Photo: Benoit Photo
Can a horse win an Eclipse Award with only two starts? Should a horse who has not run since May be considered? Will a tragic passing sway the vote? These questions and more need to be answered before deciding on the 2013 Male Sprint Championship.
In what likely boils down to as the most difficult of all Eclipse Award decisions, three horses can lay claim to the honor, but none of the three would seem to have a clear advantage over the other two. More often than not, this award is as simple as the Breeders' Cup Sprint. 11 of the last 15 winners of the race have gone on to be named champion. While Secret Circle was a popular winner ten days ago, his lack of racing in 2013 leaves his chances of becoming the 12th in 16 years, questionable indeed.
Returning from an 18-month layoff, Secret Circle came back with a win over allowance/optional claiming foes on October 14 at Santa Anita. It was a sharp return, and the sub-1:08 time gave handicappers ample reason to believe he could win a few weeks later in the Breeders' Cup, but as a non-stakes race, just how much stock can it carry? He did come back to win the BC Sprint, and it certainly was the most important victory within the division this year, but does a single race trump multiple stakes win of others?
Sahara Sky does have multiple graded stakes wins in 2013, but his resume also has holes. A winner of two graded sprints in the first two months of the year, he beat good horses in both races, but neither qualifies as being fresh in the minds of voters. In the spring, he ventured east to run second in an unspectacular edition of the Grade 1 Carter. Shrugging that loss aside, he came back to get up in the final stride against a strong field in the prestigious Met Mile. Whether or not you consider this is a sprint comes in question, but if you do, it was a huge win. Unfortunately, he has not been seen since. Begging the question, can a very good record, accomplished in only the first five months of the year, be enough to carry the day?
Finally, you have Points Offthebench. Just an allowance performer until the end of July, the ill-fated gelding made his graded stakes debut a winning one with a hard-earned victory over Goldencents in the Bing Crosby at Del Mar. One grade 1 victory led to another, as once again, the Tim Yakteen trainee would defeat a valiant foe in Goldencents, this time in the Santa Anita Sprint Championship. Sadly the new sprinting star was lost forever when he broke down while preparing for the Breeders' Cup Sprint. Did he do enough, in just two stakes, to earn a championship?
You can see my conundrum. I honestly believe that Secret Circle, seven wins, and two seconds, from nine lifetime starts, including two Breeders' Cup victories, is the class of the field, but two starts does not make a champion. I think Sahara Sky should get credit for his big win in the one-turn mile at Belmont, but the loss to Swagger Jack, coupled with inactivity over the last seven months of the year, have me believing that he finishes third in this race.
That leaves Points Offthebench. I have already changed my mind on this once, but when stacking it all up, this is the horse who I believe had the best overall sprinting year of 2013. I call for him to win the Eclipse Award posthumously.