I cringed when I read that I had been assigned the task of breaking down my selections for the 2013 divisional champions. I'm not a fan of the Eclipse Awards. The voters have no solid guidelines or set criteria to determine champions, and the award show telecasts are boring and pretentious.
Utterly bizarre votes happen every year. In 2011, for instance, Ellen Hilts-Gossett voted Drosselmeyer her Champion Male Turf Horse even though he finished dead last and was beaten ten lengths in the Sword Dancer, which was his only turf start that entire season. In the trainer category, Eddie Gaudet was gifted a vote in what was his swan song season. Perhaps most hilarious, Mid-Atlantic $5,000 Starter Allowance extraordinaire Rapid Redux gathered four different first-place votes for Horse of the Year honors.
As flawed as the voting process is, I must admit that I agree with the eventual winner a lot more often than not.
I'm very old-school in my personal criteria for determining champions. I prefer the methods of Walter Vosburgh and reject the modern methods, which I believe can sometimes be influenced by impression and bias in instances where divisions appear up for grabs.
In my opinion, the criteria for determining a divisional champion should be based on a hypothetical handicap of 2013 form. You simply review all seasonal form and determine the winner by which horse possessed the most outstanding form that season.
Without any further ado, here are my selections for each championship division:
In 15 of the last 17 years, the Breeders' Cup Juvenile winner has been voted champion two-year-old. The two exceptions were foreign invaders Wilko and Vale of York, who both won the Breeders' Cup Juvenile at longshot odds.
if I had to wager on the outcome of this award, I'd have a hard time choosing between New Year's Day or the undefeated Californian Shared Belief. However, I believe Havana was the horse with the most outstanding two-year-old form this year, and that is the criterion that should determine a champion.
Havana absolutely dazzled in his first two starts. For his brilliant debut victory at Saratoga, he owns a share of the best TimeformUS speed figure of any two-year-old in the country at a sprint distance so far this season. In career start number two, he won the Champagne Stakes with a TimeformUS speed figure of 110 after surviving a brutally fast pace.
The obvious blemish on Havana's resume was a second-place finish in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile. Trainer Todd Pletcher had a tough Breeders' Cup. He was shut out and his horses produced multiple last-place finishes. But Havana was seemingly on his way to an easy win before tiring badly under a hand-ride in the final half furlong of the Juvenile.
One could obviously argue that Havana ran the superior race. He had to endure a cross country ship while the winner raced on his home track. He was also wider on both turns than New Year's Day, and much closer to a destructively fast early pace.
Yes, New Year's Day crossed the wire first in the most significant two-year-old race of the season. However, his 2013 form is simply not up to the level of Havana's, or even Shared Belief's for that matter.
In 25 out of the last 27 years, the winner of the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies has been voted champion two-year-old filly.
However, it won't be easy for voters to justify the selection of Ria Antonia this year. Perhaps benefiting from the addition of blinkers for the first time, Ria Antonia was awarded the win in the Juvenile Fillies by disqualification after a slight bump in the final fifty yards took away enough momentum to decide the outcome. Ria Antonia never finished better than fourth in her three other stakes attempts before the Breeders' Cup, and her 2013 form simply isn't as good as that of She's A Tiger.
Indeed, She's A Tiger is a Grade 1 winner with excellent 2013 form and simply is the most deserving winner in this category.
Will Take Charge did everything his name suggests in the second half of the season. After a fantastic summer, he cemented this title with a strong performance in the Breeders' Cup Classic and a win over Game On Dude in the Clark Handicap.
Both Beholder and Princess of Sylmar own four Grade 1 wins in 2013, and both possess a similar level of ability. This isn't clear-cut, but Beholder deserves the edge.
In a hypothetical handicap race, based only on 2013 form, Beholder would be assigned a higher weight than Princess of Sylmar. Their two head-to-head meetings, in the Kentucky Oaks and Breeders' Cup Distaff, underscore that fact.
Unfortunately, the gameness and good sportsmanship displayed by the owner of Princess of Sylmar, who allowed her to compete in the Breeders' Cup Distaff, was what allowed Beholder the chance to secure this title. Had Princess of Sylmar ducked the Breeders' Cup after a hard summer campaign, we might have awarded her a slight edge on the basis of the Kentucky Oaks outcome, where East met West in a neutral region. I hate to punish gameness and good sportsmanship, but it simply must be so to maintain fairness and consistency.
Game On Dude won the first eight months of the season, while Mucho Macho Man was unquestionably superior over the final quarter of the season in this category.
However, Mucho Macho Man demonstrated abysmal form over wet racetracks early in the year, and Game On Dude saw his form deteriorate when it mattered most.
Indeed, it was the ultra-consistent six-year-old gelding Wise Dan who demonstrated the best 2013 form in totality. Once again, we must resist the temptation to inject human emotion into the voting process. Just as we can't treat Princess of Sylmar's Distaff performance as though it never happened, we also can't punish Wise Dan for his unadventurous grass campaign or the fact that the representation by Europe in this year's Breeders' Cup Mile was quite weak. They were afraid of him, and the only serious foreign challenger, Olympic Glory, was dismissed as a poor projection for Santa Anita's firm ground by every European expert I talked with at Timeform.
