The female sprint Eclipse vote is a complicated one.
At first glance, one might think that Goodnight Olive, the Breeders' Cup Filly & Mare Sprint winner, deserves the Eclipse Award for the division. But as an Eclipse voter, your duty entails diving deeper into each candidate's resume. This involves examining the entire season rather than focusing solely on one weekend in November as is often done lazily by many.
Even though Echo Zulu didn't participate in the Breeders' Cup Filly & Mare Sprint, she will still receive my vote as the nation's top female sprinter. Disagree? Let's explore the division rankings before I present Echo Zulu's case.
Older dirt males
1. White Abarrio. This guy proved me wrong, making my previous thoughts on him look foolish. A facile win in the Breeders' Cup Classic moves him to the top here. Despite a somewhat sparse resume, he was the best older male to run around two turns in 2023. It will be a close vote in this division, but he will get mine as the Eclipse winner in this division. Will return in 2024 with his next start likely the Pegasus World Cup Invitational (G1).
2. Cody's Wish. Sentimental story of the Breeders' Cup, this guy prevailed in the Breeders' Cup Dirt Mile. If we set aside the personal stories and emotion and just talk facts, the field he beat in the Dirt Mile was the weakest since that race's inception. He split his two meetings with White Abarrio and falls to No. 2 based on strength of schedule.
3. Proxy. Closed to pick up the show spot in the Breeders' Cup Classic, this guy had two graded-stakes wins from six starts this year before that effort.
4. Zandon. Simply didn't fire in the Breeders' Cup Classic, finishing ninth. That came after he got his first win of the season in the Woodward (G2) as he closed to win going away. Before that he finished runner-up three times in graded stakes, the last two being the Met Mile (G1) and the Whitney (G1).
5. Bright Future. The winner of the Jockey Club Gold Cup (G1) for his first stakes win, he finished sixth in the Breeders' Cup Classic.
Next 5: Slow Down Andy, Defunded, Señor Buscador, Smile Happy, Skippylongstocking
Older dirt females
1. Idiomatic. Gutsy winner of the Breeders' Cup Distaff, this gal will win the Eclipse in this division and perhaps get some horse of the year votes. Finished 8-for-9 on the season, a tally that includes three Grade 1 wins.
2. Clairiere. Another tough-luck defeat in the Breeders' Cup Distaff as she had traffic trouble in the stretch. Clairiere has shown up for all of the big events this division had to offer this year, winning two Grade 1 races.
3. Adare Manor. Was simply not good enough in the Breeders' Cup Distaff, finishing seventh but beaten by only three lengths. Dominated her division in California previous to the Breeders' Cup, winning five of six races.
4. Search Results. Beaten less than three lengths in the Breeders' Cup Distaff when finishing sixth. Got her first win of the year in the Locust Grove (G3) at Churchill Downs before the Breeders' Cup. Grade 1-placed two times earlier this year.
5. Secret Oath. The winner of the Azeri (G2) earlier this season, she has been runner-up in three Grade 1 events in 2023, including the Personal Ensign last out. Was retired because of injury.
Next 5: Le Da Vida, Nest, Played Hard, Fun to Dream, A Mo Reay
1. Arcangelo. He was super impressive in the Travers (G1), defeating a quality field. Validating his Belmont win was critical, and he did that and more. Missed the Breeders' Cup Classic and is now retired.
2. Arabian Knight. Finished a good fourth in the Breeders' Cup Classic, beaten 2 1/2 lengths. Was all heart in winning the Pacific Classic (G1) over older horses and fellow 3-year-olds before the Breeders' Cup Classic.
3. Geaux Rocket Ride. Was narrowly defeated in the Pacific Classic, but he lost nothing in defeat. The Haskell (G1) winner was recently seriously injured and had to be euthanized. A tragic end, but this guy won't be forgotten by his connections or thousands of fans like myself.
4. Forte. Disappointed in the Travers, finishing fourth and beaten by eight lengths. No way to spin the loss, no excuses. Recently retired and missed the Breeders' Cup.
