Channeling Rob Neyer: A different look at the Eclipse Awards

LOUISVILLE KY - NOVEMBER 06: Blame ridden by Garrett Gomez crosses the finish line ahead of Zenyatta ridden by Mike Smith in the Classic during the Breeders' Cup World Championships at Churchill Downs on November 6 2010 in Louisville Kentucky. (Photo by Matthew Stockman/Getty Images)

If you are a baseball fan and have spent any amount of time reading ESPN.com's Rob Neyer in the past you know that he likes to utilize a "Player A" vs. "Player B" approach to evaluating statistics between hitters or pitcher.  The idea behind analyzing two players "anonymously" is to attempt to take out some of the bias that we attach to players based solely on their name recognition.  If we look at a player's performance purely by the numbers, without assigning additional impression based on their name (or where they play), would we draw the same conclusions as to their relative value and worth.  

In the spirit of some Rob Neyer analysis I've decided to present some of the raw numbers of this year's Eclipse Award contenders.  For some of these horses it will be plain as day as to who they really are.  For some, it's not as easy.  And overall, there are a couple of categories that appear much more competitive after you remove the instantly recognizable name.

A couple of notes about the information presented below:

  1. I excluded European horses that had made only one start in North America during the season.  I did this even though it's pretty clear that Goldikova (IRE) will end up winning the Female Turf Horse award.
  2. I made no distinction between individual graded stakes races, meaning, all Grade 1s were treated equally (instead of singling out horses that won a Breeders' Cup or Triple Crown race).  
  3. I excluded, for the most part, horses that had won most of their races in Canada.  In a couple of the categories, especially the turf categories, there were several horses that won most of their G1 or G2 races in Canada that I excluded since the Eclipse Awards are geared towards horses that ran in the U.S.  Obviously, these horses would be prime contenders for Sovereign Awards.
  4. In the turf categories, I only included races on the turf.  For many horses this didn't matter at all since they ran exclusively on grass during 2010.  For others, this meant that their numbers would look a bit different from their overall 2010 statistics.
  5. The "Notes" identify if a horse beat one of the other contenders in a race that they won.  If two horses ran in the same race, and one finished 5th and the other 6th, I didn't count that as one horse beating the other.  I only counted a win over a rival if one of the horses actually won the race, which was done more for simplicity than anything else.

In many of these categories the top horse is clearly identifiable but the 2nd and 3rd placed horses are open for much more debate. 

For this exercise, which is more for amusement than any rock hard method of determining an Eclipse Award winner, I'll look at each category and then rank my top three.  At the end I'll match-up the names with each horse. 

Let's take a look at each division starting with the juveniles.      

Juvenile Colts

Below are five contenders for each division, separated by overall record during 2010, record in each graded stakes category, earnings during 2010, their top speed figure, along with any head-to-head results.

Record

G1

G2

G3

Earnings

Top BSF

Notes

Horse A

4-2-2-0

2-1-1-0

0-0-0-0

1-0-0-1

$562,060

102

Horse B

8-4-2-0

4-1-2-0

1-1-0-0

1-1-0-0

$527,360

92

Horse C

5-3-0-1

0-0-0-0

1-1-0-0

1-1-0-0

$725,213

90

Horse D

4-3-1-0

0-0-0-0

2-2-0-0

0-0-0-0

$264,640

102

Horse E

3-3-0-0

2-2-0-0

0-0-0-0

0-0-0-0

$1,296,000

108

Beat Horse A

Beat Horse B


Beginning with the colts, Horse E won the most Grade 1 races, had the highest amount of earnings, and posted the top Beyer number.  Horse E is clearly #1.

Horse A and Horse B are pretty close in terms of accomplishments, and both were beaten by Horse E.  Horse B was more successful across all his graded stakes starts but Horse A has the fact that he never finished outside the top 3 in any of his four races.  I'll give the nod to Horse A for the 2nd spot with Horse B taking 3rd.

1st: Horse E - Uncle Mo
2nd: Horse A - Boys At Tosconova
3rd: Horse B - J P's Gusto

Horse C is Pluck and Horse D is To Honor and Serve.

 

Juvenile Fillies

Record

G1

G2

G3

Earnings

Top BSF

Notes

Horse A

6-6-0-0

1-1-0-0

0-0-0-0

0-0-0-0

$1,495,746

87

Beat Horse B

Beat Horse D

Horse B

5-2-1-0

3-1-0-0

0-0-0-0

1-0-1-0

$239,600

81

Beat Horse D

Horse C

6-3-1-1

0-0-0-0

2-1-0-1

0-0-0-0

$320,731

86

Horse D

5-2-3-0

3-1-2-0

0-0-0-0

0-0-0-0

$612,800

82

Horse E

3-2-1-0

0-0-0-0

1-1-0-0

1-0-1-0

$609,384

89


Like the colts, the top spot for the fillies is pretty clear with Horse A holding an undefeated record, a Grade 1 win, and a huge advantage in earnings.  She doesn't possess the top speed figure but she's not that far behind.

