It’s the 50th anniversary of the Eclipse Awards. To celebrate, Brisnet staff and contributors have delved into the history of the past five decades of champions and come up with individual thoughts on the best, and not so best, among most of the equine divisions since 1971.
I will tackle the champion 3-year-old filly division, ranking the top 10 and bottom 10 campaigns.
1. RACHEL ALEXANDRA (2009)
It was a season for the ages. Rachel Alexandra nearly brought down the rafters at Saratoga with her gutsy head victory in the Woodward (G1), capping an 8-for-8 year in which she defeated males three times. The Medaglia d’Oro filly probably would have won the Kentucky Derby, which was upset by Mine That Bird, but her original owner didn’t believe in running females against males. Following a sensational 20 1/4-length win in the Kentucky Oaks (G1), Rachel Alexandra was purchased by Jess Jackson and transferred to Steve Asmussen, and she came back to win the Preakness (G1) two weeks later. Calvin Borel opted off the Derby winner to ride her. The Kentucky-bred bay romped by 19 1/4 lengths in the Mother Goose (G1), and she crushed eventual champion 3-year-old male Summer Bird by six easy lengths in the Haskell (G1). Stephen Foster (G1) victor Macho Again and Whitney (G1) winner Bullsbay couldn’t get past the speedy dynamo in the Woodward, finishing second and third, and Rachel Alexandra was named Horse of the Year. She reached new heights for a 3-year-old filly.
2. RUFFIAN (1975)
A towering presence, Ruffian displayed incredible brilliance at age 2 before a hairline fracture sent her to the sidelines in September. The powerful front-runner captivated the racing world with her exploits as a 3-year-old, sweeping through New York’s Triple Tiara (Acorn, Mother Goose and Coaching Club American Oaks) with breathtaking authority. There was no point running her against females anymore – she was so much superior to the competition – and the sleek dark bay took on Kentucky Derby winner Foolish Pleasure in a July 6 match race at Belmont Park. After dueling through hot fractions, Ruffian broke down on the backstretch. Surgeons tried to save the hot-blooded filly, but Ruffian ruined their work by thrashing around when she regained consciousness. Owner/breeder Stuart Janney Jr. had no choice but to end her suffering. Trained by Frank Whitely Jr., Ruffian left us too soon, and there will never be another like her.
3. GO FOR WAND (1990)
Whether it was 7-furlongs in the Test (G1), or 1 1/4 miles in the Alabama (G1) nine days later, Go for Wand was special at any distance. And so exciting. Along with the Test and Alabama, the Christiana Stables homebred captured the Beldame (G1), Maskette (G1), Mother Goose, and Ashland (G1) with the greatest of ease. She had an aura surrounding her. The Bill Badgett Jr. trainee didn’t like a drying-out muddy track in the Kentucky Oaks, finishing second at 3-10 odds, and the Deputy Minister filly tragically broke down when leading in the stretch of the Breeders’ Cup Distaff. Go for Wand is buried in the infield at Saratoga.
4. DAVONA DALE (1979)
After dropping her first two outings, Davona Dale reeled off eight straight stakes wins in Calumet Farm silks. The Hall of Famer is the only filly to sweep the National Triple Tiara (Kentucky Oaks, Black-Eyed Susan, and Acorn by a combined 20 1/4 lengths) and New York Triple Tiara (Acorn, Mother Goose, and Coaching Club American Oaks by a combined 16 3/4 lengths). By Best Turn, Davona Dale raced only once more after a fourth in the Travers (G1), but she dominated during the spring and summer, easily winning six premier graded stakes for John Veitch.
5. SERENA’S SONG (1995)
Thriving over an ambitious campaign, Serena’s Song may have had some iron in her blood. Her sophomore season began in January, recording three stakes wins out west including the Santa Anita Oaks (G1). The Rahy filly earned a Kentucky Derby berth after routing males wire-to-wire in the Jim Beam (G2) at Turfway Park, but distance was the only liability for Serena’s Song (winless in three starts at 1 1/4 miles). She was phenomenal at 1 1/8 miles or less. The bay lass rebounded after the Derby, posting runaway triumphs in the Black-Eyed Susan (G2) and Mother Goose, and easily defeated males in the Haskell that summer. Conditioned by D. Wayne Lukas, Serena’s Song captured the Beldame (G1) over elder female rivals in the fall, and the Bob & Beverly Lewis runner compiled six Grade 1 tallies.
6. BEHOLDER (2013)
Following authoritative wins in the Las Virgenes (G1) and Santa Anita Oaks, Beholder missed by a half-length to Princess of Sylmar in the Kentucky Oaks. Richard Mandella freshened his pupil afterwards, and the Henny Hughes filly returned with a pair of sharp wins after a four-month layoff, including a convincing tally over elder rivals in the Zenyatta (G1). The Spendthrift Farm colorbearer capped her season with an excellent 4 1/4-length victory in the Breeders’ Cup Distaff, defeating champions Royal Delta and Close Hatches, and exacting a measure of revenge upon Princess of Sylmar. Beholder embodied class throughout her distinguished racing career, and she was exceptional in the fall of 2013.
7. SONGBIRD (2016)
She came out on the wrong end of a head-bobbing nose photo, but Songbird suffered little in defeat to Beholder in the 2016 Breeders’ Cup Distaff. It was a great race between two incredible champions. Songbird’s dominance over contemporaries remains fresh in the mind, and the Medaglia d’Oro filly was being considered for a Kentucky Derby bid before being sidelined by a minor setback in the spring. Songbird recorded decisive front-running wins in seven consecutive stakes, including the Alabama, Cotillion (G1) and Santa Anita Oaks, and her smallest margin of victory was 3 3/4 lengths.
