In a little over a month, on Thursday, Jan. 24, the 2018 Eclipse Awards winners will be announced. On an evening which always celebrates the best in American racing, there is usually a touch of drama thrown in to spice things up. This year, the outcome everyone will be waiting for is the big one. Will the Horse of the Year be Justify or Accelerate?
The following would not necessarily all be my picks to win, but rather who I expect to take home the awards:
Champion Two-Year-Old Colt – Game Winner
This one is a real no-brainer. Although his stablemate Improbable stole some of the Kentucky Derby buzz in recent weeks, the undefeated son of Candy Ride cemented a championship with a decisive victory in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile. The Bob Baffert trainee also already sports two additional Grade 1 victories on his racing record. He wins in a landslide.
Champion Two-Year-Old Filly – Jaywalk
For the fourth time in recent years, you could make a strong case for the turf filly to win this award, but if Winter Memories, Lady Eli and Rushing Fall couldn't do it, I don't think Newspaperofrecord will either. After losing in her debut, Jaywalk rattled off four straight for Cash is King. It was in her last two, though, when she likely won a championship, as the daughter of Cross Traffic romped home in the Grade 1 Frizette and the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies.
Champion Three-Year-Old Male – Justify
Well, there's not much left to be said in this race, other than if it is not unanimous, someone needs to lose their voting privileges. In a racing career that lasted fewer than four months, the son of Scat Daddy took on all challengers and conquered them all, including the longstanding Curse of Apollo. No other horse has ever retired as an undefeated Triple Crown winner. The winner of four consecutive Grade 1 races is your champion.
Champion Three-Year-Old Filly – Monomoy Girl
Another slam dunk. All she does is win. In fact, if not for a controversial decision by the stewards, the Brad Cox-trained filly would be a perfect 7-for-7 in 2018, with the last six coming in Grade 1 company. The only thing the Kentucky Oaks winner hadn't done was beat older mares, and she took care of that in her final race of the year, with a popular victory in the Breeders' Cup Distaff. I'm already looking forward to seeing her return in 2019.
Champion Older Dirt Male – Accelerate
There's no drama here, either. Much like Monomoy Girl, this veteran runner put together a whale of a season. He was the best in the division all year long, or at least as soon as the retirement of Gun Runner was made official. He won all five Grade 1 races in which he was entered, just missed a perfect season, and dominated the biggest races in California in style. Best of all, the son of Lookin At Lucky left his home state and got the job done in done in the Breeders' Cup Classic at Churchill Downs.
Champion Older Dirt Female – Unique Bella
Here, there's finally a division in question, or is it? Elate was injured after only two races, and Abel Tasman threw in a pair of absolute clunkers to finish out her season. It all leaves this Jerry Hollendorfer-trained mare on the verge of her second Eclipse Award. She was upset once, when she finished second in the Apple Blossom, but she was much the best in her other three races, including a pair of Grade 1 wins. Her season was short and her competition lacking, but she was best of this division.
Champion Sprinter – Roy H
He did it again. In 2017, he came from seemingly nowhere to become unquestionably the best sprinter in the land. This year, with much more expected, he had a few stumbles along the way, but he once again came up huge on the big stage for trainer Peter Miller. An early season victory, combined with a Grade 1 score before the Breeders' Cup Sprint, gave him an opportunity for a second straight Eclipse Award, and a decisive win over Whitmore cemented the deal. The good news is he'll be back for more in 2019.
Champion Female Sprinter – Marley's Freedom
Yes, she lost the Breeders' Cup, but keep in mind that she had a tough trip and was only beaten a length. I'm sure many voters will go with the winner of that race, Shamrock Rose, but in comparing the two resumes, it's easy to like Marley's Freedom. She won two graded stakes races in both California and New York, and won five of her last six races. In the end, I think her most recent victory, coming out of the Breeders' Cup to win the Go For Wand, will be enough to tip the scales in her favor.
Champion Male Turf Horse – Glorious Empire
Speaking of what have you done for me lately, I believe this weekend's big win against a solid field in the Grade 2 Fort Lauderdale will push this 7-year-old gelding over the top. Add in his victory in the Grade 1 Sword Dancer and a dead-heat win in the Bowling Green, and his credentials look quite strong in this terribly weak division. A strong case can be made for the turf sprinter, Stormy Liberal, but a majority of voters could prefer a two-turn winner of this award.
Champion Female Turf Horse - Sistercharlie
This one may come as a surprise, as there can be no doubt that the best turf horse to run in America this year was the Breeders' Cup Turf winner Enable. But in this case, I believe a season will win out over a single race. Sistercharlie was the model of consistency in 2018. A Breeders' Cup winner herself, the Chad Brown charge won all of the four Grade 1 races in which she ran, which came at four different racetracks, by the way. Her only defeat of the season came narrowly, and to a strong rival.
Horse of the Year – Justify
While Accelerate raced against better competition, and did it all year long, I believe the magnificent 3 1/2-month run of the 3-year-old champion will prevail. The singular accomplishment of the Triple Crown is far and away the most prestigious in American racing. There is also something to be said for a perfect record, and perhaps most importantly in this particular vote, the industry wants the Triple Crown winner to get the award. I predict Justify will be our Horse of the Year.