The 2nd spot is a tough call between Horse B and D.  Horse B beat Horse D but Horse D was more consistent at the Grade 1 level.  I think D is probably a bit better of a filly but I'll give the nod to B due to the win over Horse D during the year.

1st: Horse A - Awesome Feather
2nd: Horse B - A Z Warrior
3rd: Horse D - R Heat Lightning

Horse C is Kathmanblu and Horse E is More Than Real.

 

Three-year-old Colts

Record

G1

G2

G3

Earnings

Top BSF

Notes

Horse A

6-3-1-1

1-1-0-0

1-0-0-1

1-1-0-0

$809,340

105

Horse B

8-4-1-0

2-1-0-0

4-2-1-0

1-1-0-0

$625,000

111

Horse C

3-3-0-0

2-2-0-0

0-0-0-0

0-0-0-0

$622,200

109

Horse D

7-4-0-0

5-2-0-0

2-2-0-0

0-0-0-0

$2,064,278

106

Beat Horse E

Horse E

10-4-2-2

6-1-2-1

2-2-0-0

1-1-0-0

$1,579,950

103

Horse F

8-5-1-0

3-1-0-0

4-3-1-0

1-1-0-0

$850,000

104

Beat Horse D


This category is a bit closer than I would have expected.  Horse D has a pretty sizeable advantage in earnings and he beat his nearest earnings competitor, Horse E, on the track.  That gives him a pretty big edge.  But Horse F is really not far behind.  His earnings don't compare, but he's got a win over Horse D, he's got a Grade 1 win to his credit, and he scored three times at the Grade 2 level. 

I'll take Horse D on top and put Horse F in the 2nd spot.  If Horse E had been able to win just one more Grade 1 race, he may have challenged the top two.

1st: Horse D - Lookin At Lucky
2nd: Horse F - Sidney's Candy
3rd: Horse E - Paddy O'Prado

Horse A is Afleet Express, Horse B is Discreetly Mine, and Horse C is Eskendereya.

 

Three-year-old Fillies

Record

G1

G2

G3

Earnings

Top BSF

Notes

Horse A

9-5-3-1

5-3-1-1

4-2-2-0

0-0-0-0

$1,679,662

105

Beat Horse B

Beat Horse C (2x)

Beat Horse D (2x)

Beat Horse E (2x)

Horse B

6-3-0-0

4-2-0-0

1-1-0-0

1-0-0-0

$448,000

100

Horse C

9-4-3-2

6-2-2-2

2-2-0-0

1-0-1-0

$915,343

94

Horse D

6-2-3-1

2-0-1-1

2-1-1-0

0-0-0-0

$839,450

105

Beat Horse A

Horse E

10-6-1-1

1-1-0-0

3-0-1-1

2-2-0-0

$614,050

95


This is about as clear-cut of a category as you'll find this year.  Horse A won the most Grade 1s, she won the most money, and she beat all of her rivals on the track.  Horse D grabs the 2nd spot on the strength of her win over Horse A, and I'll put Horse C as the 3rd choice due to her consistency at the Grade 1 level.

1st: Horse A - Blind Luck
2nd: Horse D - Havre de Grace
3rd: Horse C - Evening Jewel

Horse B is Devil May Care and Horse E is No Such Word.

 

Male Sprinter

Record

G1

G2

G3

Earnings

Top BSF

Notes

Horse A

5-3-2-0

3-1-2-0

1-1-0-0

0-0-0-0

$1,420,810

108

Beat Horse F

Horse B

8-5-1-0

0-0-0-0

1-1-0-0

3-0-1-0

$942,191

100

Horse C

8-4-1-0

2-1-0-0

4-2-1-0

1-1-0-0

$625,000

111

Horse D

5-4-0-0

2-1-0-0

0-0-0-0

0-0-0-0

$254,180

104

Beat Horse A

Horse E

6-5-0-1

1-1-0-0

0-0-0-0

0-0-0-0

$310,430

117

Beat Horse A

Horse F

7-3-1-3

5-2-1-2

0-0-0-0

1-1-0-0

$651,464

108


Where to begin with the male sprinters?  Only one of these contenders won more than one Grade 1 race during 2010, and that was Horse F.  That horse also finished in the top 3 in all five of his Grade 1 races, a very consistent performance at the highest level.  On the negative side, Horse F doesn't have a win over any of his other rivals during the year.  

