I am trying to enjoy what 2011 gave us before heading into the 2012 Road to the Roses, but that has been hard to do with the Sham Stakes already in the book, but I managed to find a little time to think Eclipse Awards. Here are my picks in my favorite Eclipse Award Divisions.
AMERICAN CHAMPION 2-YEAR OLD COLT
This category really comes down to Union Rags or Hansen. There are so many reasons I would like to vote for both of these horses. Union Rags dominated this division every race he ran. He won the Grade 2 Saratoga Special and the Grade 1 Champagne stakes. He did not take home the Breeders Cup this year, but was so impressive in defeat that I think this horse is superior to the rest in this division. His resume this year is similar to that of Hansen, both won a grade 1 stakes race and even though Hansen took the Breeders Cup over Union Rags I would still vote Union Rags because of his other wins in a graded stakes races.
AMERICAN CHAMPION 3-YEAR OLD MALE HORSE
This division is in shambles really, I don’t know if we don’t have enough good horses in this division or if they are so evenly matched that there are no stand outs. My thoughts on this division changed with each and every race. I thought, Animal Kingdom for awhile; even after his defeat in the Preakness and the Belmont. But after his injury putting him out for the rest of the season, I was not comfortable going with him although I would not be the least bit upset if he was given the honors. So I started looking elsewhere.
For awhile I thought maybe Ruler on Ice would make a good Three Year Old Champ. He finished no worse than fourth the entire season, he showed up to win the Belmont, and he made a try at the Classic and then turned around and entered the Clarke Handicap where I thought he would solidify his bid for Champion Three Year Old. But that was not to be.
But then an interesting thought from other media outlets…Caleb’s Posse.
I entertained the idea of Caleb’s Posse, but came up with this…Caleb’s Posse sat out all three of the Triple Crown races not to mention the summer classics like the Haskell and the Travers so he could not get my vote. True, he may have been the most consistent pony with the best resume at the end of the year, but I do not think that sitting out all of the 3 year old races should get you 3-year old division honors. If he does win, I won’t be upset and it will not be a travesty; I just like the 3-year old champ to have at least showed up to the big 3-year old races.
But someone has to be named Champion Three Year Old and so then I thought about Stay Thirsty. I can hear your disgruntled growls right now, but think about this; he had a decent campaign this year; he showed up to every race. He started at Aqueduct to win the Grade 3 Gotham Stakes, then we saw him finish 7th in the Grade 1 Florida Derby, he faired even worse in the Kentucky Derby finishing 12th but bounced back nicely to a second place finish in the Grade 1 Belmont Stakes over a sloppy track. I kept thinking he should be in contention when he returned to the winner circle in the Grade 2 Jim Dandy Stakes and thought he was a clear cut choice when he won the Grade 1 Travers. But a hand full of loses does not make your resume look better just because you tried. So I pressed onward and ended right back at the beginning.
Animal Kingdom is my pick for champion 3 year old. This horse showed up for the three-year old races this year, came in first, then second and then sixth with a troubled trip.
AMERICAN CHAMPION OLDER MALE HORSE
I would almost like to say that Drosselmeyer should take this award this year; he did after all win ‘the biggest race of the year’. But I don’t think that a politician could even bullshit his way through that so I have to search elsewhere. But this division feels a lot like the 3-Year Old Division.
I guess I can start with Flat Out. He looked like a champ heading to the Breeders Cup but after the dust settled he had to settle for fifth, but the Clarke was going to give him that extra boast he needed to win the division honors. That didn’t happen, so here is what he accomplished. Flat Out came in second in a Grade 3 race, beaten by Awesome Gem; finished a poor 6th in the Grade 1 Stephan Foster but then things started to turn around. He finished first in the Grade 2 Suburban, finished second to Tizway in the Grade 1 Whitney, finished second to Havre De Grace in the Woodward (no shame in that) then finished first again in the Grade 1 Jockey Gold Cup beating the eventual Classic winner. Is that resume good enough to get him a trophy…probably not.
Tizway is also a name that jumped out there for awhile and with good reason. Before being retired for the year he won the Grade 1 Met Mile and the Grade 1 Whitney. He also finished third in his other 2 starts for the year. This record made him the likely favorite in the Breeders Cup, but he was injured and unable to run. He also sat out the Jockey Club Gold Cup with injury allowing Flat Out to emerge as the best older male horse. Since Tizway did sit out these last 2 races, even with injury, I am not sure I would be able to vote for him.
Then I keep hearing about Acclamation. Although his victories came on turf or poly this horse could have the most impressive resume. As for Grade 1’s he won the Pacific Coast Classic, Charles Whittingham and the Eddie Read Stakes. His other wins came in the Grade 2 Jim Murray and Clement L Hirsch. I don’t think there is a reason to go any further than this horse when looking for an older champ.
AMERICAN CHAMPION 2-YEAR OLD FILLY
This is a no contest division. This is the division where the Breeders Cup really made a difference. There were quite a few horses that could have snatched this award with their records and we needed the Breeders Cup race to tell them apart, and that is exactly what the race did. My Miss Aurelia romped home crushing her field of peers. She not only won the race, she looked great doing it. Prior to her win in the Breeders Cup, she won the Grade 2 Adirondack and the Grade 1 Frizette after breaking her maiden. If many consider her the Horse of the Year, she is a sure bet for Champion Two Year Old Filly. This category is all My Miss Aurelia.
AMERICAN CHAMPION 3-YEAR OLD FILLY
The problem with this division is that there are so many horses to like. I was not a big fan of the Oaks winner Plum Pretty but her record could not be denied. She competed in 5 Grade 1 races this year; she only won 1 of them, but finished second twice and had 1 show and 1 fourth place finish. She also won a Grade 2 race and a non graded stakes. She gave the Ladies Classic a try, but lost to Royal Delta.
Speaking of Royal Delta aside from winning the Breeders Cup Ladies Classic, she also managed to win the Alabama and finish second in the Beldame behind Havre De Grace (no shame there). She did, however, finish 3rd in the Grade 1 Coaching Club America Oaks behind It’s Tricky.
Now Its Tricky was my sentimental favorite horse of this division and I think she should get mention in year end honors. She defeated the Ladies Classic Champ by winning the CCAOaks; she also won the Grade 1 Acorn. Her Triple Tiara bid was crushed when Royal Delta turned the tables and beat Its Tricky in the Alabama. She then finished second to Plum Pretty in the Cotillion Stakes and finished second in the Classic to Royal Delta. All of these horses have the record to make a bid for the year end awards but with her victory in the Ladies Classic Royal Delta would take my vote.
AMERICAN CHAMPION OLDER FEMALE HORSE
See also American Horse of the Year.
AMERICAN HORSE OF THE YEAR
I think this year there is a clear cut winner…Havre De Grace. This year would mark the third year in a row that a lady would be crowned Horse of the Year. The past 2 winners were crowned because they went above and beyond what was expected of them and this little lady is no different in my eyes. She did not have a perfect season, she did not go 8 for 8 and she did not win the Classic…but she did have 5 wins, 1 place and competed in the Classic. She did not win the Classic, but I don’t think that the Classic is the ‘end all’. She was beaten only by Blind Luck in her one, 2nd place finish but bounced back to beat the boys in the Woodward edging her above any HOY competitors. Her resume stands at 3 Grade 1 wins, 2 Grade 3 wins, a second in a Grade 2 and she finished 4th in the Grade 1 Breeders Cup Classic. She would get my vote.