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Breeders' Cup 2017

HRN Original Blog:
Dueling Down The Stretch

Dead Heat Debates' Eclipse Award Selections

The Eclipse Awards are only a week away, and with the nominations already released, people can now choose from the top three horses chosen for each division. Before I give mine, I feel it prudent to mention a very noticeable snub. While I love Shackleford, and respect the season he had, Stay Thirsty accomplished more with three graded stakes wins, a grade three, two and one, with two more grade one placings. The Travers is the Mid-Summer Derby, he won that beating Shack. Many will knock the fact that Thirst did not win outside of New York this year, well, then tell me why Animal Kingdom, who raced half a year, and never won outside of Kentucky, gets the benefit while Thirsty doesn’t. No matter the spin you put, it was a snub, plain and simple.

Now that I have completed my rant, I’ll go get down off my snub soap box and up on my Eclipse box.

The Juveniles

All three nominees are deserving horses. All showed up big time, not only in their preps but also on Breeders’ Cup Day. All have outstanding records, but in the only head to head match up, Hansen came away with the victory.
Union Rags very well may be the best, but the way I see it, he may have been wide, but he had a clear trip and took dead aim and could not get past. Hansen was up against it from the moment he entered the break. Big class jump and a style that was not holding well over the tiring Churchill Downs track. He overcame, and he should get the award.

The Juvenile Fillies was a no brainer. My Miss Aurelia just dominated from start to finish. She showed heart on several occasions, but in her final two starts, it was no contest. She was unbeaten going in and was unbeaten going out.

Three Year Olds

Three Year Old fillies were taking turns knocking one another, and at one point, was a very contentious division. Then Royal Delta came to her best and asserted her superiority. She is  one great one away from having three grade ones this year, but two dominant wins over her peers in the Alabama and Breeders’ Cup Ladies Classic, give her a large lead over
It’s Tricky and Plum Pretty.

The males in this division are a little more up in the air. There are many who believe there should be no award given, since no horse really met the standard. Animal Kingdom has two stakes wins, but there are a lot of people that aren’t satisfied with just the Kentucky Derby, as his only big win. Caleb’s Posse was the first three year old to snag two grade ones, but both were earned at distances less than “Classic.” Shackleford danced every dance, but failed to make the top three in the Derby, Belmont, and Travers. My choice here is Caleb’s Posse, his main losses were at distances he was not at his best at. He has two grade ones, both defeating some of the best horses in his division.


Female Sprinter is Hilda’s Passion.
Musical Romance had a nice year, but she only had one big win, which came in a race were most of the best horses either underperformed, or were not in the gate. Hilda was one of those. Up until her injury she was sheer brilliance. She raced at the top tracks, won top races, and when at her best, which was often, was easily the fastest female sprinter in the land.

Top Sprinter is
Caleb’s Posse. Until the distance of a mile out of “limbo” there is no reason to say that it is not a sprint. It is an elongated sprint, but if not a route then it’s a sprint. You simply can’t have it both ways. He won the Amsterdam over several of the most talented three year old sprinters in his division. He followed that up with a big win in the King’s Bishop, again beating the best, then in the BC Dirt Mile. He beat his own peers and Trappe Shot, who was considered among the best sprinters. Amazombie ran admirably, but Caleb just blew them all away.


No female really wowed this year, but the one that barely rise up to the top is Stacelita. Two grade one wins in four starts, and nobody else really ever rose to the occasion. I admire horses like
Never Retreat, who always show up, but you should not be named the best for not finishing first.

Again, the males also have me torn, but for the opposite reason. Two horses rose, but never faced off. Typically, I then go to strength of season, but both had very strong wins in top races. Acclamation was a California monster and Cape Blanco dominated in the East. I would say both horses only faced mediocre horses, I say that because Gio Ponti, while a champion, is simply not as effective at longer distances as he was two years ago. It would not upset me to see either horse to get the award, and while I do feel Cape Blanco is deserving, I have to stick to my guns and say Acclamation.


