Like so much of life amid a still-raging pandemic, Thursday night’s Eclipse Awards ceremony went virtual, rather than congregate at a typical gala, to honor the champions of a COVID-affected racing season. In the context, Authentic was a fitting Horse of the Year, not only on merit, but as the winner of the pandemic-delayed Kentucky Derby (G1).
His human connections, however, did not share in his Eclipse success. His ownership consortium of Spendthrift Farm, MyRaceHorse Stable, Madaket Stables, and Starlight Racing finished second in the owner’s category to Godolphin. So did trainer Bob Baffert (to Brad Cox), and breeder Peter E. Blum Thoroughbreds (to WinStar Farm).
Authentic – Horse of the Year, Champion 3-Year-Old Male
Romping in his stakes debut in last January’s Sham (G3), Authentic flashed loads of talent along with mental quirks as he zig-zagged in the stretch. Over the course of the year, Baffert molded the raw talent into a lethal front runner who carried his speed over 1 1/4 miles.
The addition of earplugs in the San Felipe (G2) helped Authentic turn in a more straightforward wire job over well-regarded comebacker Honor A. P. But his learning curve – like that of many students – was interrupted by the COVID clampdown. With Santa Anita racing on hiatus, Baffert decided to go easy on him for several weeks, until gearing up for the postponed Santa Anita Derby (G1) June 6. Authentic had no answer for a strong-rallying Honor A. P. and settled for second.
Although rebounding in the Haskell Invitational (G1), Authentic appeared to run out of steam late, reviving ideas that 1 1/8 miles could be his upper limit. Baffert insisted that stamina was no issue, just a somewhat passive Mike Smith ride that let the colt, who couldn’t hear his smooching through the ear plugs, idle.
Hall of Famer John Velazquez picked up the mount for the Kentucky Derby, held on its latest-ever date of Sept. 5 thanks to the pandemic, and kept Authentic on task. Easily clearing the field from post 15, the 8-1 chance held sway throughout, repelled a bid from 7-10 favorite Tiz the Law, and gave Baffert a record-tying sixth Derby win. Authentic nearly achieved a classic double in the Oct. 3 Preakness (G1), just denied by the rail-skimming Swiss Skydiver, the champion 3-year-old filly.
Authentic raised his historic profile in his grand finale in the Nov. 7 Breeders’ Cup Classic (G1). Just the fourth reigning Derby winner to defeat older horses in the Classic – after Sunday Silence (1989), Unbridled (1990), and Baffert’s American Pharoah (2015) – Authentic also lowered Pharoah’s 1 1/4-mile track record at Keeneland to 1:59.60.
Bestowing further accolades upon his leading sire Into Mischief, Authentic is now standing alongside him at Spendthrift Farm. The bay retires with a career record of 8-6-2-0, $7,201,200.
|HORSE OF THE YEAR||FIRST-PLACE VOTES (TOP 3)|
|3-YEAR-OLD MALE||FIRST-PLACE VOTES|
|Tiz the Law||2|
Essential Quality – Champion 2-Year-Old Male
Essential Quality lived up to his moniker by winning all three of his starts en route to the champion 2-year-old male title. A homebred racing for Godolphin, which also campaigned 2008 divisional champion Midshipman, Essential Quality broke his maiden by four lengths in a 6-furlong dash on the Kentucky Derby (G1) undercard on Sept. 5, and then followed up with back-to-back wins in the Breeders’ Futurity (G1) and Breeders’ Cup Juvenile (G1), both over 1 1/16 miles at Keeneland. The Brad Cox-trained gray son of Tapit is wintering at Fair Grounds in New Orleans, but is expected to make the $700,000 Southwest (G3) at Oaklawn Park on Feb. 15 his season debut.