5. Mage. Finished last in the Travers, but he gets a mulligan off of that effort considering what he did before. Missed the Breeders' Cup Classic but will stay in training to run at age 4. Could start next in the Pegasus World Cup in January at Gulfstream.
Next 5: Angel of Empire, National Treasure, Derma Sotogake, Disarm, Practical Move
1. Pretty Mischievous. She nearly caught the loose-on-the-lead winner of the Cotillion (G1), Ceiling Crusher, but had to settle for the runner-up spot. She didn't lose much luster and has this Eclipse sewn up, in my opinion. She won the Acorn (G1) and the Kentucky Oaks (G1). Scratched from the Breeders' Cup Distaff.
2. Randomized. Runner-up in the Breeders' Cup Distaff, this gal came on late at the end of the season. Scored in the Beldame (G2) over older for her second graded-stakes win before the Distaff, and during the summer she won the Alabama (G1).
3. Wet Paint. Simply didn't fire in the Breeders' Cup Distaff, finishing eighth. Won the Coaching Club American Oaks (G1) earlier this season and was runner-up in the Alabama (G1).
4. Ceiling Crusher. Won the Cotillion last out, securing her first Grade 1 win. Before the Cotillion she won the Torrey Pines (G3) at Del Mar. She did not target the Breeders' Cup.
5. Defining Purpose. Off the board in the Cotillion last out but did win the Ashland (G1) and Indiana Oaks (G3) earlier this season and was third in the Alabama (G1).
Next 5: Occult, Faiza, Hoosier Philly, Dorth Vader, Vahva
1. Up to the Mark. Really ran well in the Breeders' Cup Turf, nearly winning but settling for a close second. Will win the Eclipse in this division on the basis of that effort and his three previous Grade 1 wins this season.
2. Master of the Seas. The winner of the Breeders' Cup Mile started three times in North America this season and ran great in all of them. He was runner-up to Up to the Mark in the Turf Mile (G1) at Keeneland and before that he scored a win in the Woodbine Mile (G1).
3. Casa Creed. Beaten by only a half-length in the Breeders' Cup Mile, this guy was never off the board this season, going 2-for-5 with one Grade 1 win.
4. Bolshoi Ballet. Ran them off their feet in the Sword Dancer (G1) last time out, and that alone bumps him this high, considering the state of this division. Before the Sword Dancer he was winless in four starts overseas. He was scratched out of the Breeders' Cup Turf.
5. Exaulted. He was a tough-luck runner-up last out in the Del Mar Mile (G2), but before that he was 4-for-4 since being moved to grass from dirt. Won the Shoemaker Mile (G1) earlier this season but missed the Breeders' Cup.
Next 5: Gold Phoenix, Hong Kong Harry, Nation's Pride, Set Piece, Annapolis
1. In Italian. Despite her late-season woes, this gal will get my vote as the Eclipse winner of this division. She has two Grade 1 wins on the season and still has a resume worth keeping her at the top, and no other did enough to knock her off this top spot. Was off the board last time out in the Breeders' Cup Filly & Mare Turf.
2. War Like Goddess. Overmatched in the Breeders' Cup Turf, finishing seventh. Previous to the Breeders' Cup she scored a big win over the males, winning the Joe Hirsch (G1) for the second year in a row.
3. Moira. She only won one time this season but she was very good in all of her starts. Last out she finished third in the Breeders' Cup Filly & Mare Turf. She finished in the money in stakes in all six of her starts this season.
4. Gina Romantica. She made only four starts this season but scored a big win in the First Lady (G1) and then finished a very good fourth last out in the Breeders' Cup Mile.
5. Whitebeam. Didn't fire when off the board in the First Lady (G1). Previously she upset In Italian in the Diana for her first Grade 1 win and second graded-stakes victory overall. Before the Diana she won the Gallorette (G3) on Preakness day at Pimlico. Was flattered by Fev Rover's Beverly D. (G1) win as that one finished third in the Diana.