Older female is no contest. Those pulling for
Blind Luck are looking through rose colored glasses, and that filly did not have a championship year. Havre de Grace, will win the division this year. The score between her and her rival is 1-1, not getting around it, that is a fact. Besides that Gracie went on to win two more grade ones, one against males. She was easily the best of this division, but was put in the Classic. She ran well enough, finished fourth, not beaten by much. She is an easy choice.

The Older Male division was probably one of the weakest, but there is no question that the nominees all deserve to be on the ballot. Tizway was brilliant winning the Met Mile in near record time dominating the Whitney, but got knocked out due to injury. Game on Dude has two grade one wins, and placed in the most prestigious races in his division. He is a hard knocker, and I would not be opposed to him taking the trophy. However,
Acclamation has three grade one wins, one being in the Pacific Classic. Five consecutive stakes, three of which were grade ones, gives him the edge here.

On the human awards, the only ones I’m overly sure on are the trainer and jockey. Top Trainer for me is Bob Baffert. He trained two big Classic horses earlier this year in First Dude and Game on Dude, a sprinter in The Factor, and did a heck of a training job with Plum Pretty, readying her for the Kentucky Oaks. He simply dominated from start  to finish. For top Jockey I’m taking Johnny V. He was on the Derby favorite, who got scratched just before the race, hops on an unknown in Animal Kingdom, and guides him to Derby glory and a Preakness place. In addition he also took two races during the Breeders Cup, both on Ladies Day. First with Stephanie’s Kitten, in the Juvenile Fillies Turf, then with a bomber by the name of Perfect Shirl in the Filly and Mare Turf.

Horse of the Year

No horse particularly shined this year, and there are several horses that could have cases made in their favor. Cape Blanco and Acclamation, both dominated, and Acclamation is nominated for two divisions. Game on Dude danced every dance winning two grade ones, placing in two others. However, the one horse that dazzled repeatedly, and took things to a whole new level on several occasions was Havre de Grace. She was dominant in her own division, but her win in the Woodward is what pushes her over the top. 

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Older Comments about Dead Heat Debates' Eclipse Award Selections...

