Held each January, the Eclipse Award ceremony honors the elite horses and humans of the industry, bestowing the best of each division their own award. Each year, some championship categories contain a clear winner, whereas others can become contentious areas of debate and suspense. The awards for 2013’s racing season, which will be held January 18 at Gulfstream Park, are no different.
Everyone is entitled to their own opinion, but here are my choices for the 42nd annual Eclipse Awards:
Wise Dan will likely join the likes of Curlin, Cigar, Affirmed, Forego, Secretariat, Kelso, Whirlaway, and Challedon as a back-to-back winner of the Horse of the Year title. While Wise Dan did not go undefeated this year, he has one of the most impressive records of 2013. The winner in six of his seven starts this season, Wise Dan captured four grade ones in 2013 – two more than his main rival for this award, Will Take Charge. Another edge he has over Will Take Charge is the fact that he garnered a Breeders’ Cup victory, taking the Breeders’ Cup Mile (gr. I). Wise Dan never finished worse than second in 2013, with his only loss coming over wet polytrack in the Shadwell Turf Mile (gr. I). His consistency and brilliance make him the clear winner of this prestigious award.
It is the norm for the winner of the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile (gr. I) to be bestowed this award, but this year’s two-year-old division is far from the norm. The Juvenile winner, New Year’s Day, had won the $2 million race off a maiden victory at Del Mar. Although he won the championship race for this division, New Year’s Day’s campaign is overshadowed by that of the undefeated Shared Belief. A gelding who boasts a record of three-for-three, Shared Belief’s 5 ¾-length win in the CashCall Futurity (gr. I) was as impressive as they come. With a flawless record that includes two graded stakes victories, Shared Belief’s season puts him above both New Year’s Day and Honor Code. The latter will likely also receive a look from voters, but without a grade one victory to his credit, it is improbable that he will bring home the award. Perhaps Shared Belief’s most logical threat for this award is Havana, winner of the Champagne Stakes (gr. I) over Honor Code and runner-up in the Juvenile. Although Havana would certainly be a deserving champion, Shared Belief’s undefeated record makes him my choice.
Like its male counterpart, the two-year-old filly division is quite the muddled division. In fact, it is perhaps even more perplexing due to the disqualification for the win in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies (gr. I). But the winner of the Juvenile Fillies, Ria Antonia, had failed to perform well in her pair of graded stakes starts prior to the Breeders’ Cup – unlike She’s a Tiger, who was disqualified from finishing first in the Juvenile Fillies. She’s a Tiger not only owns a grade one victory, but was far more consistent than Ria Antonia, never finishing worse than second. Although a controversial decision gave Ria Antonia a win over She’s a Tiger, She’s a Tiger’s overall record is more impressive.
The first half of Will Take Charge’s sophomore campaign was far from Eclipse Award-worthy. However, once summer arrived, he became a different horse. Although he won the Smarty Jones Stakes and the Rebel Stakes (gr. II) at Oaklawn Park in the early stages of 2013, he was incredibly inconsistent at that point in time. He is bucking the trend by becoming a likely Eclipse Award-winning three-year-old that performed poorly in the Triple Crown, never finishing better than seventh in any of those three races. After a rough spring, he became the breakthrough horse of the summer. Following a noteworthy second behind Belmont Stakes (gr. I) winner Palace Malice in the Jim Dandy Stakes (gr. I), Will Take Charge powered home to victories in the Travers Stakes (gr. I) and the Pennsylvania Derby (gr. II). A heartbreaking nose kept him from victory in the Breeders’ Cup Classic (gr. I), but he redeemed himself with a game victory over Game On Dude in the Clark Handicap (gr. I). With two grade one wins, including one against elders, and an outstanding runner-up effort in North America’s richest race to his credit, Will Take Charge is the obvious winner in this category.
In one of the most controversial divisions of this year’s Eclipse Awards, the decision is between Beholder and Princess of Sylmar. Both fillies own four grade one victories in 2013 and the two raced against each other only twice, each gaining one victory against the other – and in the two most important races of the division, the Kentucky Oaks (gr. I) and the Breeders’ Cup Distaff (gr. I). Princess of Sylmar defeated Beholder by a half-length in the Oaks –in which Beholder’s energy may have been consumed before the race when she nearly fell in the post parade. Princess of Sylmar ruled the division during the summer, taking three grade ones in New York – including a victory over Royal Delta in the Beldame Invitational Stakes (gr. I). While Beholder took most of the summer off, she did gain a stakes victory and a grade one triumph against elders. When the two faced off in the Distaff, Beholder was a much more dominant winner than Princess of Sylmar had been in the Oaks, taking the race by 4 ¼ lengths. Of course, Beholder could be knocked for not having won outside of California. With each filly possessing their fair share of pros and cons, this award could go either way, but unlike Princess of Sylmar, Beholder never finished worse than second in 2013 and was far more dominant in her victory over her rival than Princess of Sylmar was.
Although cases can be made for the likes of Mucho Macho Man and Game On Dude, Wise Dan rules this division in consistency and number of grade one wins. Whereas Mucho Macho Man and Game On Dude each had lackluster performances in 2013, Wise Dan lost only once, finishing second. In addition, Wise Dan boasts four grade victories this year versus Game On Dude’s three and Mucho Macho Man’s two.