Horse A has the clear edge in earnings, as well as a high level of consistency in stakes races during the year.  But he also lost to both Horse D and Horse E.

Horse E has a sparking 6-5-0-1 record during the season but only started a single graded stakes race during 2010.

So where do the chips fall in this category?  If horse F had beaten one of his other contenders during the year, I'd be willing to give him the top spot.  But the fact that he lost to the horse that I consider to be his biggest challenger, Horse A, closes the case on his chances.  While the rest of the group is evenly matched, I went with Horse E in the 3rd spot due to his significantly higher top speed figure.

1st: Horse A - Big Drama
2nd: Horse F - Smiling Tiger
3rd: Horse E - Majesticperfection

Horse B is Chamberlain Bridge, Horse C is Discreetly Mine, and Horse D is Here Comes Ben.

 

Female Sprinter

Record

G1

G2

G3

Earnings

Top BSF

Notes

Horse A

10-4-4-1

4-1-1-1

1-1-0-0

2-1-1-0

$1,009,724

103

Beat Horse E (2x)

Beat Horse D

Horse B

5-4-1-0

1-1-0-0

2-1-1-0

0-0-0-0

$390,000

93

Beat Horse E

Horse C

5-2-2-1

1-1-0-0

1-0-1-0

1-1-0-0

$278,500

100

Beat Horse D

Horse D

7-2-2-2

3-1-0-1

1-0-0-1

1-0-1-0

$395,380

99

Beat Horse A

Horse E

9-3-2-0

6-2-1-0

2-0-1-0

0-0-0-0

$539,243

97


While the male sprinter category was a bit messy, the females are much, much easier to separate.  Horse E is the only contender to win multiple Grade 1 races during 2010, but she lost twice to Horse A, who is the clear leader in earnings and holds the top Beyer.  Horse E also lost to Horse B during the year.

Horse A picked up three graded stakes wins during the season and also defeated Horse D. 

Horse D picked up a win over Horse A during the year, but that was her only graded stakes win of the entire season, which leaves her well behind the top spot. 

I think Horse A is the easy pick for the top spot, but the battle for 2nd and 3rd is a real crap-shoot between Horse B and Horse E.  More Grade 1 wins vs. a head-to-head victory?  I'll go with the head-to-head victory and stick Horse B in the 2nd spot...but it's not by much.

1st: Horse A - Dubai Majesty
2nd: Horse B - Franny Freud
3rd: Horse E - Champagne d'Oro

Horse C is Rightly So and Horse D is Jessica Is Back.

 

Turf Males

Record

G1

G2

G3

Earnings

Top BSF

Notes

Horse A

6-2-0-0

4-1-0-0

1-1-0-0

1-0-0-0

$302,488

101

Horse B

7-4-3-0

2-1-1-0

1-1-0-0

1-0-1-0

$897,800

102

Horse C

4-1-0-0

2-1-0-0

0-0-0-0

1-0-0-0

$355,585

102

Horse D

6-2-4-0

5-2-3-0

0-0-0-0

0-0-0-0

$1,884,000

102

Horse E

3-2-1-0

2-1-1-0

0-0-0-0

0-0-0-0

$320,000

105

Beat Horse D

Horse F

4-2-1-1

3-1-1-1

0-0-0-0

0-0-0-0

$888,570

103

Beat Horse A

Horse G

8-4-2-2

2-1-1-0

2-2-0-0

1-1-0-0

$1,101,100

99

Horse H

9-3-2-1

4-2-0-1

2-0-2-0

1-0-0-0

$892,080

102

Beat Horse D

Beat Horse G


What a messy, messy category...can we just leave the Turf Male award vacant this year? 

Horse D won the most money of any contenders but didn't beat any of his other rivals in the process.  He finished first or second in all five of his Grade 1 races, which gives him a solid lead on the others, but he lost to both Horse E and Horse H on separate occasions.  I'll give him the initial nod.

Horse H has the distinction of beating both Horse D and Horse G, but he wasn't as consistent as either of those horses in his other races.

Horse E holds a win over Horse D and has a win against Grade 1 company, but he only raced three times during the year.  Eh...seems a bit light.

The other contenders all notched a single Grade 1 win and didn't defeat any of the other rivals; their resume is just way too thin.  Horse G would have moved up on a lot on my list if he'd either won another Grade 1 or had beaten some of the other contenders.