Gotta be Hansen. Only three races, yes....but dominant in all three and that's counting Breeders Cup. Union Rags closed, but Hansen led the entire way! derbydeals.com
sorry, meant to say Amazombie only has three graded stakes wins.
I think both have a good body of work. Both have five stakes wins, however four of Caleb's are graded while only four of Amazombie's are graded.
Objectively written. Nice point made on ST vs AK although I believe AK to be the better horse ST did do it on the track .
@Dead Heat. Believe you have the right angle Re: Hansen v UR. Any questions were decided on the track and with regard to their seasons, the Saratoga Special, while graded, has not been a race providing a winner of importance since 1997. Certainly, nothing comprable to prior Kentucky Cup Juvenile winners Point Given and Vindication.
With regard to #YO male, to win a classic award like the Eclipse you should at least be considered of sufficient quality to contest the classic races and the Kentucky derby will always be the biggest race in America.. Trying to claim a minor league derby at B and C tracks in Iowa, Ohio and Indiana and getting soundly defeated in Iowa and Indiana is hardly champion material. Also he was previously smacked around by ArchX3 and The Factor in Arkansas. As I see it his claim to fame is the BC Mile and he is in reality just a late running sprinter who only defeated one of the major contenders (Shackelford) and the win only evened their head to head record. He is a major cut below AK, Shack and Stay Thirsty ROI.
I agree with most of your selections, but I would give Amazombie champion sprinter. He successfully campaigned all year at sprint distances & won the biggest sprint race their is. I understand that Caleb's Posse beat Uncle Mo and took the dirt mile, but he doesn't have the body of work of Amazombie.
Dubby, I didn't spin anything, and honestly, you like to look at competition and not grade, there was no way those races you hold in higher esteem were grade one based on field. Gio off form, Deans Kitten never won a single race this year. Mission Approved has no wins of consequence this year, Grassy? really? The fields both horses faced were fairly similar in competition. CB did the travel, that is not a spin, and as I said I really wouldn't mind him getting an the award, I happen to like the 5 consecutive better, with four on turf. The rest of your post in reguards to him is a one sided rant. Older Male, he won three grade ones for older males, that is not a spin, that is a fact. Two were on turf, one on synthetic. Game on he beat easily that day and he also tied the track record i believe. Both horses you mention have less grade ones than him. Hansen won the head to head. As I have said in the past if it is a flukey win in the head to head, I go with the entire season. If the horses never met i go with the season. However, Hanse was not a fluke and he won. He has a grade one win and a stakes win now, thats not a fluke. He gets it based on that. Again, nothing is a spin. What i have on here is fact, be blind to that if you wish.
Agreed with Mike on AK...It is very difficult to win the Kentucky Derby. Caleb's Posse didn't even show up for that....
From what I remember in the past the Man O’ War, Arlington Million and Joe Hirsch would be more important than running in the Eddie Read, Charles Whittingham and Hirsch Turf, I guess that has changed to accomodate Acclamation, whom I believe will not win even 1 eclipse award. Its also important to remember the 5th place finish in the Frank Kilroe when Acclamation was bested by Times Gone By, who recently lost and ran 3rd in an Allowance Optional Claimer at Hollywood Park. Fortunately everyone has opinions and when or if a horse or horses happen to be you favorite I guess you can find a way to spin how a horse traveling 4000 miles to Chicago to run in the top American Turf race compared to a horse that traveled the 133 miles from Del Mar to Hollywood to Arcadia, I guess Cape Blanco should have skipped the Arlington Million and came out to Cali to run in the much less important Cali races to "Prove himself" against Falcon Rock. Seems a bit confusing to be torn between a horse with 3 Grade 1 wins in the top turf races in America compared to a horse that ran in races that were contested by horses that are currently running in Optional Claimers. But what’s even more confusing is Acclamation for Older male with 1 win off the turf in the Pac Classic, top older male would to go Game on Dude easy, with Tizway 2nd and honestly Flat Out should have been the third nominee. His downfall being running 5th and last in races this year against mediocre company. The Juvi award may well go to Hansen off of the BC victory but it was my assumption that the BC crowned its champion while the eclipse is an indication of the full year. I guess the thought process would be a nose victory in the BC with a msw and a 100k ungraded stakes would trump Union Rags who was running in a msw, the Grade 2 Saratoga Special and G1 Champagne. The full balance of the year easily gives indication that Union Rags should win the award, but apparently just as with the Jim Murray being more important than the Arlington Million, the Breeders Cup Juvi is basically the only gauge by which you crown a juvi champion, no reason to consider the Grade 2 and Grade 1 that the other horse won, Hard to understand certain reasoning, but I guess if you like a certain horse its easy to make up and spin things in that horse’s favor. Hard to tout Hansen over UR when looking at the year, and there is no plausible way you can even being to try to spin Acclamation over Cape Blanco. Im just saying.
Usually in these debates the phrase "Body of Work" comes up somewhere, some people thank the eclipse winner should be the best horse, others think the winner is the horse with the best "Body of Work". But if you are a "Body of Work" voter doesn't that include losses as well as victories? Caleb's Posse lost 5 times including a 12th place in the Arkansas Derby and Stay Thirsty finished 12th in the Derby and 11th in the Breeders Cup Classic. I believe Animal Kingdom was the best 3 year old to race last year and could say he even had the best body of work as well.
