It will never be confused with the Grammy’s or the Oscar’s, but the Eclipse Awards honoring the best in thoroughbred racing for 2017 will be announced Thursday evening at Gulfstream Park, and the value to owners and breeders is extremely significant.
While some on the list below will not win, here are my selections for each category.
Horse of the Year – Gun Runner: On his best day, I believe Arrogate was a better horse, as was shown when Arrogate overcame an impossible start to beat Gun Runner in the Dubai World Cup. Gun Runner went undefeated the rest of the year, however, including a win over Arrogate in the Breeders’ Cup Classic, and deserves Horse of the Year.
Two-Year-Old Male – Bolt D’Oro: Good Magic beat Bolt D’Oro in the Breeders Cup Juvenile, but that was his only win of the year. Bolt D’ Oro had excuses when parked extremely wide that day and won two Grade-I races prior to the Breeders Cup – the Del Mar Futurity and the Frontrunner. He has the better body of work.
Two-Year-Old Filly – Rushing Fall: Breeders Cup Juvenile Filly winner Caledonia Road got better with each of her three starts last year, but was she truly brilliant? Rushing Fall followed in the footsteps of Chad Brown-trained fillies Maran, Lady Eli, and New Money Honey to win the Juvenile Fillies Turf, and the way she did it suggests she could be the best of all of them.
Three-Year-Old Male – West Coast: Triple Crown race winners Always Dreaming (Kentucky Derby), Cloud Computing (Preakness), and Taprit (Belmont) did nothing the second half of the year. West Coast got better and better, won the Travers, and was third in the Breeders’ Cup Classic behind Gun Runner and Collected.
Three-Year-Old Female – Abel Tasman: She won three Grade-I races in 2017, including the Kentucky Oaks, and bested main rival Elate when second to Unbridled Forever in the Breeders’ Cup Distaff.
Older Male – Gun Runner: For all of the reasons listed above.
Older Female – Unbridled Forever: She won all three starts of her abbreviated 2017 campaign, including besting Songbird in the Grade-I Personal Ensign at Saratoga and winning the Breeders Cup Distaff.
Male Turf – World Approval: Big grey found his niche as a turf miler, winning Grade-I races in New York, Canada, and the Breeders Cup Mile at Del Mar in California.
Female Turf – Lady Eli: Is this a sentimental choice? Yes. But the filly who nearly died from laminitis came all the way back to win Grade-I races. Amazing. Bad racing luck (lost shoe, clipped from behind, severe cuts on hind legs) give her a legit excuse when beaten less than four lengths in the Breeders’ Cup Filly and Mare Turf.
Male Sprinter – Roy H: Won the Grade-II True North at Belmont when switched to dirt. Was best when interfered with by a riderless Drefong in the Bing Crosby at Del Mar during the summer, but made amends in the Breeders’ Cup Sprint.
Female Sprinter – Ami’s Mesa: She is not a finalist for this award, but came within a nose of winning the Breeders’ Cup Filly and Mare Sprint in her first race on dirt and won every other 2017 start.
Steeplechase Horse: I don’t watch these races and have no opinion.
Trainer – Chad Brown: Steve Asmussen did a great job managing Gun Runner’s 2017 campaign, but Chad Brown won 16 Grade-I races and purses totaling $26.2 million. Enough said.
Owner – Godolphin: The international stable won three Grade-I races, nine Stakes races, 54 races, and over $7 million in purses in 2017. They also won two Breeders’ Cup races – the B.C. Turf with Talismanic and the Breeders’ Cup Filly and Mare Turf with Wuheida.
Breeder – Clearsky Farms: Relatively modest commercial breeders were responsible for breeding Arrogate and Abel Tasman and Clearsky-bred runners earned over $10 million.
Jockey – Jose Ortiz: His mounts earned over $27 million and Ortiz won his first Triple Crown race aboard Taprit in the Belmont. He won the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile with Good Magic and won more Grade-I races than any other jockey except Mike Smith.
Apprentice Jockey – Evin Roman: He improved by leaps and bounds after starting out in February and won the riding titles at all three Los Alamitos thoroughbred meets as well as sharing the spring riding title at Santa Anita and winning the Santa Anita Autumn meet title outright.
$16 Million at stake
Saturday will be the last chance to see likely 2017 Horse of the Year Gun Runner in action before he goes off to stud. He will be heavily favored in the $16 million Pegasus World Invitational at Gulfstream Park, with his main rivals likely to be the Bob Baffert trained duo of Collected and West Coast. Post positions will be drawn on Wednesday, and with the short run into the first turn going 1-1/8 miles at Gulfstream, any contender drawing outside post 8 will be at a disadvantage.
Cal Cup at SA
Masochistic, the horse who had a positive test in the 2016 Breeders’ Cup Sprint and resulted in the current 60-day suspension of trainer Ron Ellis, returns to the races in the Bob Baffert stable in the Cal Cup Sprint this Saturday. It will be interesting to see if the gelding has lost a step or two making his first start since May 2017.
Play of the Week
Santa Anita, Thursday, Race 2 – Alternate Rhythm (No. 5).
He exits a fast race, drops in class, is fitted with blinkers, and exits a productive race. Many reasons to expect improvement on Thursday.