Held each January, the Eclipse Award ceremony honors the elite horses and humans of the industry, bestowing the best of each division their own award. Each year, some championship categories contain a clear winner, whereas others can become contentious areas of debate and suspense. The awards for 2012’s racing season, which will be held January 19 at Gulfstream Park, are no different.
Two-Year-Old Male: Shanghai Bobby
This Todd Pletcher trainee is an obvious winner of this award. Undefeated in five starts, his win in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile (gr. I) secures him as this year’s Champion Two-Year-Old Male.
Two-Year-Old Filly: Beholder
Prior to the running of the Hollywood Starlet Stakes (gr. I), this division garnered much controversy. Had Executiveprivilege made up the length she was beaten by Beholder in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies (gr. I), there would not be much debate over this award. However, when Beholder – who had been defeated a mere nose by Executiveprivilege in the Del Mar Debutante Stakes (gr. I) – turned the tables on Executiveprivilege, this category became a difficult decision. But Executiveprivilege’s poor performance in the Starlet leaves Beholder the likely honoree of this award.
Three-Year-Old Male: I’ll Have Another
In a division that seemed to end several months early, I’ll Have Another is the irrefutable recipient of this accolade. With a flawless 2012 record that includes three grade one victories, highlighted by the Kentucky Derby (gr. I) and Preakness Stakes (gr. I), I’ll Have Another is the obvious champ.
Three-Year-Old Filly: Questing
Had My Miss Aurelia been victorious in the La Brea Stakes (gr. I), this division would become an even more heated discussion, as both My Miss Aurelia and Questing would have two grade one victories for 2012. Though My Miss Aurelia defeated Questing both times they faced each other this year, she only narrowly defeated her in the Cotillion Stakes (gr. I) while carrying less weight than Questing and the Breeders’ Cup Ladies’ Classic (gr. I) clearly can have a line drawn through it for Questing. Both fillies are outstanding athletes, but Questing raced nearly twice as many times as My Miss Aurelia this year and captured a pair of grade ones whereas the talented My Miss Aurelia only triumphed in one. This award could go either way, but my choice is Questing.
Older Male: Wise Dan
In a rather contentious division, the dazzling Wise Dan looks to be the recipient of this award for his three grade one wins – including a Breeders’ Cup victory – and overall brilliance. However, respect should be given to Little Mike – winner of three grade ones, including two of the most prestigious turf races on the continent – and Point of Entry – also a victor of three grade ones. Also, Fort Larned and Game On Dude, with four grade ones between them this year, should garner respect.
Older Female: Groupie Doll
Though the outstanding Royal Delta may very well win this award, as her distaff campaign that saw her compete in middle distance races is more “fashionable” than sprints, Groupie Doll holds three 2012 grade one victories versus Royal Delta’s two. Both are very much deserving of this award and with greater weight placed upon the Breeders’ Cup Ladies’ Classic (gr. I) than the Breeders’ Cup Filly & Mare Sprint (gr. I), the breathtaking Royal Delta will likely be crowned the winner of this honor, though my choice would be Groupie Doll.
Male Sprinter: Trinniberg
With the most graded stakes wins of any elite sprinter, as well as a victory in the division’s championship race, Trinniberg looks to be the recipient of this award. Stellar throughout the first half of 2012, Trinniberg tailed off, only to come back with a win in the Breeders’ Cup Sprint (gr. I). Although there is no true standout in this category, Trinniberg is as close to one as there is.
Female Sprinter: Groupie Doll
Choosing an honoree for this award is as simple as it gets. With her utter dominance of this division in 2012, Groupie Doll is the obvious winner of this prize.
Turf Male: Little Mike
Wise Dan will likely win this award, but if I had a vote, it would be for Little Mike. Each have three grade one victories over the turf this year, but Little Mike captured perhaps the two most renowned turf races in North America – the Arlington Million (gr. I) and the Breeders’ Cup Turf (gr. I) – as well as the esteemed Woodford Reserve Turf Classic Stakes (gr. I). He became the initial United States-based horse to capture both the Arlington Million and the Breeders’ Cup Turf in the same year. In addition, Little Mike raced solely on turf in 2012 whereas Wise Dan contested over three different surfaces. Point of Entry, runner-up in the Turf and also a winner of three turf grade ones, should also receive some respect. Though the deserving, brilliant Wise Dan is the probable winner of this award, Little Mike would get my vote.
Turf Female: Zagora
Among the best female turf runners throughout the entire year, Zagora only has one grade one victory this season, but won three other graded stakes and finished in the money in two additional grade ones. Most importantly, Zagora won the Breeders’ Cup Filly & Mare Turf (gr. I), defeating the other candidates for this award. Having displayed class throughout her season prior to culminating it with a win in the division’s championship race, Zagora is my choice for Champion Turf Female. However, respect should also be given to Marketing Mix and Lady of Shamrock.
Steeplechase: Pierrot Lunaire
This division serves as one of the toughest decisions of the Eclipse Awards. Primarily an argument between Demonstrative and Pierrot Lunaire, those two lead this division in number of grade one victories. Both horses have two grade one victories this year, but Pierrot Lunaire not only earned more money, but also crossed the wire ahead of Demonstrative each time they faced each other in 2012, though conditions may not have been pleasant for Demonstrative. This award could easily go to either horse, but my choice would be Pierrot Lunaire.
Owner: Midwest Thoroughbreds, Inc.
Midwest Thoroughbreds may have the most starts of any owner (by far), but they lead in wins, second-place finishes, third-place finishes, and total amount of money earned, again, by far. The operation boasts an impressive 29% winning percentage and 62% in-the-money percentage despite having more than 1,800 starts this year. In addition, Richard and Karen Papiese's Midwest Thoroughbreds set the record for amount of single-season wins with their total of 542 wins in 2012.
Breeder: Adena Springs
The recipient of this award every year since 2004 aside from 2009, Adena Springs certainly made many more starts than other breeding operations, but Frank Stronach’s farm is the clear leader in number of victories and total earnings. Game On Dude was among the notable horses of 2012 bred by Adena Springs.
Jockey: Ramon Dominguez
Another contentious category, this division seems to be mostly a debate over Ramon Dominguez, Javier Castellano, and John Velazquez. But with the most victories in 2012 and the greatest amount of total earnings, as well as a 24% win percentage, Ramon Dominguez is my selection.
Apprentice Jockey: Jose Montano
A rather debatable division, this category appears to be primarily between Jose Montano and Angel Suarez. Though Suarez has more total earnings as an apprentice, he only earned $83,863 more than Montano, who garnered 62 more victories as an apprentice than Suarez.
Trainer: Todd Pletcher
A five-time winner of this award, Todd Pletcher leads trainers in total earnings and victories while maintaining a strong win percentage of 27% and a large amount of grade one wins. One of the most contentious divisions of the upcoming Eclipse Awards, strong cases can be made for several trainers, including Dale Romans, Bob Baffert, and Chad Brown. This award is rather wide open.
Horse of the Year: Wise Dan
In a division abounding with deserving winners, such as Little Mike, Point of Entry, Royal Delta, Groupie Doll, and Fort Larned, Wise Dan’s versatility and brilliance that was evident in his five victories will likely earn him racing’s highest annual honor. Wise Dan is my choice and the likely 2012 Horse of the Year. For more on this award, click here.
Photo by Terri Cage