Gehrke: Did Eclipse Awards voters get the champions right?

January 24, 2020 10:23am

Once the champions are announced, we're left asking the same question annually regarding the Eclipse Awards: Did the voters get them right.

It's fair to ponder, because in my experience quite often a few races go the wrong way -- whether it's lazy voting, recency bias or simply voters not considering the entirety of the racing season. It's rare not to see a glaring omission or two.

It's not just the one or two odd choices for a division champ that set many off, including me, but some of the bizarre single-digit votes that go to horses in categories where they simply don't belong. More of that existed in the 2019 voting as, surprisingly, the winners themselves brought about little disagreement from this voter.

Eclipse Awards are, by the way, voted on by the NTRA, Daily Racing Form and National Turf Writers and Broadcasters. The latter group, to which I belong, makes its ballots public.
Great Call: Bricks and Mortar wins Turf Male in unanimous fashion

All 241 who cast a vote in this division got it right. I fully expected to see a few single votes for horses who had no business getting the nod over Bricks and Mortar. If ever a horse should have swept all first place votes, it was this guy for his outstanding 2019 campaign.

Great Call: Covfefe a deserving dual Eclipse winner
It wasn't much of a surprise that Covfefe won the Female Sprint Eclipse or the Three-Year-Old Filly Eclipse. The real surprise was her wide margin of victory in the latter.

While I agree that she was an easy choice for both, I wasn't sure other voters felt the same. I was wrong. Covfefe received 189 first place votes. Her next closest rival, Guarana, received 19. 

What left me shaking my head when looking at the voting results for these two divisions was Serengeti Empress receiving a first place vote in the Female Sprint division. This is a perfect example of why every single voter should have their votes made public. 

Serengeti Empress certainly had a fine season, but in no way shape or form should she have earned even a single first-place vote there. After all, she didn't win a single sprint race. And she faced Covfefe twice in sprints and was beaten both times. Instances like these reflect badly on the voters.

Great Call: Maximum Security wins Three-Year-Old Male Eclipse in a landslide
For all the debate this division had in the final few months of the season, I didn't see this coming. Maximum Security received 217 first place votes. It was far back to Omaha Beach, who had 16 votes, while Code of Honor received the other 8 first-place votes.

After Maximum Security missed the Pennsylvania
 Derby, it appeared to some that Travers (G1) winner Code of Honor was the front runner for the Eclipse. Maximum Security, though, still held the upper hand in many voters' minds. Despite the DQ in the Kentucky Derby, that wire-to-wire performance by the son of New Year's Day still resonated with voters. It did for me. I felt he was clearly the best in his division since early May and never wavered.

His season-ending win in the Cigar Mile (G1) made it easy for those on the fence. His three Grade 1 wins were the most in his division, and with a little luck he could have been Horse of the Year.

Snubbed: Mitole for Older Dirt Male

Let me get this straight: Mitole was a Horse of the Year finalist but he doesn't win the Older Dirt Male Eclipse?

Sure, Vino Rosso won the Breeders' Cup Classic, and to some voters that's all you need to do. It was Mitole, however, who had the far better full season. This vote was close. Vino Rosso garnered 129 first-place votes to 108 for Mitole. 

Mitole won four Grade 1 races in 2019. Vino Rosso won two. Although Mitole was primarily a sprinter, he did win the Met Mile (G1) over a stellar field. His lone loss in the Vanderbilt at Saratoga was all that stood in the way of an unbeaten season and more Horse of the Year consideration.

Vino Rosso obviously won this award on the basis of his win in the Breeders' Cup Classic, but for me it wasn't enough to vote him on top in this division. The entire body of work for a season should matter, and I feel that this result was due to lazy voting and not taking the entire body of work into consideration.

Conceivably, some of the same voters who tabbed the sprinter Covfefe over routers for top Three-Year-Old Filly didn't get the memo here.

Bad Call: Mitole not a unanimous Male Sprint Eclipse winner

It appears that we had five voters who paid no attention to the Male Sprint division in 2019. Five, yes five (!) voters tabbed Maximum Security as your 2019 Male Sprint Eclipse winner. Think about that: Five people who have Eclipse voting privileges 
deemed a horse with one start in a graded stakes race around one turn, the Bold Ruler (G3), as the best sprinter in the country. Again, let's make all of these ballots public.

Good Call: Storm the Court prevails as Two-Year-Old Male Champion

I'm not knocking this guy. Several others had a shot to over take him for this award after the Breeders' Cup, but none could. It says a lot about this division that 12 horses received first place votes, the most in the history of his award. Voters continue to side with dirt horses, as Breeders' Cup Juvenile Turf hero Structor and Juvenile Turf Sprint winner Four Wheel Drive were shut out with unbeaten records.

Could have gone either way: Uni defeats Sistercharlie in the Turf Female Eclipse race

Although I disagree with the result, I understand why voters went with Uni. She received 126 first place votes, while Sistercharlie was next with 61 first place votes.

I felt Sistercharlie had the better season, winning more Grade 1 events against tougher fields. Uni won the Breeders' Cup Mile, though, and that is what many voters judge an entire season on -- the big single-race perofrmance. Sistercharlie saw a streak of six Grade 1 victories end in the Filly & Mare Turf.

Uni's defenders will say that she faced males twice. I would argue that the Breeders' Cup Mile field was well below par for that division. Sistercharlie was the defending Eclipse winner, and I didn't feel that Uni did enough to dethrone her, or that Sistercharlie did enough to have it taken away from her.

Thank you for following along all season with our Division Rankings and weekly thoughts on the Eclipse Awards. The focus will soon turn to 2020.


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Meet Chip Gehrke

Chip Gehrke has been with Horse Racing Nation since 2015 and currently serves as a Featured Writer. Based outside of Chicago, Chip can be found in the press box many weekends during the Arlington Park meet. The On The Air With Dr. Derby name originates from his local sports radio show appearances as an on-air racing expert. Now also a weekly contributor on FOX Sports radio's "The Fast Track," Chip can be heard giving his thoughts on the racing world every weekend.

In 2017, Chip was chosen to be a member of the National Turf Writers and Broadcasters Association. As a part of the NTWAB, Chip became a voter for the year-end Eclipse Awards, something he takes very seriously. Some of Chip's favorite writings from the last couple of years is the best way to get to know him, along with following him on Twitter at @doctorderby.

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