This division is between Royal Delta and Dank. Both mares won two grade ones and although Dank won a Breeders’ Cup race, Royal Delta’s pair of dominant grade one victories during the summer and the fact that she was based in the United States whereas Dank was not will resonate with voters.
Most years, the Breeders’ Cup Sprint (gr. I) victor is honored as the Eclipse Champion Male Sprinter. But this year’s winner, Secret Circle, only made one other start this year, winning an allowance optional claiming event. Although Secret Circle could end up with the award, Points Offthebench is the most deserving winner. The ill-fated horse never had the chance to compete in the Breeders’ Cup, but prior to his tragic death, he captured a pair of grade ones, defeating Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile (gr. I) winner Goldencents on both occasions.
Although she was not quite the same horse as she was in 2012, Groupie Doll will certainly win her second consecutive Eclipse Award. With a track record victory in the Presque Isle Downs Master Stakes (gr. II) and a Breeders’ Cup Filly & Mare Sprint (gr. I) triumph, Groupie Doll has earned this honor. Despite winning only twice from five starts this year, she defeated most other horses in consideration for this award when it counted most: at the Breeders’ Cup. Her main rivals for this award are Mizdirection and Cluster of Stars, but the prestige of their campaigns fall short. Though Mizdirection won against males at the Breeders’ Cup and owns more wins this year than Groupie Doll, she captured only one grade one. Cluster of Stars, although undefeated, never even competed in a grade one.
The obvious selection in this category is Wise Dan, who was undefeated on the turf in 2013. All six of his wins this year came on the grass, four of which were grades ones, including his Breeders’ Cup Mile victory.
Although not based in the United States, Dank captured the two most important grade ones for fillies and mares on American turf this year: the Beverly D. Stakes (gr. I) and the Breeders’ Cup Filly & Mare Turf (gr. I). In winning at the Breeders’ Cup, she put an end to other horses’ – including Laughing, Marketing Mix, and Tiz Flirtatious – chances at this award.
Racing fans may not pay much attention to this category, but it is among the most competitive of all the Eclipse Award categories this year. All six grade ones in American jump racing produced a different winner. Although Divine Fortune conquered the most important steeplechase of the year, the Grand National Hurdle Stakes (gr. I), he was quite inconsistent throughout the rest of the year and performed very poorly, finishing seventh, in two grade ones. Nonetheless, he was the top steeplechase earner this year and aside from that pair of seventh-place finishes, he ran well in other grade ones, finishing in-the-money in the first two grade ones of the year. He never ducked competition, racing in all six grade one steeplechases held annually in the United States. This award could go to a wide range of horses, such as Mr. Hot Stuff, Gustavian, Demonstrative, or Alajmal, but Divine Fortune is my choice.
By just over $5,000,000, the Ramseys led in earnings. In addition, they are a clear second in number of wins in 2013. In terms of stakes wins, they have dominated the ranks, boasting forty-two victories in stakes races – thirty-one more than their nearest competitors. They also ruled the graded stakes rankings, owning the winners of seventeen graded stakes races in 2013. The Ramseys are the clear selection here.
Although Adena Springs led breeders in terms of earnings, they ended 2013 only $365,928 ahead of Ken and Sarah Ramsey. With nearly four hundred more starts than Ramsey-bred horses, Adena Springs-bred horses led horses bred by the Ramseys by 81 wins. However, the Ramseys bred ten more black-type winners than Adena Springs in 2013, leading North America with twenty-three black-type winners. In addition, Ramsey-breds won five grade ones in 2013 with four different horses, whereas Adena Springs-breds won four grade ones with two separate horses – one of which was Game On Dude, who accounted for three of those grade ones. This category could go either way, but the Ramseys’ dominance in stakes races leads me to choose them.
Trainer: Todd Pletcher
Despite not winning a single Breeders’ Cup race, the Belmont Stakes-winning trainer was head and shoulders above the rest in terms of earnings, having conditioned horses that earned nearly $10 million more than the second-leading trainer by earnings, Bob Baffert. He also trained the winners of 48 graded stakes, which leads runner-up Baffert by 20 wins.
Gary Stevens may only have been twelfth on the earnings list and sixth in terms of number of graded stakes victories, but he owns the most graded stakes wins for a jockey with less than 95 starts at the graded level. While Javier Castellano is the clear leader by both earnings and wins, having broken the single-season earnings record, he did not win a single Triple Crown race in 2013 and won just one Breeders’ Cup race – ironically by the disqualification of Stevens’ mount. Meanwhile, Stevens captured the Preakness Stakes (gr. I) and the two most important Breeders’ Cup races of all – the Distaff and Classic. While there are many deserving winners of this award, including not only Castellano, but also Mike Smith and Joel Rosario, the eminence of Stevens’ 2013 season makes him a worthy honoree.
Victor Carrasco led all apprentice jockeys in terms of both wins and earnings, winning 215 races while earning $4,357,715. He maintained a strong 20% win percentage for 2013.