Tuesday, January 12, 2016

My Eclipse Award Selections

It is no secret that American Pharoah will be the king of this year’s Eclipse Awards, but – as always – there exist a handful of categories that have stirred up some debate. While some awards have obvious winners, there are a few that are rather wide open. We will find out each official award winner on Saturday, January 16, but below are the horses and people I would choose for each Eclipse Award:

Horse of the Year: American Pharoah

He became the first Triple Crown winner in 37 years and the first horse to ever win what has been nicknamed the “Grand Slam” – or a sweep of all three Triple Crown races, along with the Breeders’ Cup Classic. Without a doubt, American Pharoah is Horse of the Year.

American Pharoah

Two-Year-Old Male: Nyquist

In another “no question” category, Nyquist is the clear winner of this award. Undefeated in five starts, including a win in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile (gr. I), he has earned this title.

Two-Year-Old Filly: Songbird

The award for Two-Year-Old Filly is also a lock. Songbird dominated her division in every sense of the word, winning each of her four starts by a combined 22 lengths. Three of those races were grade ones, including the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies (gr. I).

Three-Year-Old Male: 
American Pharoah

He accomplished what no three-year-old has before. This award is his.

Three-Year-Old Filly: 
Stellar Wind

With no true standout, and contenders that took turns beating each other, this award is a bit up in the air. But when the finalists – Found, I'm a Chatterbox and Stellar Wind – were announced, leaving behind Curalina and Lady Eli, the decision became a little clearer. However, even before the finalists were revealed, by choice has been Stellar Wind.

I’m a Chatterbox started off the year with three consecutive stakes wins, including a pair of graded stakes at the Fair Grounds. After that, she finished a length ahead of Stellar Wind when third in the Kentucky Oaks (gr. I). In her next start, as aforementioned, she won the Coaching Club American Oaks by a narrow margin over Curalina but was disqualified. Although second next out in the Alabama, she finished in front of Curalina before winning the Cotillion Stakes (gr. I) against no Eclipse Award contenders. A good effort in the Distaff could have wrapped up this award for her, but instead, I’m a Chatterbox finished eighth while rivals Stellar Wind and Curalina finished in the money.

Found may have accomplished something great when defeating Golden Horn in the Breeders' Cup Turf (gr. I), but she only raced in the United States. Meanwhile, her competitors for this award were outstanding in America all year long.

Stellar Wind began her three-year-old season with back-to-back graded stakes wins at Santa Anita, including the Santa Anita Oaks (gr. I). After running fourth of fourteen in the Kentucky Oaks, she returned to Southern California to win the Summertime Oaks (gr. II) and Torrey Pines Stakes (gr. III). Stellar Wind finished the year with a game runner-up effort in the Distaff behind older female Stopchargingmaria, finishing 3 ½ lengths ahead of Curalina and more than 6 lengths in front of I’m a Chatterbox.

Although no filly proved to be an obvious leader of this division, I must choose Stellar Wind due to the consistency of her campaign and her top effort in the Breeders’ Cup, in which she easily defeated her fellow three-year-olds, as well as older females.

Older Dirt Male: 
Honor Code

The ill-fated Shared Belief was arguably the best older male to set foot on a track in 2015, but that alone will not earn him this award with only three starts from his brief season. This award is another one that is not clear cut. The finalists came down to Honor Code, Liam's Map and Tonalist.

Tonalist was a model of consistency in 2015 – but only in New York. He won three of his seven starts during his four-year-old season but was defeated by each of the other contenders for this award on at least one occasion. Although he finished the year strong with a win in the grade one Cigar Mile, his fifth place effort in the Breeders’ Cup Classic and his losses against these rivals will prevent him from getting this award.

Although Liam’s Map was absolutely brilliant and won a pair of grade ones – including a record-setting victory in the Breeders’ Cup Mile – his lone loss of the season will likely keep him from being granted this honor. That loss came in his only start against Honor Code, in which that rival defeated him by a neck in the grade one Whitney Stakes. Despite only four starts on the year, Liam’s Map had one of the most impressive seasons of any older dirt mile but in his only meeting with Honor Code, he was beaten by that competitor.

Honor Code’s season was far from perfect, but when he was at his best, he was the best. From six starts, he won three – including wins in the Met Mile and Whitney. Although he tailed off at the end of the season, finishing third in the Kelso Handicap and Breeders’ Cup Classic, he defeated both Tonalist and Liam’s Map at least once this year.

Older Dirt Female: 
Beholder

Unlike its male counterpart, this category is an easy decision. Beholder was untouchable in five starts, including a dominant victory against males in the Pacific Classic. Like she was in each of her races in 2015, she is the runaway winner here.