Contrary to the case made by Steve Crist in the Daily Racing Form, Wise Dan is the correct selection for Champion Older Male.
Historically speaking, this category is virtually always won by a dirt router. Royal Delta owns two Grade 1 wins and clearly has the best credentials in what was a weak group of dirt routers. Turf horses and sprinters just aren't supposed to get consideration in this category. However, I sure would have been tempted to award Groupie Doll the category if she would have been able to produce a year as good as her 2012 season was. Royal Delta is our reluctant selection for the older female crown. However, it was tempting to make a break from historical precedent and flirt with the idea of awarding Dank this division.
Dank made just two American starts, but did she ever make them count! She won the Grade 1 Beverley D. by four and a half lengths, and, unlike Royal Delta, she performed well on Breeders' Cup Day to win the Filly and Mare Turf as the 3/2 favorite. Dank has as many Grade 1 wins in the US as Royal Delta does this season, and she doesn't have any inconsistent form, but she is a turf horse and Royal Delta is a dirt horse, which is supposed to be enough to settle that.
This is a painfully below-par, wide-open division. The five best candidates are Secret Circle, Private Zone, Points Offthebench, Justin Phillip, and Clearly Now.
When a horse wins the Breeders' Cup Sprint as the post time favorite, you would think that would make him an inevitable winner of this award. However, Secret Circle has raced only twice this year, and one of those starts was an allowance race against just four other rivals. We're going to give our endorsement to the ill-fated Points Offthebench. A multiple Grade 1- winning sprinter against open competition, Points Offthebench brought a four-race win streak into the Breeders' Cup Sprint and would have likely been the post time favorite in that race.
Groupie Doll wasn't as impressive as she was last season, but she absolutely wins this award again. Judy The Beauty and Dance To Bristol both had terrific seasons and are admirable female sprinters.
Mizdirection might get a few votes for her success on turf against males, and Cluster of Stars might garner a few as well for her brilliant speed figures over inside-speed-friendly tracks, but make no mistake, this is Groupie Doll's award once again.
Male Turf Horse:
Point of Entry is such a terrific turf horse. He's been fantastic for the last two seasons on the lawn, and he scored a most impressive win over Animal Kingdom earlier in the year. However, Wise Dan obviously had the best season and deserves this award. No charity for popularity from us. Wise Dan obviously is the right selection here.
Female Turf Horse:
This award should come down to a pair of daughters of Dansili. Laughing had a very successful year, winning four straight Graded Stakes and two at the Grade 1 level while racing on the front-end. However, you can take it to the bank that this division will go to Dank. And rightfully so. Dank is our selection.
Horse of the Year:
Even though we must again note that his 2013 campaign lacked adventure, Wise Dan is, objectively, a clear-cut winner of this category.
Wise Dan won six different North American Graded Stakes races this year: an accomplishment that hasn't been equaled or bettered by any male horse since Kitten's Joy won six Graded Stakes in his three-year-old season of 2004. Sure, Kitten's Joy wasn't even close in the voting for the three-year-old championship or Horse of the Year honors that season. But that was because the three-year-old division had a horse named Smarty Jones, and the older male division had a horse named Ghostzapper.
Wise Dan demonstrated the best form of any horse over the entirety of the 2013 season. He is the Horse of the Year.
What if Will Take Charge doesn't get stopped cold in the Derby? What if Will Take Charge didn't perform so miserably in the Preakness or Belmont? What if Mucho Macho Man never caught a wet race track? What if Game On Dude was able to keep his top form for an entire season and perform on the biggest day?
Those are all interesting questions, but in the end, Wise Dan had the best 2013 season of any horse in North America.
In 2013, Ken and Sarah Ramsey-owned horses have won 112 of 383 turf races. That's a 29.24% win percentage with an 11.5% profit on the betting dollar.
Amazingly, Ken and Sarah Ramsey-owned horses have compiled 40 stakes wins this season. Their closest pursuers? Repole Stables and John C. Oxley, who each have 13. Make no mistake, Ken and Sarah Ramsey are an obvious selection.
Even though his Breeders' Cup was disastrous, Todd Pletcher is an obvious and deserving winner in this category. In 2013 Graded Stakes races, Pletcher-trained horses compiled 48 wins from 219 starts for a 22% strike rate and a profitable $2.50 ROI. Pletcher has 22 more Graded Stakes wins than his closest pursuer, Bob Baffert.
This is sure to be by far my most controversial selection. Paco Lopez is ranked 8th in wins and just 24th in earnings, but he has been simply the most outstanding jockey I've observed this year.
The betting value statistics point to Lopez as the nation's best jockey, and as someone who wagers on races year-round, at dozens of tracks, on all days, across all class levels, I've been extremely impressed with him. Here is a recent post of mine on this blog. It explains my position.
Outstanding Apprentice Jockey:
Victor Carrasco has had a phenomenal rookie year, winning on 188 of 952 mounts so far, for a 20% win rate. The Mid-Atlantic bug rider has been dominating the standings at Laurel's fall meet. Leading rider with 45 wins, Carrasco is winning at a 23% clip for the meet--this while posting a gigantic 92.2% profit on the betting dollar.