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A Total Eclipse

With the 2009 racing season winding down it's time to start talking about the Eclipse Awards. Well, sure, everyone has been debating Horse of the Year for weeks now, but what about the other awards. Below are my votes for each Eclipse category, if I were to have a vote.

Two-Year Old Colt

Record

Trainer

Notes

Lookin At Lucky

5-4-1-0

Baffert

Tough luck 2nd at BC; won G1 Norfolk and Del Mar Futurity

Noble's Promise

5-3-1-1

McPeek

Won G1-Borders Futurity at KEE; 3rd in BC Juvenile

Buddy's Saint

3-3-0-0

Levine

Won G2-Remsen and G2-Nasha at AQU.

I think it's pretty clear that this vote comes down to Lookin At Lucky and Buddy's Saint, and it also begins our first dirt vs. synthetic debate that will be prevelant again and again during this discussion. Lookin At Lucky was an unlucky second in the Breeders' Cup where he had to make a very wide turn coming for home. A better trip and he'd be lookin' at a perfect five-for-five record and three Grade 1 victories. Buddy's Saint skipped the Breeders' Cup and, instead, took home both the G2-Remsen and the G2-Nashua Stakes at Aqueduct this fall. His Remsen performance was very impressive and he's got the look of a very nice Derby contender come this spring. As for which one I think deserves the title of two-year old champion? I'm going with the Breeders' Cup runner up since I think he's the best two-year old regardless of the surface. Buddy's Saint is the best two-year old on dirt but I think overall, Lookin At Lucky has done more in 2009.

2009 Two-Year Old Colt: Lookin At Lucky


Two-Year Old Filly

Record

Trainer

Notes

She Be Wild

5-4-1-0

Catalano

Won BC Juvenile Fillies, 2nd in G1-Alicibades at KEE.

Hot Dixie Chick

4-3-1-0

Asmussen

Won G1-Spinaway at Saratoga

Blind Luck

5-3-1-0

Hollendorfer

Won G1-Oak Lead; 3rd in BC Juvenile Fillies

I suppose we could have a dirt vs. synthetic debate in this division, as well, but on the basis of her entire record She Be Wild would be my pick for two-year old filly champion. Hot Dixie Chick put up some great performances at Saratoga this summer but we've never seen her venture outside of New York for a stakes race, and she hasn't tried anything longer than 7 furlongs. On the other hand, She Be Wild ran at Arlington, Keeneland, and the Breeders' Cup and is only a ½ length defeat to Negligee from a perfect five-for-five on the season. Catalano's filly takes this one easily.

2009 Two-Year Old Filly: She Be Wild


Three-Year Old Colt

Record

Trainer

Notes

Summer Bird

9-4-1-1

Ice

Won G1-Belmont, G1-Travers, and G1-Jockey Club Gold Cup.

Mine that Bird

8-1-2-2

Woolley

Derby winner; 2nd in the Preakness to Rachel Alexandra.

Zensational

7-5-1-0

Baffert

Sprinter won three Grade 1's during 2009.

I think Quality Road, a horse that I didn't not include in my Top 3, is probably the most talented three-year old in this year's crop but his inconsistency/injuries have prevented him from compiling the body of work necessary to be considered champion three-year old colt. Mine that Bird pulled off a stunning upset in the Derby and ran admirably the rest of the year but he's simply not the best of bunch. Summer Bird is really the only legitimate choice in this category coming off three Grade 1 victories during the year and a fourth place finish in the Breeders' Cup Classic.

2009 Three-Year Old Colt: Summer Bird


Three-Year Old Filly

Record

Trainer

Notes

Rachel Alexandra

8-8-0-0

Asumssen

Won five Grade 1 races, including G1-Ky Oaks & G1-Preakness.

There's no reason to consider any other filly in this category; Rachel Alexandra was head and shoulders above all the competition.

2009 Three-Year Old Filly: Rachel Alexandra


Older Male Horse

Record

Trainer

Notes

Gio Ponti

7-4-2-0

Clement

Four Grade 1 wins on Turf; 2nd in BC Classic.

Kodiak Kowboy

8-4-2-1

Asmussen

Three G1 wins; 2nd in the G1-Forego.

Einstein (BRZ)

8-2-1-0

Pitts

Started the year with two G1 wins, form slipped later on.

Possibly the weakest division of 2009 contains a Top 3 that includes a turf horse, a sprinter/miler, and another turf horse. Einstein (BRZ) started the year brilliantly and with the Classic at Santa Anita, he looked to have an inside track on champion older male horse. However, he was unable to hold onto his good form and finished the year a disappointing 3rd in the Clark Handicap after an abysmal 11th in the BC Classic. Kodiak Kowboy makes my list due to his general consistency throughout the year (a 7th place finish in the Churchill Downs Handicap on Derby day is his only poor race). In the end, Gio Ponti clinched this category with his second to Zenyatta in the Breeders' Cup Classic. During the 2009 season, Gio Ponti racked up wins in the G1-Arlington Million, G1-Manhattan, G1-Man O'War, and the G1-Frank Kilroe Handicap. That's an impressive resume for any horse, whether on turf, dirt, or synthetic.

2009 Older Male Horse: Gio Ponti


Older Female Horse

Record

Trainer

Notes

Zenyatta

5-5-0-0

Shirreffs

Five Grade 1 wins; Won G1-Breeder' Cup Classic

Like Rachel Alexandra in the three-year old filly category, Zenyatta is a lock for champion older female horse.

