It is the half way mark on the racing calendar, and this writer is already thinking about the Eclipse Awards. Can you really blame me? With so many fantastic performances to date, I found it rather hard to NOT think about the year end awards. There were some categories that were tough, others that were easy, and still others that have no contenders. In the interests of fairness, I decided that a point system would work best: 5 points for a G1 win, 3 points for a G2 win, and 1 point for a G3 win. In case of a tie, I then looked at each contender's body of work for the year. With all that being said, let's take a look at the early leaders for each division.
Champion 2-YO Male—N/A
Champion 2-YO Filly—N/A
Champion 3-YO Filly
In the running: In Lingerie, Broadway's Alibi, Contested, and Believe You Can
About seven months ago, most would never have guessed that these three fillies would be at the top of their division. Last year, when they were 2-year olds, My Miss Aurelia and Grace Hall were at the top of their game; however, the former has been sidelined with a shin injury, and the latter has only one in three starts in her sophomore season after being defeated just once last year. Points wise, this was a three-way tie, but only Believe You Can has the distinction of being this year's Kentucky Oaks winner. This plucky filly helped jockey Rosie Napravnik make history when the two crossed the wire at Churchill Downs; Napravnik became the first female jockey to win the Kentucky Oaks, notching her first Grade 1 win at the same time.
Champion 3-YO Male
Talk about no contest! I'll Have Another simply dominated his peers in the first half of the year, going undefeated in 4 starts, all graded stakes victories. In his quest for greatness, he won California's biggest Derby prep race, the G1 Santa Anita Derby, before flying east to take the first two legs of the Triple Crown. If not for an injury, we likely would be celebrating a Triple Crown victor right now, but alas, that was just not meant to be. Last year, I took issue with giving Animal Kingdom this award based solely on his Kentucky Derby win, but that is certainly not the case here. The other top contenders of this division will have to work really hard for the rest of the year in order to take this award away from I'll Have Another. Unless someone steps up and dominates the second half of the year, I just cannot see this changing come time to hand the awards out.
Champion Older Filly/Mare
In the running: Awesome Maria, Include Me Out, It's Tricky, and Plum Pretty
Again, another division where it was no contest. It's Tricky is undefeated in 3 starts this year, all graded stakes victories. With the absense of Royal Delta on the scene and without a meeting with Plum Pretty, It's Tricky has finally found the opportunity to shine, even defeating Awesome Maria in their first head-to-head match-up. I do not expect the rest of the year to be as easy for this filly, but for now, she is at the top of her game and the division.
Champion Older Horse
In the running: Shackleford, Ron The Greek, Alternation, and Game On Dude
Shackleford and Ron The Greek actually tied for first, but Shackleford gets the nod based on his body of work. After finishing 7th in the Donn Handicap, trainer Dale Romans wheeled his charge back to sprints/miles, and it would seem that Shackleford has found his niche. In his last three races, he defeated the best the division had to offer by way of sprinters/milers, taking down last year's Breeders' Cup Mile and Sprint winners. He is as durable as they come and all will to win, and I expect that he will continue to be a major contender throughout the rest of the year.
Champion Male Sprinter
In the running: Caleb's Posse, Calibrachoa, and Shackleford
Did I mention that Shackleford is seemingly unstoppable now that he has found a place to shine? If I did not, then maybe you get the picture by now. Not only is Shackleford taking home Champion Older Horse at the half way point, but he is also taking home Champion Male Sprinter. If Caleb's Posse hopes to take this award away from him, then he needs to get out of his "always the best man never the groom" slump.
Champion Female Sprinter
In the running: Groupie Doll, Broadway's Alibi, and Musical Romance
This was a tough one as the division really has not heated up just yet. Groupie Doll squeaked out the win by virtue of her G1 Madison and Humana Distaff wins, but I expect for this division to do a lot of re-shuffling between now and year's end.
Champion Turf Male
In the running: Mr. Commons, Silver Max, Get Stormy, and Little Mike
The retirement of such recent greats as Gio Ponti and Cape Blanco have left this division wide open. Ultimately, this came down to a tie between Get Stormy and Little Mike, but Little Mike came away the winner due to winning the head-to-head match-up in the G1 Woodford Reserve Turf Classic. I can already tell that this division is going to be highly contentious, so Little Mike will need to be on his toes in order to retain the top spot at the end of the year.
Champion Turf Female
In the running: Winter Memories, Tapitsfly, Zagora, and Belle Royale
Just like the male turf division, the female turf division looks to be highly contentious, too. The aforementioned three are at the top right now, but other contenders like Hungry Island are looking to break through and make a mark. Tapitsfly gets the nod for now with a G1 and a G2 win, but Winter Memories, Belle Royale, etc. will not make it easy on her. So far, though, Tapitsfly has proved formidable this season, never finishing off the board in 5 starts. In her most recent start, not only did she beat rival Winter Memories, but she also set a new stakes record while doing so.
Horse of the Year
In the running: Shackleford, I'll Have Another, and It's Tricky
If Horse of the Year were to be awarded today, I'll Have Another would be the year's ultimate champion, hooves down. He has the most graded victories and the most Grade 1 victories thus far and has absolutely dominated his division. Unfortunately, he will also be one of the greats to go down in history as one we will never know how great he truly could have been. Sadly, history has not been kind to candidates who only raced half of the year (though Charismatic got the nod in 1999), but the silver lining is that he may just get to keep Champion 3-YO honors (Smarty Jones did in 2004).