With the knowledge that waiting for Mind Your Biscuits and Constellation (or others for that matter) to become nominal Grade 1 winners later in the day would make absolutely no difference — zero, zilch, nada — on any of my Eclipse Award selections, nor would the results of the American Oaks (G1), a restricted race on New Year’s Eve, the ballot was dutifully submitted shortly before Santa Anita’s meet opener on Monday.
It’s a bit callous to say, but with more than a little truth behind it, that first-place votes for anyone other than Classic Empire, Arrogate, Songbird, California Chrome, Beholder, Tepin, and Rawnaq in their respective divisional races would fit the description of rogue, trollish…pick your adjective.
The sprint categories probably have more wiggle room for some debate, but Drefong did win the most significant divisional race of the year on the square. Finest City did the same and posted a 2-1-0 record in four stakes starts around one turn, but her likely inclusion in the mythical Hall of Champions lends further credence to the view that splitting this championship into male and female categories in 2007 was completely unnecessary. Abstaining in protest, as I remember doing in 2007, would not be unjustified here or in the future.
Some folks like to kick-start a debate where none virtually exists by discussing who is, or should be, in the second and third slots. As these placements are used only to determine “finalists” and sometimes don’t accurately reflect who received the second highest number of first-place votes, which are the only ones that count, I find my energy is better used in other endeavors. But here are few thoughts on the more contentious divisions.
I get why some consider the two-year-old filly division a mess. In defense of Champagne Room‘s candidacy: 1. To the victor goes the spoils…all of them. 2. It’s not like the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies (G1) was her only graded stakes win. 3. You can be deserving of an Eclipse Award without having any “look of eagles” about you. Somebody’s got to win, and some years the winners would be fifth or sixth best in another year.
In my own time as a voter, I thought little of the long-term prospects of fillies like Caressing, Dreaming of Anna, She Be Wild, She’s a Tiger, and Take Charge Brandi. I still backed all save She Be Wild, and was pretty much spot-on about all of them (Dreaming of Anna proved a better turf performer).
I don’t get why some are considering gravitating toward Lady Aurelia, who technically only qualifies to be supported at all based on a winning appearance at Keeneland. My personal criteria, which I’m sure is shared in unspoken form by most of the electorate, is that the results of overnight events aren’t to be considered. By that standard, I don’t find her eligible at all for this award.
As far as the turf male battle between Flintshire and Highland Reel, I hope I stayed intellectually consistent with my previous voting patterns of preferring the U.S.-based candidate with reasonably strong qualifications, in this case Flintshire, over the foreign-based Highland Reel, who swooped in, won the big one, and then swooped out. But to be perfectly honest, this is one of those rare instances where I’d be all right with being in the minority. Highland Reel is also a deserving candidate.
This kind of situation doesn’t happen too often, and I’m generally passionate that my view be the majority one. However, I wasn’t too tied up in knots when Ouija Board got more support than Gorella for turf female in 2006, when Goldikova won over Ventura for the same award in 2009, or when Havre de Grace outpolled Cape Blanco for 2011 Horse of the Year.
I’m extremely passionate about Horse of the Year this time, but am resigned to being outnumbered. By conventional standards and through the first nine furlongs of the Breeders’ Cup Classic (G1), Arrogate had no business being in the discussion for this honor, at least compared to California Chrome. After that race’s conclusion, I failed to see how anyone else could be.
I don’t possess the same fire regarding non-equine Eclipse Awards categories, and I’ve made a habit in recent years of abstaining from the owner, breeder, and apprentice jockey ballots. There are a number of qualified individuals for trainer and jockey, but two that stood out to me for recognition in 2016 are Mark Casse and Mike Smith.
(Champagne Room photo: Benoit Photos)
(Flintshire photo: Adam Coglianese Photography)