By Alan Carasso
Listen, I am not the smartest guy in the world. I don’t pretend to believe that my opinions are always correct. These aren’t sour grapes. But this year’s Eclipse results were among the most disturbing and unbelievable outcomes that I can remember in the handful of years that I’ve had the honor of casting a ballot.
First of all, to the eight percent of voters from the various blocs who did not return their ballots, shame on you. Presumably, there were some extenuating circumstances, but if I represented one of the voting blocs, I’d make sure I found out just why.
Let’s start with the night’s slam dunks. Havre de Grace was a deserving Horse of the Year and champion older mare, and Thoroughbred racing is thrilled to have its queen back for a 5-year-old campaign. The juvenile divisions were formful (though who thought Stephanie’s Kitten over My Miss Aurelia made sense?), and the fact that Royal Delta was not a unanimous selection for 3-year-old filly is nothing short of embarrassing, with no disrespect to Awesome Feather and Kentucky Oaks winner Plum Pretty. The turf divisions went the direction of deserving favorites, and among the human categories, kudos to the voters who gave the nod to Bill Mott, who was quick to credit his sweep of both Breeders’ Cup Classics as the key to his victory.
Now, the grayer areas. Let me preface this by saying I am a fan of Thoroughbreds and I appreciate a top performance as much as the next guy. But the results from remaining divisions were puzzling, at a minimum. I’ll begin with the least objectionable of the remainder--the 3-year-old colts. By virtue of his win in the Kentucky Derby, Animal Kingdom became just the fourth winner of that race to earn a championship in the last 10 years, and he narrowly outpointed the luckless Caleb’s Posse. The latter was clearly the best sprinter of his age group (and arguably the best sprinter, period), and this voter–and 110 of my colleagues–thought he’d earned the award with wins in the GI King’s Bishop S. and GI Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile, earning figures in each of those events far superior to Animal Kingdom’s Derby. But, you know what? I can live with that result.
It was a good night for California and Cal-breds Monday. In hindsight, I probably didn’t give Amazombie the credit he deserved for his 2011 campaign, but I still voted for Caleb’s Posse, and I almost wish they’d gone in the Sprint with him to settle this one on the track. The fact that Amazombie won is less surprising to me than the margin of victory. As an aside, I declared that Regally Ready would win the Turf Sprint when he won down the hill at Santa Anita last winter, but was he a better or more talented sprinter than Jackson Bend, who didn’t even get a spot on the ballot? Um, no. I’ll get to the other Cal-bred at the back end of this.
In preparing to interview Adam Lazarus for a TDN Take Two piece back in October, I reviewed Musical Romance’s record and was struck by her consistency, if not her brilliance. Looking ahead, I thought if you could get past Turbulent Descent in the F/M Sprint, anyone else could win it and why not her? So, when Adam said it was going to take a Powerball jackpot to motivate him to supplement her, I was seriously bummed. Then, when trainer Bill Kaplan posted on his website that they reasoned the F/M Sprint was a chance of a lifetime, I told almost everyone I knew to bet her. Apparently, I don’t know all that many people, because she was 20-1 on the big day and I cashed a nice ticket (thanks, Steve D.!). Now, I am thrilled on a personal level for Adam, more than I can say in words. That Musical Romance not only won the Eclipse, but swamped arguably more accomplished rivals was, to me, the night’s biggest surprise and upset. That said, heartfelt congratulations to Adam!
And now to Acclamation, who not only won older male but was closest to Havre de Grace in HOY balloting. Wow. What can I say? This blows me away. I love a good turf horse, and his relentless running style led to five wins from seven starts, including the GI Pacific Classic. A great season? No doubt about it. A championship campaign? Can’t see how. In his one trip beyond the borders of California, Acclamation was 10th of 10 in the GIII Charles Town Classic. I’d have gone for Game on Dude, who was one game dude all season long, ahead of Acclamation, but I voted for Tizway. Frankly, I’d have included Tizway in the slam dunk category going in. OK, he was down the field in West Virginia as well, but he returned to run a monster race in the GI Met Mile and silenced his critics by seeing out the nine furlongs of the GI Whitney H. Both races earned Beyers north of 110. Acclamation didn’t run anything close to that. Tizway missed the Jockey Club Gold Cup and was training extremely well for the Breeders’ Cup Classic when he suffered a career-ending injury. The emotional toll it exacted on owner William Clifton and trainer Jim Bond was palpable in phone conversations with each the day of the injury.
But this isn’t about tears or sentiment or voting with one’s heart. I voted for the fastest horse in training in 2011, whose season was cut short. In the end, I couldn’t take that away from him. Criminal Type and In Excess (Ire) completed the Met Mile/Whitney double in consecutive years in 1990 and 1991, but it hadn’t been done since, and for that, I felt he deserved top billing. He, in fact, got my vote for Horse of the Year.
Eclipse Award voting can be a very personal exercise, with a wide range of opinions. Here’s hoping it’s never this confusing or disappointing again.