Next 5: Fev Rover, Mawj, Caravel, Closing Remarks, With the Moonlight
1. Elite Power. Not only will this guy win the Eclipse in this division, he will get votes in the older dirt male category and horse of the year. Was outstanding in the Breeders' Cup Sprint, running the fastest race of the year by any male at any distance in his win. One of the better sprinters we have seen run in the last couple of decades. Had he won the Forego (G1) in August, he would be horse of the year.
2. Cody's Wish. He has one Grade 1 sprint race win this year, the Churchill Downs (G1), and after his loss in the Whitney he rebounded with a win in the Vosburgh (G2). Won the Breeders' Cup Dirt Mile (G1) last out.
3. Gunite. Second best to Elite Power again, this time in the Breeders' Cup Sprint. Finished behind his rival several times this season but did give him his only loss in 2023, the Forego at Saratoga.
4. The Chosen Vron. He won the Bing Crosby (G1) last out for his eighth straight win, and the previous seven wins all were listed stakes. This California-bred gelding loves sprinting and belongs here. Finished fifth in the Breeders' Cup Sprint.
5. Anarchist. He won the Pat O'Brien (G2) after previously finishing runner-up to The Chosen Vron in the Bing Crosby. This guy has put together a good record this year, running eight times and never finishing worse than second. Has two graded-stakes wins in 2023.
Next 5: Speed Boat Beach, Dr. Schivel, Nakatomi, Sibelius, Repo Rocks
1. Echo Zulu. Her career-ending injury was a devastating blow to racing and the Breeders' Cup. Now we all hope and pray for a successful recovery. I believe she was the best female sprinter we have seen in over 20 years. She was clearly the fastest speed-figure wise, and she dominated last year's Eclipse winner, Goodnight Olive, in the Ballerina (G1) last out. She was the best female sprinter this season.
2. Goodnight Olive. Ran a powerful race in the Breeders' Cup Filly & Mare Sprint to win for the second year in a row. Before the Breeders' Cup, she ran her race in the Ballerina but faced a monster in Echo Zulu. The Eclipse winner from last season started her season with a win in the Madison (G1) at Keeneland. Despite her season, Echo Zulu was clearly the best in this division.
3. Society. Finished fourth in the Breeders' Cup Filly & Mare Sprint and finished the season with a 2-for-5 record that included one graded-stakes win.
4. Yuugiri. Came on late in the season, winning the Thoroughbred Club of America Stakes (G2) and then finishing runner-up in the Breeders' Cup Filly & Mare Sprint.
5. Matareya. This filly won the Derby City Distaff (G1) four starts back, defeating Goodnight Olive. Two starts back she finished third in the Ballerina, but she finished her season with an eighth-place finish in the Breeders' Cup Filly & Mare Sprint.
Next 5: Wicked Halo, Three Witches, Frank's Rockette, Fun to Dream, Sterling Silver
1. Fierceness. Rebounded from an abysmal Champagne (G1) where he was seventh to overpower the Breeders' Cup Juvenile field by more than six lengths.
2. Muth. Second best in the Breeders' Cup, he looks to be the best in the west right now heading into 2024. Ran in the American Pharoah (G1) before the Breeders' Cup and scored a nice win. 3. Locked. Closed well in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile to be third and looks to have a very bright future. Won the Breeders' Futurity (G1) earlier in the season and now will prepare for a 3-year-old campaign.
4. Timberlake. The beaten favorite in the Hopeful (G1), he finished runner-up to Nutella Fella. Scored a nice win the Champagne at Belmont in the slop and last time out in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile he ran an even fourth.
5. Prince of Monaco. The winner of the Del Mar Futurity (G3) could do no better than fifth in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile. Finished the season 3-for-4.
Next 5: Nutella Fella, Mirahmadi, The Wine Steward, West Saratoga, Gold Sweep
1. Just F Y I. Looked very good winning the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies and in the process, earning an Eclipse in this division. The Frizette (G1) winner is unbeaten in three career starts.
2. Tamara. Disappointed as favorite in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies but was found afterward to have a cracked splint bone. This daughter of Beholder won the Del Mar Debutante (G1) rather easily in her start before the Breeders' Cup, but also no doubt gets a bump in her reputation because of her pedigree.