It comes down to Horse D and Horse H; do we take the horse that was the most consistent at the highest level or the horse that beat a couple of the top contenders during the year but displayed some inconsistency in other starts?  This is a really tough call but if I'm being consistent with the other categories, I've got to give extra points for head-to-head wins, which Horse H has. 

The 3rd spot goes to Horse F just because I had to pick somebody.

1st: Horse H - Winchester
2nd: Horse D - Gio Ponti
3rd: Horse F - The Usual Q.T.

Horse A is Acclamation, Horse B is Champ Pegasus, Horse C is General Quarters, Horse E is Karelian, Horse G is Paddy O'Prado.

 

Turf Females

Record

G1

G2

G3

Earnings

Top BSF

Notes

Horse A

7-4-1-0

2-1-0-0

1-1-0-0

3-2-0-0

$432,467

93

Horse B

4-3-0-1

2-1-0-1

2-2-0-0

0-0-0-0

$400,000

94

Beat Horse D

Horse C

5-2-0-2

3-1-0-2

1-0-0-0

1-1-0-0

$351,283

96

Horse D

6-4-1-0

4-2-1-0

0-0-0-0

0-0-0-0

$502,600

100

Beat Horse A

Beat Horse B

Horse E

5-4-0-0

5-4-0-0

0-0-0-0

0-0-0-0

$845,000

102

Beat Horse F

Beat Horse H

Horse F

5-2-1-0

3-1-1-0

0-0-0-0

2-1-0-0

$1,289,800

98

Beat Horse D

Horse G

6-6-0-0

1-1-0-0

3-3-0-0

2-2-0-0

$569,100

99

Horse H

7-5-1-0

2-0-0-0

2-2-0-0

2-2-0-0

$539,800

99


This category is about as deep as it gets with this year's Eclipse Awards, and I don't even have the likely winner listed above (Goldikova).  Like the Turf Male category, the Turf Females has a lot to choose from.  Unlike the males, this category has a bunch of fillies that you feel pretty comfortable with as a divisional champion. 

Let's start with Horse G, a filly with a perfect 6-for-6 record during 2010.  She only picked up a single Grade 1 victory but you can't deny that the perfect record is quite nice. 

Horse E won more Grade 1 races than any other filly on this list (4) and banked almost a $1 million during the season.  She also holds wins over Horse F and Horse H. 

Horse D picked up two Grade 1s, came in second in a third, and beat both Horse A and Horse B.  She's a step below E due to the disparity in Grade 1 wins but she's not that far behind.

Horse H would be in the mix for a top three if she could have won at least one Grade 1 during the year instead of finishing out of the money in both tries.  Lack of success at the highest level is a major negative in my mind, so Horse H is out of contention.

The perfect record of Horse G is nice, but I think Horse E has the better resume due to her performance at the Grade 1 level. 

1st: Horse E - Proviso (GB)
2nd: Horse G - Tuscan Evening (IRE)
3rd: Horse D - Harmonious

Horse A  is Check the Label, Horse B is Evening Jewel, Horse C is Gypsy's Warning (SAF), Horse F is Shared Account, and Horse H is Wasted Tears.

 

Other Eclipse Awards

I won't waste time with Older Male, Older Female or Horse of the Year because this exercise is pretty futile when you already know everything about those categories.  Suffice to say that Blame will win Older Male, Zenyatta will win Older Female, and either Blame or Zenyatta will win Horse of the Year.  How's that for a prediction?

Top Trainer

Trainers

Win%

ITM%

Gr. Stk.

G1

G2

G3

Earnings

Trainer A

24.44%

58.79%

22

9

6

7

$10,986,383

Trainer B

21.00%

52.40%

8

2

3

3

$16,149,900

Trainer C

23.46%

64.49%

12

2

6

4

$7,672,904

Trainer D

25.09%

59.03%

17

5

9

3

$9,084,038

Trainer E

23.80%

52.63%

10

0

8

2

$5,894,188

Trainer F

21.15%

51.21%

19

7

6

6

$7,294,153

Trainer G

18.36%

48.76%

9

3

2

4

$5,268,843

Trainer H

25.37%

55.76%

45

14

19

12

$23,250,788


The trainer and jockey categories are a bit anti-climatic for most players.  The type of trainer I like is one that wins when I bet on his horse and also pays decent at the window.  And that's a rarity with the top conditioners since many of their horses get bet down pretty hard.   As for the Eclipse Awards, the top trainer is usually the one with the most cash and the most graded stakes wins, which pretty much ensures that it's the trainer with the largest and deepest stable.

Trainer H (I wonder who that is?!?) has double the Graded Stakes wins of the other contenders, along with the most Grade 1, Grade 2 and Grade 3 wins.  He also banked over $23 million in purses.  I think it's a safe bet that he'll win this category. 

