We are now in the final hours before the Eclipse Awards are presented and the champions are crowned.This week, myself and the "Dark Horse," Chris Sorenson will be discussing the male and female turf divisions, older male and older female divisions, and of course, we’ll be crowning our Horse of The Year. Let’s get started with the turf divisions.
Scott Dick: Dark Horse, it’s been awhile since we’ve done this! How’s the Co-host healing after surgery?
Chris Sorenson: The knee is responding well! I had to get some stuff cleaned up from an injury sustained 20 years ago. However, I'll be ready to go for Hawthorne's spring meet and the Derby trail!
SD: Glad to hear you’re recovering like a champion. Let’s start with the Male Turf Division. This really seems to be a two horse race between Acclamation and Cape Blanco. Can you make a case for any other horse in this division?
CS: No, you really cannot. And I already know who gets my vote.
SD: Acclamation was near perfect this year. He earned 3 grade I victories, 2 on grass and 1 on a synthetic surface. His only bad race was on a sloppy Charlestown dirt surface. He was ultra-consistent, but, he never raced on grass outside of California and he did not compete in the Breeders’ Cup. Does that hurt Acclamation’s chances to win this award?
CS: Yes, Acclamation had a great campaign for sure, I mean he got off to a bit of a rough start but once he kicked it in gear he didn't lose. Again though, he didn't leave California to race on the turf and perhaps missed out on competing against some other world-class contenders.
SD: Cape Blanco was unbeatable while racing in the good ole USA. He dominated his competition in the grade I Arlington Million. He dazzled in the Man O’ War Stakes. He showed his heart in the grade I Joe Hirsch Turf Classic, a race in which his year would end with injury. Is Cape Blanco a slam dunk in this division? We both saw how impressive he was in person. Can you honestly see Acclamation getting the nod over Cape Blanco?
CS: No, I really cannot. Again, look at the competition that these horses have faced. Acclamation did defeat Game On Dude on the Polytrack (which is not turf) and a favored Caracortado, sure, but Cape Blanco beat some of the best in the entire world including Winchester, Gio Ponti, (twice), Dean's Kitten (twice), Mission Approved (twice), and some of the other best European talent. He even finished fourth in the Dubai World Cup and fourth in a group 1 stakes at Longchamp.
SD: You make a great point, Chris. Caracortado could be the best turf horse Acclamation has defeated and as much as I love “Scarface” he’s just not on the level of Gio Ponti. The level of competition Acclamation has faced will be the reason he does not win this award, in my opinion. So Chris, Cape Blanco is your Eclipse Award winner for top Male Turf horse?
CS: Without a doubt. Cape Blanco.
SD: I agree. Cape Blanco is the Eclipse Award winner.
SD: Now for the ladies. The filly and mare turf division is pretty wide open once you get past Stacelita. Let’s start with the Breeders’ Cup Filly and Mare Turf Champion, can Perfect Shirl claim ownership to this award?
CS: Wow. Well I think a Breeders' Cup win does go a long way. Those folks that might look at the entire body of work, like I normally do, might look elsewhere. She even started off the year with a pair of Allowance/OC races, which she didn't even win. However, in the last few races she definitely outran her odds in both the Canadian Stakes and the Breeders' Cup. Brian Zipse must have known something because he called her victory.
SD: Dubawi Heights is a very interesting filly. She had an amazing year scoring wins in the grade I Gamely and grade I Yellow Ribbon Stakes. She ran her guts out in defeat in the Beverly D Stakes at Arlington Park, where she was beaten by the aforementioned Stacelita. She set the pace, before tiring in the Breeders’ Cup. Dubawi Heights boast an impressive record of 4 wins in 6 starts in 2011, 3 of those wins in graded stakes company. What do you think about Simon Callaghan’s filly?
CS: I was very happy to have had the chance to see Dubawi Heights in the Beverly D. last summer. In fact, if she could have beaten Stacelita, she would have had a 5-win streak going into the Breeders' Cup. And I don't necessarily fault her for her 6th place finish in the big race either. She set the pace for a while and did fade but not by all that much when the cavalry came charging. She's a very good horse and a worthy contender.