Male Sprinter: 
Runhappy

This is another straightforward category. Runhappy won six consecutive races from July to December, including four graded stakes. Among those wins were victories in the King’s Bishop Stakes (gr. I), Breeders’ Cup Sprint (gr. I) and Malibu Stakes (gr. I).

Runhappy
Female Sprinter: La Verdad

This division is not as clear-cut as its male counterpart, but is hard to ignore La Verdad’s season. She won five races this year – all of which were stakes, and three of which were graded. Although she finished off the board in the Honorable Miss Handicap (gr. II) and Fall Highweight Handicap (gr. III), she was a valiant second in the Breeders’ Cup Filly & Mare Sprint (gr. I). She was defeated by Wavell Avenue in the Breeders’ Cup, but that was that rival’s only stakes win and La Verdad defeated her in the Gallant Bloom Handicap (gr. II).

Turf Male: 
The Pizza Man

This award comes down to a battle between The Pizza Man and Big Blue Kitten. The former has four wins on the year, whereas the latter has three – both of them out of six total starts. They faced each other twice and although Big Blue Kitten crossed the wire ahead of The Pizza Man in the Breeders’ Cup Turf (gr. I) – finishing third while the Illinois-bred finished fifth – The Pizza Man won the Arlington Million (gr. I) over Big Blue Kitten. The Pizza Man had one less grade one win in 2015 than his rival, but made one final push when shipping to Southern California to take the Hollywood Turf Cup Stakes (gr. II).

The Pizza Man

Turf Female: 
Tepin

While Stephanie’s Kitten would certainly be a deserving winner of this award, I must choose Tepin. The Bernstein filly won five of her seven starts this, including three grade ones – among them a win against males in the Breeders’ Cup Mile (gr. I).



Steeplechase: 
Dawalan

Dawalan is likely to earn this award, though Bob Le Beau is his top competitor. Bob Le Beau won four of his six starts in 2015 – three of which were grade ones. However, in his two losses, he finished off the board – including a lackluster fifth in the final grade one of the steeplechase season.

Although Dawalan raced only three times this year, he made the most of it. His first start of the year came in September’s Lonesome Glory Hurdle Handicap (gr. I) at Belmont, in which he finished third – beaten 1 ½ lengths – behind Bob Le Beau. He then won both the Grand National Hurdle Stakes (gr. I) and the Colonial Cup Stakes (gr. I) – the latter in which he won by 5 ¼ lengths, defeating Bob Le Beau, who finished fifth.

Owner:
Ken and Sarah Ramsey

Zayat Stables and the Ramseys both raced horses that earned a total of more than $9 million in 2015 – and although Zayat Stables had more than 400 fewer starters than the Ramseys – $8,288,800 of Zayat Stables’ earnings were courtesy of American Pharoah. Ramsey-owned horses won several graded stakes races with a variety of horses this year, including the Breeders’ Cup Filly and Mare Turf (gr. I) with Stephanie’s Kitten.

Breeder: Ken and Sarah Ramsey

While the Zayats may end up with this award for breeding American Pharoah, other breeders had a greater season overall with multiple successful horses. Although the breeders’ standings are a close call between Ken and Sarah Ramsey and Darley, the Ramseys bred one more 2015 grade one winner than Darley – including a Breeders’ Cup winner – and ended the year with a slightly larger amount of earnings.

Trainer: Todd Pletcher

While Bob Baffet certainly deserves recognition for his conditioning of American Pharoah and his winners of 22 total graded stakes, Todd Pletcher leads trainers by earnings, having trained horses that earned more than a total of $26 million in 2015. He is also the leading trainer by graded stakes wins, having trained horses that won a total of 47 graded stakes.

Jockey:
Javier Castellano

While consideration can certainly be given to Victor Espinoza for his historic accomplishments aboard American Pharoah, the sheer numbers of Javier Castellano’s year blow the other riders out of the water. He won 344 races, 48 of which were in graded stakes, and accumulated earnings of more than $28 million – more than any other American jockey in 2015.

Apprentice Jockey:
Tyler Gaffalione

While Eric Cancel managed to win more than 100 races with total earnings of more than $5 million while riding on the tough New York circuit, Tyler Gaffalione made a name for himself in Florida. He had nearly double the amount of starters Cancel did, therefore winning 246 races and earning more than $6 million. Angel Cruz, however, earned more than $7 million with ten less wins than Gaffalione. But Gaffalione – unlike Cancel and Cruz – garnered a graded stakes win in 2015 while piloting Cali Star in the Rampart Stakes (gr. III).

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