|2-YEAR-OLD MALE||FIRST-PLACE VOTES|
|Fire at Will||1|
Vequist – Champion 2-Year-Old Filly
A third-generation Breeders’ Cup winner, Vequist followed in the hoofsteps of sire Nyquist and grandsire Uncle Mo to clinch an Eclipse Award as a juvenile. Furthering the pattern, she hails from the first crop of Nyquist, who was himself from Uncle Mo’s first crop. Vequist missed by a nose in her Parx unveiling, but ran well enough for Gary Barber and Wachtel Stable to buy into the Swilcan Stables homebred. Remaining with trainer Butch Reid, Vequist furnished immediate dividends by trouncing the Spinaway (G1) in near stakes-record time at Saratoga. A less than ideal trip in the Frizette (G1) might have contributed to her runner-up effort to Dayoutoftheoffice. A different scenario, and a step up to 1 1/16 miles, in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies made for a different result. Driving two lengths clear to turn the tables, Vequist improved her scorecard to 4-2-2-0, $1,235,500. From her winter base at Palm Meadows, she has an eye on the Feb. 27 Davona Dale (G2) as her starting point toward the Kentucky Oaks (G1).
|2-YEAR-OLD FILLY||FIRST-PLACE VOTES|
Swiss Skydiver – Champion 3-Year-Old Filly
Swiss Skydiver proved the relative iron horse of the 2020 Eclipse Award champions, making 10 starts coast-to-coast from January to November. After two early setbacks, the daughter of Daredevil reeled off three straight wins in the Gulfstream Park Oaks (G2), Fantasy (G3), and Santa Anita Oaks (G2) before finishing a commendable runner-up against the boys in the Blue Grass (G2). Rebounding with outstanding victory in the Alabama (G1), Swiss Skydiver proved only second best in the Kentucky Oaks (G1). However, the Kenny McPeek charge made history when repelling male counterpart Authentic after a stretch-long duel in the Oct. 3 Preakness (G1), thus becoming only the third filly in the last century to win the Pimlico classic. Stumbling at the start and likely over the top when unplaced in the Breeders’ Cup Distaff (G1), Swiss Skydiver is back galloping at Gulfstream Park with eyes on a 2021 campaign for owner Peter Callahan.
|3-YEAR-OLD FILLY||FIRST-PLACE VOTES|
Improbable – Champion Older Dirt Male
Improbable reeled off three consecutive Grade 1 victories, bankrolling more than $1.8 million during an outstanding 4-year-old campaign, and the classy chestnut has been named champion older dirt male. Owned by the partnership of WinStar Farm, China Horse Club, and SF Racing, Improbable opened 2020 with a close second to Tom’s d’Etat in the Oaklawn Mile S. The Kentucky-bred City Zip colt followed with convincing wins in the Hollywood Gold Cup (G1), Whitney S. (G1), and Awesome Again S. (G1), easily defeating Eclipse Award contender and 2019 champion 3-year-old male Maximum Security in the latter, and he finished the season with a commendable second in the Breeders’ Cup Classic (G1). Improbable was retired to WinStar with more than $2.7 million in earnings from a 15-7-4-0 record.
|OLDER DIRT MALE||FIRST-PLACE VOTES (TOP 3)|
Monomoy Girl – Champion Older Dirt Female
The champion 3-year-old filly of 2018 who missed the entire 2019 season, Monomoy Girl looked like she’d never left when compiling a perfect 2020 campaign. Owners Michael Dubb, Monomoy Stables, The Elkstone Group, and Bethlehem Stables could well have retired the daughter of Tapizar during her prolonged absence, but reaped the rewards of their longstanding faith. Trainer Brad Cox kept it simple for her first start since capturing the 2018 Breeders’ Cup Distaff (G1). Resuming in a mile allowance at Churchill Downs on May 16 – the same day racing resumed from its COVID hiatus in Kentucky – Monomoy Girl rolled home by daylight. After another one-turn mile success in the Ruffian (G2) at Belmont, Monomoy Girl stretched back out to take the La Troienne (G1) on Kentucky Oaks Day, and she crowned her comeback year by regaining her Distaff title at Keeneland. With a career resume of 15-13-2-0 and a career bankroll of more than $4.4 million, her story’s not done yet. Sold to Spendthrift Farm for $9.5 million at Fasig-Tipton Kentucky November, Monomoy Girl is back with Cox, and preparing to return in the Feb. 15 Bayakoa (G3) at Oaklawn.