2009 Older Female Horse: Zenyatta


Sprint

Record

Trainer

Notes

Zensational

7-5-1-0

Baffert

Three Grade 1 wins over synthetic tracks.

Fabulous Strike

5-2-3-0

Beattie

Two G2 wins; 2nd in G1-Vosburg and G1-Carter

Kodiak Kowboy

8-4-2-1

Asmussen

Won G1-Vosburg and G1-Carter

Informed Decision

7-6-0-1

Sheppard

Three G1 wins; twice beat Ventura; won BC F&M Sprint

Ventura

6-3-3-0

Frankel

Won G1-Woodbine Mile and G1-Santa Monica; 2nd in BC F&M Sprint

There isn't an Eclipse category for Champion Turf Sprinter so I've included those horses in this analysis. Essentially we've got three different types of horses competing for this category. In the first group we have traditional dirt sprinter that are running in races on the east coast. In the second group we've got California horses running in sprints over the synthetic tracks at Keeneland and southern California. And finally we have a bunch of turf sprinters that have been running all over the country. So how do we pick a champion out of this group?

Since the category is for sprinters, and not restricted to any particular surface designation, my belief is the champion should be the most impressive horse regardless of surface. Zensational was sensational over synthetic tracks but couldn't get it done in the Breeders' Cup. Fabulous Strike was a monster on dirt but only came away with two wins in five tries which doesn't scream "champion" to me. Kodiak Kowboy was solid all year long, including his season ending victory in the G1-Cigar. Ventura, had she been able to win at the Breeders' Cup, would probably have been my choice as I think she was the best sprinter, colt or filly, in North America. Unfortunately for Ventura, she met her match during the Breeders' Cup with Informed Decision. While Informed Decision did most of her work on synthetic tracks (although she did win the G1-Humana Distaff on the Derby undercard), she was consistently the best sprinter in the country. And had it not been for a troubled trip in the G1-Balerina at Saratoga she might have gone seven-for-seven.

2009 Sprint Horse: Informed Decision


Female Sprinter

Record

Trainer

Notes

Informed Decision

7-6-0-1

Sheppard

Three G1 wins; twice beat Ventura (GB); won BC F&M Sprint

Since I believe Informed Decision to be worth of the title of Champion Sprinter (male or female), it goes without saying that she's a slam dunk for the title of female sprinter of the year.

2009 Female Sprint Horse: Informed Decision


Male Turf Horse

Record

Trainer

Notes

Gio Ponti

7-4-2-0

Clement

Four Grade 1 wins on Turf; 2nd in BC Classic.

Conudit (IRE)

5-2-1-1

Stoute

Won G1-Breeders' Cup Turf.

Conduit (IRE) won this award last year solely off his performance in the Breeders' Cup. And while I don't have a problem giving an award to a horse that only races once in North America during the year (see Female Turf below), I think Gio Ponti's body of work gets him the nod in 2009. As highlighted above, Gio Ponti was the dominate male turf horse in North America this past season, along with the runner-up to Zenyatta in the Breeders' Cup Classic. Had Gio Ponti not been so dominate in his turf race I would be more likely to go in Conduit's direction. But I just can't overlook winning the Arlington Million, Manhattan, Man O'War, and Frank Kilroe all in the same year.

2009 Male Turf Horse: Gio Ponti


Female Turf Horse

Record

Trainer

Notes

Goldikova (IRE)

6-4-0-1

Head

Won second consecutive G1-Breeders' Cup Turf Mile

Ventura

6-3-3-0

Frankel

Won G1-Woodbine Mile and G1-Santa Monica; 2nd in BC F&M Sprint

I suppose I could have thrown Breeders' Cup Filly and Mare Turf winner Midday (GB) into the mix but I really think this whole category is comes down to the two horses above. Ventura had a spectacular year, highlighted by win over the boys in the G1-Woodbine Mile in her prior Breeders' Cup prep race. She was denied repeat glory on the synthetic in the F&M Sprint but finished off her season with a dominating victory in the Matriarch at Hollywood Park last Saturday. However, I just don't think she did enough to be considered champion female turf horse when compared to Goldikova (IRE).

While Goldikova only ran once in North America this year, there is no doubt in my mind that she was the best female turf runner. Her performance in this year's BC Mile was, like last year, simply breathtaking and dominating. Not only do I think that Goldikova is the best female turf horse to run on this continent this year but I think she was the most talented horse overall. That doesn't mean I think she should be Horse of the Year, far from it. What it means is that I think on a purely raw thoroughbred talent standpoint, Goldikova was the best horse to run in North America this year.

2009 Female Turf Horse: Goldikova (IRE)


Horse of the Year

Record

Trainer

Notes

Rachel Alexandra

8-8-0-0

Asmussen

Won G1-Ky Oak, G1-Preakness, and G1-Haskell

Zenyatta

5-5-0-0

Shirreffs

Won five Grade 1 races including Breeders' Cup Classic

So we finally get to the big one: Horse of the Year. An intensely fierce debate has developed over the past couple of months as to which of these two fantastic fillies deserves the title of Horse of the Year. And I'll continue that debate with a separate post dedicated to this very topic…in the near future.