gesture.

Colt, Horse or Gelding 4 and Up. Finalists are Left Bank, Street Cry, Volponi.

Wouldn’t surprise us to see Left Bank win this award but our choice was the great overlay of the B.C. Classic, Volponi. True, he only won three races all season and one of those was over the lawn. Yet, his victory in the Classic was so overwhelming, it would be hard to believe that either Left Bank or Street Cry could have beaten him.

Left Bank won three of his four races but only one of those was a Grade I event over a distance of ground. And, Street Cry took top honors in the Stephen Foster before finishing second to Left Bank in the Whitney.

Filly or Mare 4 and Up. Finalists: Azeri (unanimous).

There’s no doubt that Azeri easily topped her division but it was our opinion that she also should be selected Horse of the Year. She answered every challenge, winning eight of her nine races and easily showed that there wasn’t a filly or mare in the country (possibly the world) who could race with her. Without a division winner who could come close to her scorecard, we think it’s a given that she should be Horse of the Year.

Sprinter 3 and Up. Finalists: Left Bank, Orientate, Xtra Heat.

From June to October, there was truly one outstanding sprinter, Orientate. During that period, the four-year-old met the fastest of the group and put them away easily.

We’ve already mentioned Left Bank so let’s turn to Xtra Heat, truly an outstanding four-year-old filly. She won seven of her 10 starts but failed to win a Grade I event and was drubbed by Orientate in the BC Sprint.

Male Turf Horse 3 and Up. Finalists: High Chaparral, Rock of Gibraltar, With Anticipation.

Although his only U.S. victory was in the B.C. Turf, High Chaparral came to the race with an outstanding record of four wins in five starts, defeating the best Europe had to offer.

Female Turf Horse 3 and Up. Finalists: Astra, Golden Apples, Starine.

Another tough category but we were impressed by Golden Apples who had wins over both Astra and Starine and probably would have won the BC Fillies & Mares Turf if she hadn’t been taken up by interference. Starine’s only victory of the year was in the B.C. while Astra won three races but lost to Golden Apples twice.

In the other categories, our choices were: Flat Top, steeplechase; Harry Mangurian, breeder; The Thoroughbred Corp., owner; Bobby Frankel, trainer; Jerry Bailey, jockey, and Ryan Fogelsonger, apprentice jockey.