|OLDER DIRT FEMALE||FIRST-PLACE VOTES|
Whitmore – Champion Male Sprinter
A mainstay in the division for four years, Whitmore had his high-class longevity rewarded at last with a resounding victory in the Breeders’ Cup Sprint (G1) that netted him the Eclipse Award. Trainer Ron Moquett, who co-owns the Pleasantly Perfect gelding with Robert V. LaPenta and Head of Plains Partners, once again began his campaign at Oaklawn Park. Starting a bit earlier with a second in the King Cotton, Whitmore won the Hot Springs for a remarkable fourth straight year and captured the Count Fleet Sprint H. (G3) for the third time. He had less luck over the summer at Saratoga, breaking through the gate prematurely when runner-up in the Alfred G. Vanderbilt H. (G1) and not enjoying the slop when seventh in the Forego (G1). Although only fourth in his traditional Breeders’ Cup prep, the Phoenix (G2), Whitmore moved forward over the same track and trip in the Sprint. The closer had been second and third, respectively, in the 2018 and 2019 runnings, and his Breeders’ Cup heroics advanced his scorecard to 38-15-11-3 and pushed his earnings past the $4.2 million mark. Whitmore, now an 8-year-old, is back at his winter headquarters at Oaklawn.
|MALE SPRINTER||FIRST-PLACE VOTES (TOP 3)|
Gamine – Champion Female Sprinter
In a campaign that included some black clouds with regards to positive post-race tests, Gamine proved herself an outstanding one-turn specialist among the fillies and mares. All three of her stakes victories — the Acorn (G1), Test (G1), and Breeders’ Cup Filly and Mare Sprint (G1) — were achieved in blowout fashion, while her lone stakes setback, a third-place finish in the Kentucky Oaks (G1) as the odds-on choice, at worst cost her the 3-year-old filly title as well. Owned by Michael Lund Petersen, the daughter of Into Mischief has recently returned from a break and rejoined Bob Baffert’s string at Santa Anita in advance of a 4-year-old campaign.
|FEMALE SPRINTER||FIRST-PLACE VOTES (TOP 3)|
Channel Maker – Champion Turf Male
Already a Sovereign Award winner as Canada’s champion 3-year-old male of 2017, Channel Maker added an Eclipse to his trophy cabinet with a strong finish to his 2020 campaign. The veteran gelding by English Channel had proven his Grade 1 mettle in past years, notably taking the 2018 Joe Hirsch Turf Classic (G1) and 2019 Man o’ War (G1), but managed to deliver three straight top efforts this fall for Bill Mott. Co-owned by a partnership including Gary Barber and Wachtel Stable (also involved in champion Vequist) along with R. A. Hill Stable and Reeves Thoroughbred Racing, Channel Maker turned the corner from a low-key first half when a close fourth in the July 4 Manhattan (G1). The Ontario-bred was subsequently hampered in the Bowling Green (G2), and promoted to third via disqualification. Sent straight to the lead in his next starts, Channel Maker dominated both the Sword Dancer (G1) on soft and the Joe Hirsch on firm. He nearly stole the Breeders’ Cup Turf (G1), with only the star European distaffers Tarnawa and Magical able to catch him. On the verge of reaching the $3 million threshold in earnings from a 37-7-5-5 line, Channel Maker is set for an international foray himself, in the Feb. 20 Middle Distance Turf Cup on Saudi Cup Day.
|TURF MALE||FIRST-PLACE VOTES (TOP 3)|
|Order of Australia||15|
Rushing Fall – Champion Turf Female
E Five Racing Thoroughbreds’ Rushing Fall was just a neck shy of becoming a rare winner of two different Breeders’ Cup races. Her Filly & Mare Turf (G1) heartbreak almost extended to the Eclipse ballot, but enough voters stuck with her over Europe’s Turf heroine Tarnawa in a 115-106 tally. Trained throughout her stellar career by Chad Brown, Rushing Fall garnered Grade 1s every season of racing, from the 2017 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies Turf (G1) to the 2018 Queen Elizabeth II Challenge Cup (G1) and 2019 Jenny Wiley (G1) and Just a Game (G1). Reappearing with an easy score in the June 3 Beaugay (G3) – the day racing resumed from its COVID cessation in New York – Rushing Fall repeated in the Jenny Wiley during Keeneland’s ad hoc July meet, in a course-record 1:39.02 for 1 1/16 miles, and she made it three in a row in the Diana (G1). Her streak was halted when the 17-1 Audarya nailed her late in the Breeders’ Cup, but Rushing Fall lost no luster with an overall mark of 15-11-3-0, $2,893,000. The Coolmore brain trust spent $5.5 million for the More Than Ready mare at Fasig-Tipton Kentucky November, judging her a worthy bride for Galileo in 2021.
