As discussed last week, there’s plenty of speculation going around about the Eclipse Awards and the front-runners in each category. Some are formalities, but a few more difficult categories are starting to arise as the date approaches (January 18). Today will involve the dirt only, as juvenile turf races just aren’t numerous in this country and the Older Male category takes my (and Jay Hovdey’s, among others) definition. First up, the babies:
Two Year Old Filly – Ria Antonia vs. She’s a Tiger
As I mentioned in the post-Breeders’ Cup post, I am not really onboard with either one of these two going forward. That is beside the point for this purpose though, as no other filly performed consistently enough to really threaten the exacta in the Juvenile Fillies. Since Cash Run was denied the crown after her victory in the ’99 Breeders’ Cup, every champion of the Juvenile fillies has also been deemed the best two year old of their crop. In fact, only a trio of years saw different winners since the Breeders’ Cup inception in 1984. However, this race has also been one of if not the single most formful BC race and usually the winners’ campaign is what made them both the favorite and the standout for year-end honors. RA’s campaign was forgettable to that point for the most part though, and though she may have a tad more promise for the longer races this spring the point is still their two year old year. I give plenty of credit to She’s a Tiger for being a really nice filly, and along with many others I just don’t think she was second best on Breeders’ Cup Day. This one should be easier than it will be.
Two Year Old Male – New Year’s Day vs. Shared Belief vs. ???
How do you muster excitement if New Year’s Day wins? If a horse can win the Juvenile in this third start…..I don’t care how nice he is…..his competition needs to glance long and hard in the mirror. That field is supposed to be full of stakes winning or stakes placed horses, and although he had plenty of potential there is just something wrong about it. I liked the horse, don’t get me wrong, but to be right about that sort of horse winning just isn’t comforting in the big picture. Shared Belief was patiently handled and as a result has come out firing in the latter part of his two year old year, but even so those races aren’t the types that usually win championships. If we are going to reward potential rather than actual performance, then shall we go peruse the Pletcher or Baffert barn for an unheralded three year old filly that can actually EXCEL at two turns rather than the suspect stock up for the award this year? These are the arguments being raised in each corner and I really can’t refute either one–without a Shanghai Bobby in the mix it really is muddled. Shared Belief should win and has had a nice brief year, but I vote we hand this trophy off to the filly that loses champion Three Year Old and cross out the details.
Older Male – Game On Dude vs. Wise Dan vs. Mucho Macho Man
First things first, and I mentioned him earlier…Jay Hovdey hit the nail on the head by reminding us that this traditionally heads the way of a dirt handicap horse. Of course, Wise Dan fit all surface bills last year but his streamlined season didn’t hit quite as many stops as before. As a result, the horse that tackled a couple of surfaces and did it with class remains The Dude. Yes, we’ve seen that song and dance before out of him but this year no one did it better. Obviously the horse needs no awards to underline his place among the best in California, but he’s earned it by now. MMM remains his nemesis, but the Breeders’ Cup obviously just isn’t his cup of tea and with that removed from the equation he’d be a runaway. Horse of the Year of course encompasses performing at the big dance, but this category still is one that he’s fulfilled all of the requirements for.
The year-end honors are nearly upon us! Remember, there’s a number of ways to tune into the Eclipse Awards from Gulfstream–Next week we’ll take one last look before the winners are announced!