8. WINNING COLORS (1988)
She began gathering steam in early spring, winning the Santa Anita Derby (G1) and Oaks by a combined 15 1/2 lengths, and the gray Caro filly had never been headed in the early stages when she arrived at Churchill Downs. She took it to males from the start of the Kentucky Derby, opening a clear advantage down the backstretch, and accelerated into the stretch full of run under Gary Stevens. The Lukas trainee held on to win by a neck over the fast-closing Forty Niner, and she followed with a commendable third in the Preakness. Owned by Eugene V. Klein, Winning Colors lost her final five starts, but she showed up with her best in the Breeders’ Cup Distaff, losing by a nose on the wire to undefeated superstar Personal Ensign. It’s considered by many to be the greatest race in Breeders’ Cup history!
9. SUSAN’S GIRL (1972)
A three-time champion, Susan’s Girl opened her 3-year-old campaign with six consecutive stakes wins, including the Kentucky Oaks and Acorn. The Florida-bred daughter of Quadrangle won 9-of-13 starts, campaigning coast-to-coast for owner/breeder Fred Hooper and trainer John Russell. Susan’s Girl concluded the year with impressive wins in the Cotillion, Gazelle and Beldame, defeating elders in the latter.
10. MOM’S COMMAND (1985)
She attracted attention early in the year, recording a pair of eye-catching stakes wins at Pimlico and Garden State, and Mom’s Command took New York by storm during the spring and summer. After romping in the 7-furlong Comely (G3), the Top Command filly crushed foes in the Acorn, Mother Goose, and Coaching Club American Oaks in wire-to-wire fashion. The Peter Fuller homebred combined top-class speed and stamina, but she couldn’t catch Lady’s Secret (who focused on sprint races at the time) when second in the Test. Ridden by Abigail Fuller and trained by Edward Allard, Mom’s Command rebounded with a stellar four-length victory in the Alabama, but it unfortunately turned out to be the last race for the superb Hall of Famer.
1. XTRA HEAT (2001)
She was a good sprinter, recording eight stakes wins, including the Prioress (G1) at Saratoga, but Xtra Heat went 1-for-4 in Grade 1 races. And 1-for-3 at 7 furlongs. She coughed up a clear lead in the stretch of the Nassau County (G2) at Belmont Park. Following a runner-up effort in the Breeders’ Cup Sprint (G1), connections tried to ensure championship honors in the Frank De Francis Memorial Dash (G1) three weeks later, but the front-running filly finished third. However, Eclipse voters could find no viable alternatives.
- WAIT A WHILE (2006)
Two starts after a third in the Kentucky Oaks, Wait a While switched back to turf and reeled off consecutive wins in the American Oaks (G1), Lake Placid (G2), and Yellow Ribbon (G1). The gray filly could do no better than fourth in the Breeders’ Cup Filly & Mare Turf (G1), and she won only 2-of-5 Grade 1 attempts that year, but Wait a While still garnered the Eclipse Award after no dirt fillies distinguished themselves.
- WAYWARD LASS (1981)
Three of her six stakes wins came on Aqueduct’s inner track, and Wayward Lass recorded consecutive losses in the Fantasy (G1), Ashland, Kentucky Oaks, and Black-Eyed Susan before posting a head upset in the Mother Goose. Her other notable victory came via disqualification in the Coaching Club American Oaks, after she finished 2 1/4 lengths back in second. Wayward Lass didn’t even compete against stakes competition in the fall, winning an allowance and a handicap race before heading to the sidelines.
- STELLAR WIND (2015)
After dropping her final two Grade 1 attempts, including a fourth in the Kentucky Oaks, Stellar Wind still wound up with the Eclipse Award after finishing second in the Breeders’ Cup Distaff. Her lone Grade 1 victory came in the Santa Anita Oaks in early April, and Stellar Wind made only three starts after the Kentucky Oaks, defeating suspect company in the Summertime Oaks (G2) and Torrey Pines (G3).
- SURFSIDE (2000)
She concluded the season with a four-length score over males in the Clark H. (G2), but that was her only win after March. After picking up a pair of Grade 1s early in the year, narrowly capturing the Las Virgenes and Santa Anita Oaks at odds-on, Surfside lost her next three starts, including a second in the Breeders’ Cup Distaff.
- TEMPEST QUEEN (1978)
Won only 5-of-11 stakes attempts. And outside a victory in the listed Prioress in April, she wasn’t favored in any. Tempest Queen wasn’t a serious factor in the Mother Goose, Coaching Club American Oaks, Test, and Alabama. She snapped a losing streak in the Gazelle, and after a well-beaten third in the Ruffian, Tempest Queen made a case for the Eclipse Award by upsetting the Spinster.
- QUESTING (2012)
She captured only 3-of-7 starts, losing both stakes attempts outside of Saratoga, but the English-bred filly loved the air in upstate New York. Questing earned the Eclipse Award based upon convincing wins in the Coaching Club American Oaks and Alabama at Saratoga, and she never won again after the latter.
- SMUGGLER (2005)
She didn’t race much, recording wins in the Mother Goose and Coaching Club American Oaks, but it was enough to earn the Eclipse Award. Smuggler won 3-of-4 starts, the lone setback being a second to Round Pond in the Acorn, and raced exclusively at Belmont Park through her final appearance in late July.
- SARATOGA DEW (1992)
Four of her eight wins came against New York-bred rivals, but Saratoga Dew came on late in the year, recording decisive wins in the Gazelle and Beldame. However, she lost both starts outside of New York, including a 12th as the favorite in the Breeders’ Cup Distaff at Gulfstream Park.
10. PROUD SPELL (2008)
Recorded notable wins in the Kentucky Oaks and Alabama, but dropped four of her other six stakes attempts. Proud Spell proved inconsistent at times, and her season concluded with an odds-on loss in the Cotillion in mid-September.