3. Candied. Won the Alcibiades (G1) in just her second start, defeating Brightwork, among others. Finished third in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies.
4. Hard to Justify. 3-for-3 on the grass and defeated all comers in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies Turf (G1).
5. Ways and Means. The heavy favorite in the Spinaway (G1) after winning her maiden race impressively, she was defeated by Brightwork. Finished with racing this season because of a chipped ankle.
Next 5: Brightwork, Chatalas, V V's Dream, Jody's Pride, Here U Come Again
Female sprint dilemma
This year's Eclipse vote for the female sprint category presents a dilemma unlike any I've encountered in quite some time.
On one side, there's the defending Eclipse winner of the division, Goodnight Olive, who has had a stellar 2023 season, with wins in three of five starts.
She kicked off her season with a win in the Madison (G1) at Keeneland in April and concluded it with another impressive victory in the Breeders' Cup Filly & Mare Sprint. Between these Grade 1 triumphs, Goodnight Olive had three other starts with mixed results. Although finishing third in the Derby City Distaff (G1) on Kentucky Derby day halted her seven-race winning streak, she quickly bounced back with a win in the Bed o' Roses (G3) at Belmont Park in June.
The Ballerina at Saratoga stands as the nation's premier sprint race for this division, rivaling the significance of the Breeders' Cup. This season was no exception, as it emerged as the race of the year for this division, featuring the top sprinters in the division.
Goodnight Olive would not be the favorite this day as that role went to Echo Zulu.
Entering 2023 with high expectations, Echo Zulu faced challenges in 2022 because of an injury that kept her sidelined for several months. Nonetheless, she made a strong comeback in September 2022 after nearly a five-month hiatus, delivering an impressive performance in a sprint stakes, the Dogwood (G3) at Churchill Downs.
Building on this success, she was tossed into the deep end of the pool, the Breeders' Cup Filly & Mare Sprint, where she showcased her talent by finishing as the runner-up to the more seasoned Goodnight Olive.
This year, Echo Zulu made two starts before the Ballerina, the Winning Colors (G3) at Churchill Downs in May and the Honorable Miss (G2) at Saratoga in July. Echo Zulu dominated both of these events, winning by a combined 13 lengths. Not only was she winning by wide margins, she was posting speed figures faster than Goodnight Olive had ever run and even faster than any male sprinter had run this season.
On Travers day, Aug. 26, it wasn't the Travers but the Ballerina that held the spotlight as the most anticipated race.
Both Goodnight Olive and Echo Zulu entered the race in peak form, and they engaged in a battle from the outset. Echo Zulu seized control early, with her rival closely tracking on the outside. Though they raced together for the majority of the event, in the stretch, it became evident that Echo Zulu had transformed into a standout sprinter, effortlessly pulling away from Goodnight Olive to secure a comfortable victory.
The proof was unmistakable. Echo Zulu stood out as the premier female sprinter in 2023, and in my view, it wasn't even close.
Look, I get it. Echo Zulu didn’t stay healthy enough for the Breeders’ Cup. And after all, part of winning Eclipse awards is staying healthy to run. However, in this specific instance, Echo Zulu, unquestionably would have dominated the Eclipse vote before the Breeders' Cup. The fact that the horse she defeated in the Ballerina went on to win the Breeders' Cup further solidified Echo Zulu's position in this division.
This is a tough one.
Although Echo Zulu had only three races compared to Goodnight Olive's five, their meeting in a late-season premier race, both performing at their peak, spoke volumes to me. Consequently, my vote goes to Echo Zulu as the champion of this division. The gap in their performance was too significant for me to overlook.
As for whether I think Echo Zulu will come out on top in the vote, I have reservations, given that many voters tend to focus on races just one weekend a year, Breeders' Cup weekend. But that's a topic for another discussion.
Therefore, my pick for the Eclipse is Echo Zulu, and I'm optimistic that fellow voters will also choose the best, not only within the division, but across all categories. Although the Breeders' Cup holds significance, it's crucial to remember that these are the Eclipse Awards, not the Breeders' Cup Awards.