|TURF FEMALE||FIRST-PLACE VOTES (TOP 3)|
Moscato – Champion Steeplechaser
In a pandemic-shortened steeplechase/hurdle season where few races of significance occurred before or after Saratoga, the British-bred gray Moscato squeezed out wins in two of the three graded stakes held to reach the divisional summit. Owned by Bruton Street – US and trained by Jack Fisher, Moscato got off the mark with an easy victory in a title defense of the Temple Gwathmey (G3) at Middleburg, Virginia, and followed up with a score in the A.P. Smithwick Memorial (G1) at Saratoga. Although third to Rashaan in the New York Turf Writers Cup (G1) in the season finale, the 9-year-old son of Hernando had finished 13 lengths clear of that rival when they meet previously in the Temple Gwathmey.
|STEEPLECHASER||FIRST-PLACE VOTES (TOP 3)|
Godolphin – Outstanding Owner
Godolphin, which counted champion 2-year-old male Essential Quality among their runners, received its fourth Eclipse Award for outstanding owner. Led by Dubai ruler Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid al-Maktoum, Godolphin ranked second by earnings in North America, bankrolling $5,703,770 from 361 starters in 2020. The international operation was honored in the same category in 2006, 2009, and 2012. Godolphin also earned an Eclipse for outstanding breeder (under the Darley moniker) in 2010.
|OWNER||FIRST-PLACE VOTES (TOP 3)|
|Spendthrift, MyRaceHorse, Madaket Stables, Starlight Racing||56|
WinStar Farm – Outstanding Breeder
Kenny Troutt’s WinStar Farm garnered its second Eclipse Award for outstanding breeder. A powerful presence in the breeding and racing industry, WinStar ranked second among North American individual breeders with earnings of $9,225,856 from 1,131 starters. Elliott Walden serves as president, CEO, and racing manager for the Versailles, Kentucky farm, which first earned outstanding breeder honors in 2016. WinStar also won the Eclipse for outstanding owner in 2010. Champion 3-year-old filly Swiss Skydiver is among the notable runners in 2020 bred by WinStar.
|BREEDER||FIRST-PLACE VOTES (TOP 3)|
|Peter E. Blum Thoroughbreds||52|
Brad Cox – Outstanding Trainer
Brad Cox has been a rising presence in the training ranks for years. After saddling 30 stakes winners in 2020, including four Breeders’ Cup events, Cox earned his first Eclipse Award for leading trainer. His runners won a total of 214 races from 895 starts, and the 40-year-old native of Louisville, Kentucky ranked third among North American trainers with earnings of $18,915,965. Cox will try to win his first Kentucky Derby, with unbeaten 2-year-old male champion Essential Quality among a contingent of prospects, and champion older dirt female Monomoy Girl will continue racing in 2021.
|TRAINER||FIRST-PLACE VOTES (TOP 3)|
Irad Ortiz Jr. – Outstanding Jockey
Irad Ortiz won his third consecutive Eclipse Award for leading jockey. He led North American riders with $21,050,726 in earnings, ranking first in wins (300) and stakes victories (51). The 28-year-old Puerto Rican native counted champion older male Improbable and champion male sprinter Whitmore among his mounts, and Ortiz joins Jerry Bailey, Javier Castellano, and Ramon Dominguez as the only jockeys to win three straight Eclipse Awards.
|JOCKEY||FIRST-PLACE VOTES (TOP 3)|
Alexander Crispin – Outstanding Apprentice Jockey
Alexander Crispin was named leading apprentice jockey. The Puerto Rican native made his first North American start in March, and he finished second by wins during the Delaware Park meet. Currently the leading rider at the Laurel Park winter meet, Crispin recorded 101 wins and his mounts earned $2,194,030 in 2020.
|APPRENTICE JOCKEY||FIRST-PLACE VOTES (TOP 3)|