As for the 2nd and 3rd spots, while Trainer B has lots of cash, he fared pretty poorly in the top races during 2010.  That's a negative for me in this category. 

Trainer A won a good amount of money and notched nine Grade 1 victories.  He also sports the third highest winning percentage of this group. 

Trainer D gets the nod over Trainer F for the 3rd spot on the strength of his earnings and winning percentages, and the fact that he holds the edge in those categories while only being two Graded Stakes wins behind.

1st: Trainer H - Todd Pletcher
2nd: Trainer A - Bob Baffert
3rd: Trainer D - Jerry Hollendorfer

Trainer B is Steve Asmussen, Trainer C is Richard Dutrow, Jr., Trainer E is Kiaran McLaughlin, Trainer F is John Sadler, and Trainer G is Graham Motion.

 

Top Jockey

Jockeys

Win%

ITM%

Gr. Stk.

G1

G2

G3

$/Start

Jockey A

15.11%

42.16%

18

12

2

4

$16,133

Jockey B

20.30%

51.02%

30

10

11

9

$21,258

Jockey C

23.70%

56.87%

22

6

10

6

$10,908

Jockey D

16.17%

45.51%

22

2

7

13

$10,516

Jockey E

20.03%

48.48%

31

12

11

8

$14,077

Jockey F

22.88%

54.92%

27

10

10

7

$11,963

Jockey G

16.51%

44.69%

18

6

7

5

$10,881


Like the trainer category, I think to top spot for the jockey division is pretty clear-cut.  Jockey B has a big edge in earnings per start, is only one win behind in total Graded Stakes won (and two behind in Grade 1s), and sports a healthy win and in-the-money percentage.  He's consistently good from category to category, and that's enough to get the nod from me.

Jockey A is an interesting case.  His earnings per start are second highest in the group and he's tied for the most Grade 1 wins.  On the other hand, he's got the lowest winning and in-the-money percentage.  So when he wins, he makes it count (as evidenced by his Grade 1 tally). 

Jockey F doesn't have as high of an earnings per start number as some of the others, but he won a good amount of Graded Stakes races and he's second in both winning and in-the-money percentages. 

Jockey E is consistent across the board in earnings, Graded Stakes wins, and winning percentage.  He's a bit light (comparatively) with his in-the-money percentage, but he seems like a clear top 3 in my mind.

1st: Jockey B - Garrett Gomez
2nd: Jockey F - Joel Rosario
3rd: Jockey E - John Velazquez

Jockey A is Mike Smith, Jockey C is Rafael Bejarano, Jockey D is Julien Leparoux, and Jockey G is Martin Garcia.

Some additional thoughts on jockey evaluation:

I've felt for quite some time that the methods for evaluating the strength and weaknesses of jockeys, especially from the perspective of a player, is severely lacking.  Winning percentage, graded wins and earnings are nice, but they really don't tell us how good the jockey is, only how good the horses he's riding.  That's not to say that I don't think jockeys are important (they are), but I do think that the impact of a particular jockey is extremely difficult to quantify from winning percentage and earnings. 

If you put a ten pound bug boy on Secretariat, how much of a difference will he truly make?  If you put Jerry Bailey on a $10k claimer that is trying stakes company, how much of a difference will he make?

Obviously those are extreme examples but I think the point is a valid one: The horse is the overriding consideration in the handicapping equation, with the jockey an important, but difficult to quantify, factor.

While stakes wins and percentages are nice, I think a far more telling statistic is winning percentage broken out by odds of the horses ridden.  If a jockey rides 100 horses during the year that go off at exactly even money, we would expect him to win 50% (since even money odds indicate the crowd pegs that horse with a 50% chance to win the race).  Certainly there are inefficiencies with the crowd but generally speaking, an odds-on horse should win about half the time.  If the jockey wins 20 times (or 70 times) wouldn't that tell us a bit more about the jockey's impact (assuming we can develop a sample size large enough to weed out fluke events)?

I've tinkered with compiling a database of jockey statistics for a while now but it's an extremely time consuming task, as opposed to creating a track profile or winner's book.  Since the performance of every jockey in every race is required for the analysis, it's a painstaking task of entering in the odds and finish of every horse in every race at the track under scrutiny.  I've been building a jockey database for Emerald Downs and Keeneland for a while now but I'll need to take about a year off if I'm ever going to get it completely done!

If anybody out there wants to provide me a stipend so I can spend the next year compiling a database of jockey data, please don't hesitate to contact me!  (I write that with tongue firmly planted in my cheek...or maybe not.)

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