By Anthony “The Big A” Stabile
For the first installment I think it’s only fitting that we wrap up last season before looking ahead to what should be another action-packed season of Thoroughbred racing in 2014. And what better way to do that than by recapping the 43rd annual Eclipse Awards, held this past Saturday night at Gulfstream Park.
For the second consecutive year, the night belonged to Wise Dan, who made history by becoming the first horse to win three awards in consecutive years by once again being crowned Horse of the Year as well as Champion Older Horse and Turf Horse. Six for seven on the year, with all of his victories coming on the turf, Wise Dan capped off his season by defending his title in the Breeders’ Cup Mile and joins Secretariat, Forego, Affirmed, John Henry, Cigar and Curlin as the only horses to win multiple Horse of the Year titles since the inception of the awards in 1971.
As exciting as Wise Dan’s 2013 season was, perhaps his owner and breeder, Morton Fink, provided one of the more wondrous moments of the evening by stating he planned on getting on trainer Charlie Lopresti to run his gelding “long on dirt” at some point in his 2014 campaign.
The great Royal Delta completed a trifecta of her own by winning the Eclipse for Older Female for the second straight year having been named champion Three-Year-Old Filly in 2011, an award won in handy fashion this season by Beholder. Beholder snatched the award away from Princess of Sylmar, who seemingly had it locked up in September, with a tour de force performance in the Breeders’ Cup Classic over both Royal Delta and Princess of Sylmar.
Groupie Doll joined in on the repeat winners’ parade, becoming the first two time winner of the Filly and Mare Sprint award since its birth in 2007. Back-to-back wins in the Breeders’ Cup F&M Sprint all but sealed the deal as the winner of that race has won this award in all but one season. As for the boys, Points Offthebench, fatally injured in the days leading up to the Breeders’ Cup, posthumously took Sprinter honors, having won four of his five starts in 2013, over Breeders’ Cup Sprint winner Secret Circle.
She’s A Tiger was disqualified from her Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies victory but that obviously did little to dissuade Eclipse voters as she crushed elevated Juvenile Fillies winner Ria Antonia in the Two-Year-Old Fillies category. Dank parlayed her Beverly D/Breeders’ Cup F&M Turf double into an Eclipse in the Older F&M Turf category while Divine Fortune became the thirteenth Eclipse winner trained by the incomparable Jonathan Sheppard by taking Steeplechase honors.
I have little to no issue with how most of the voting went but do have something to say about two awards in particular, the first being Three-Year-Old. Your winner, Will Take Charge garnered 231 first place votes over Kentucky Derby winner Orb, who received just 15. I think it’s fair to say that those who voted for the winner focused on his second half of the year in which he won the Travers, Pennsylvania Derby and Clark against older foes and finished second by a nose in the Breeders’ Cup Classic to Mucho Macho Man.
If I’m right, those same people forgot the first half of the season that Orb put together. An allowance score, wins in the Fountain of Youth and Florida Derby as well as his pulsating Derby victory was, in my opinion, equally as impressive as the second half of Will Take Charge. And when you take into account the fact that Will Take Charge was beaten a combined 45 lengths in the three Triple Crown races, the most important in the division, and that just three quarters of a length separated them in the Travers, well that vote just has to be closer. In the past 30 years only Holy Bull, Skip Away and Tiznow have won the award having not won a Triple Crown event.
I would have also gone in a different direction in the Two-Year-Old division. As impressive as Shared Belief was last season, he raced exclusively on synthetic surfaces, a personal no-no. I feel the unfortunate retirement of Breeders’ Cup Juvenile winner New Year’s Day hurt his chances and personally would have voted for Juvenile runner-up and Champagne winner Havana.
On the human end, Todd Pletcher won his record sixth Eclipse Award for Outstanding Trainer while his go-to rider Javier Castellano nailed his first for Outstanding Jockey over comeback kid Gary Stevens and Joel Rosario. Castellano led the nation in both races won with 362 victories and set the record for earnings in a season with over $26 million. Ken and Sarah Ramsey won both the Owner and Breeders’ awards on the heels of their sire Kitten’s Joy while the Maryland based Victor Carrasco won for Outstanding Apprentice Jockey.
Hall of Fame trainer D. Wayne Lukas was presented with the Eclipse Award of Merit by his most accomplished pupil in Pletcher. Gary Stevens accepted the Moment of the Year honor on behalf of the connections of Mucho Macho Man, who looked super winning the Florida Sunshine Millions Classic at Gulfstream on Saturday afternoon, for his Classic score, the Thoroughbred Aftercare Alliance received the Special Eclipse for all they do for our equine stars once their racing careers are over and Jim Benes was crowned DRF/NTRA Handicapper of the Year.
Finally, in the Media categories, two Daily Racing Form scribes won Eclipse Awards as Marty McGee won the Feature/Commentary award while Marcus Hersh grabbed top honors in the News/Enterprise category. The New York Times won for Audio/Multi-Media Internet, NBC Sports took the Television – Live Racing Programming award for the tenth time, HRTV won for Television – Features and Jamie Radosevich-Hernandez won for Photography.
Next week, we’ll take our first steps on the 2014 Triple Crown Trail!!! See you then!!
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