I don't think Acclamation is worthy of two Awards. He and Cape Blanco split Older Male and Turf Eclipses! For me the toughest pick was for Turf Female!
zx, you made it east and west when you said "did Acclamation even leave Cali." That is why I responded with, I don't take points off there, since Cali is West Coast Racing. If a horse runs in the top races that are there for them, I don't take points. Footlick, I don't doubt that the shipping takes a toll, and honestly, I'm not going to be horrified if CB wins, I just happen to like Acclamation for the award better. Steve, then why is it reffered to by many as an elongated "sprint." If it is not a route, and is not going to be considered one then it's a sprint until given it's own division or made to be respected as a route. Amazombie is an Older male, so honestly, that point is moot. It is not like he is up agaist it when going against his own division. A 3yr old taking on old, since they are rising, carries much more weight, since they step up and out of their 3yr old division. The Ancient Title field was weak, and The Factor, in the mile was crushed by Caleb, i'll repeat that, he was crushed. He didn't fire in the AC, and unlike CB is not unbeaten around one turn. There is no plausible way you can say he deserves it over CP, since his win over CP came in a route. CP dominated the, two "reguar" sprints, then dominated at CD. Amazombie does have a shot to beat him, however, before the AT, there were a lot of ppl who called that field weak outside TF, and he did not fire. Amazombie did back it up with his Sprint win. Prior to that his best claim to fame was a in a Grade two.
Nice breakdown, Dead Heat. And an interesting debate about shipping from Europe. I do believe that shipping once here is easier, shipping three times across the Atlantic will take it's toll, which is why you do not see many horses doing it. Either horse is fine to me, but I believe Cape Blanco had a little more to overcome. I like Acclimation for older male, as I can't count his Pac Classic for the Turf award and I believe it was his strongest performance. Stay Thirsty should have been in the running for 3 yr old title. Sprint title is a toss up really. Purists will like Amazombie, but remember Precisionist won the Sprint title with one sprint race, if I remember correctly, albeit the BC Sprint. Also, just a side note, My Miss Aurelia is the highest weighted two year old in the world according to Timeform. Interesting. Quite an accolade for an American two year old filly. Thanks Dead Heat for the breakdown.
A mile is not a sprint, it has never been considered a sprint and shouldn't be regarded as a sprint. Amazombie won the Breeders Cup SPRINT! He is your Champion Sprinter. Even The Factor is a more deserving Sprint Champion than Caleb's Posse. Amazombie beat older horses in sprints twice. Caleb's Posse did that once, and that's only if a mile is a sprint. He's a deserving champion 3 year old though.
What I was trying to emphasize on my original comment was that it shouldn't be about east coast/ west coast, since one horse travel to another Continent and the other stay in his home state.
I did not debate size vs distance. I am saying that I don't take away points based on just racing in Cali because it takes up so much of the west Coast. I'm also not debating the travel, and you would know that if you read everything. You implied that CB did not have an east coast campaign. He did. The travel is a lot on a horse, however, it is much harder for a Euro to ship from Europe to the EC than from Europe to the WC. I'm not discrediting CB, however, when you implied he did not have an EC season, I had to correct. Chicago is on the easter side of the US, and NY an east coast state, therefore EC campaign
DeadHeat, I understand that he ran two race in NY and one in the midwest. Are you seriously going to debate the size of Cali vs the distance from Europe to Easter Part of the US? Why don't you find out the distance from Cali to Chicago and Europe to Chicago...You tell me which horse would have a more difficult trip?
Neville an apparent distaste for the track is an excuse. Thirsty has never run well at CD in any of his now three starts. Also, he had a disasterous final prep. If you ask me he had plent of excuses to lose going into a race he was probably not even close to fit enough for and over a track he did not like. AK, while running injured, one would not know it for that move he made showed no signs of laboring. He simply flattened out. If one wanted to say the break and he had too much ground I would understand.
Animal Kingdom did not win outside of KY and Stay Thirsty did not win outside of NY. I think the difference in the media support lies in the head-to-head matchups. AK beat ST in the Derby by nearly 12 lengths while ST had no apparent excuses, but finished behind ST in the Belmont with a huge excuse, ie. running injured.

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Meet Laura Pugh

Laura Pugh got her first taste of Thoroughbred Racing when she watched War Emblem take the Kentucky Derby and Preakness Stakes in 2001. After that point, she fell in love with the sport, reading every piece of news and information she could get her fingertips on.

Laura has a long history with horses in general, taking her first ride on her fifth birthday, with her first official riding lesson when she was eight years old. Both years she attended college she joined her school’s equestrian team, first at the now closed Virginia Intermont College, then again at Delaware State University. Unfortunately, after back and shoulder injuries, she had to hang up her saddle. 

In 2010 Laura came to Horse Racing Nation, but soon branched out to other media outlets, such as Lady and the Track, TwinSpires.com, and USRacing. She currently works at a local newspaper as a community reporter, while making a return to Horse Racing Nation, where she will once again feature her opinionated columns on the latest in horse racing. 

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