SD: Winter Memories gave us some spectacular performances in 2011. Winter Memories was sparkling in overcoming a tough trip in the grade I Garden City Stakes. She also won the grade II Lake George and the grade II Sands Point Stakes. Did you think the 3-year-old gray daughter of El Prado had any chance of scoring this award?
CS: OK, so I know Winter Memories had a fantastic 3-year-old campaign winning four times. I can't put my finger on it, but her races just didn't stand out in my mind. I for some reason just cannot explain why. It might be because of the disappointing performance in the QEII at Keeneland. Or maybe it's because her competition wasn't as tough as some of the other contenders in this division.
SD: Stacelita only raced 4 times this year in America, but, boy did she do some running. Stacelita ran a tough luck third against the boys in the United Nations at Monmouth Park. She embarrassed a classy field in the Beverly D, and she romped in the grade I Flower Bowl in New York. In the Breeders’ Cup Filly and Mare Turf she had a NIGHTMARE trip, finishing a disappointing 10th. Can you forgive her Breeders’ Cup race?
CS: Well certainly you could draw a line through that race. Rumor had it that something was wrong with her left eye and had to wear a clear-full cup in the Breeders' Cup. So if she was totally healthy who knows what could have happened. However, I think she still ran a decent race and just got caught up against the hedges.
SD: Who is your Eclipse Award winner in the Filly and Mare turf division?
CS: Well, I will go against the grain on this one and choose Dubawi Heights, although I'm certain Stacelita gets the award.
SD: Ugh, I guess great minds think alike. I was hoping to have a shocking selection in this category, but, you stole my thunder, Dark Horse! I’m going for Dubawi Heights also!
SD: We really don’t need to spend much time in the Older female division, Havre De Grace or Blind Luck? Let’s just make it simple
SD: I agree, Havre De Grace gets it this year, but, Blind Luck is still a champion in my eyes!
SD: The older male division is more wide open in my mind than most people think. Tizway was a horse on a mission in the summer, winning back to back grade I’s with scores in the Met Mile and the Whitney Handicap. He was everyone’s “it” horse coming into the Breeders’ Cup before suffering an injury that would knock him out of the biggest race of the year. What is your opinion on Tizway?
CS: It's a shame that Tizway had such a short run this year. What stands out in my mind was his performance and victory in the Whitney where he sat just off the pace and took over in the stretch. What a classic performance!
SD: Game On Dude was just that, GAME ON! He won two grade I’s, The Santa Anita handicap and the Goodwood Stakes. Game On Dude was, well, game as hell in the Breeders’ Cup Classic, Game on Dude set all the fractions, the Dude had the lead coming into the stretch, he got a little tired, but he still fought hard, while being passed in the final furlong by the closing kick of Drosselmeyer. How good is Game On Dude?
CS: Game on Dude had quite the campaign. He only finished off the board once and that was in the Pacific Classic, losing to Acclamation. Otherwise he finished in the money each race. The performance in the Breeders' Cup was especially impressive only losing out at the last moment to Drosselmeyer. I'll never forget the 14-1 victory in the ping-pong battle with Twirling Candy and Setsuko.
SD: We’ve already discussed Acclamation’s accomplishments. So Chris, who is your Eclipse Award winner for older male, Acclamation, Game On Dude, or Tizway?
CS: Game On Dude, Duuuuuude.
SD: I will politely disagree with you. I love Tizway for this award, but, I would love to have a write in voten for Wise Dan. Wise Dan was awesome in the latter part of 2011. He obliterated a grade I field in the Clark Handicap at Churchill Downs. He won on the turf in the grade II Firecracker Handicap. He scored wins on synthetic surfaces in the grade II Fayette Stakes at Keeneland and the Presque Isle Mile Stakes at Presque Isle.
SD: Now that we’ve discussed all the accomplishments of all the contenders, we still don’t know who the finalist will be for Horse of the Year. We won’t know till Monday Night. So Chris, give me YOUR finalist for Horse Of The Year and your Horse of the Year?
CS: Well, for Horse of the Year my finalists would be Havre de Grace, Game on Dude, and Caleb's Posse.
SD: Your Horse of the Year is?
CS: Havre De Grace!
SD: I honestly cannot narrow my finalist down to three, I’m not even going to try. But, Havre De Grace is my Horse Of The Year as well.