The Academy Awards, Grammys, Golden Globes, Emmys, MTV Video/Music Awards (eh, okay, scratch that one)... you name the industry, there's an awards show somewhere to be found during the year celebrating the best of the best. Tonight, the American thoroughbred industry gathers to celebrate the best horses of the 2013 season during an awards show where the biggest winners, the horses, won't utter one word of an acceptance speech. Yes, it's the Eclipse Awards - LIVE! from Gulfstream Park at 7:30pm Eastern (or on HRTV, if you happen to be lacking a ticket to this year's event).
If case you haven't paid attention to any of this year's Eclipse Awards chatter, below are the finalists for this year's festivities, along with my $0.02.
|Horse of the Year||Mucho Macho Man||Will Take Charge||Wise Dan|
|Older Male||Game On Dude||Mucho Macho Man||Wise Dan|
|Older Female||Joyful Victory||Royal Delta||Tiz Miz Sue|
|3YO Male||Orb||Palace Malice||Will Take Charge|
|3YO Female||Beholder||Close Hatches||Priness of Sylmar|
|Turf Male||Magician||Point of Entry||Wise Dan|
|Sprinter Male||Points Offthebench||Sahara Sky||Secret Circle|
|Sprinter Female||Dance to Bristol||Groupie Doll||Mizdirection|
|2YO Male||Havana||New Year's Day||Shared Belief|
|2YO Female||Chriselliam||Ria Antonia||She's A Tiger|
|Steeplechase||Gustavian||Divine Fortune||Italian Wedding|
|Trainer||Bob Baffert||Todd Pletcher||Bill Mott|
|Owner||Juddmonte Stable||Midwest Thoroughbreds||Ken & Sarah Ramsey|
|Breeder||Adena Springs||Ken & Sarah Ramsey||Morton Fink|
|Jockey||Javier Castellano||Joel Rosario||Gary Stevens|
|Apprentice||Victor Carrasco||Manual Franco||Edgard Zayas|
Some thoughts on this year's finalists:
Horse of the Year
I think Wise Dan sweeps Horse of the Year, Older Male and Turf Male and, if I had a vote, it wouldn't even be close in any category.
Ii the Horse of the Year category, Mucho Macho Man and Will Take Charge had excellent years, but they didn't do enough to overcome Wise Dan's dominance. I feel similarly with Older Male where Game On Dude's flop in the Classic for the second consecutive year pushes him behind Wise Dan's accomplishments. And, again, Mucho Macho Man did a lot but, overall, I just can't rank his season as better than Wise Dan's.
Then you have Turf Male, which is a slam dunk.
I'm not going to be surprised if they announce Game On Dude as Older Male since for some reason there's this belief among some that Older Male should be geared towards dirt horses but, whatever. As far as I'm concerned, if we're are legitimately asking the question as to which horse was the best older male in the sport in 2013, the answer is without a doubt Wise Dan, regardless of the surface on which he ran.
Turf Female and Female Sprinter
One regret of this year's Eclipse Awards is that there isn't a way for Mizdirection to win something. Unfortunately, she fits into that "specialist" group that isn't going to win a tough division like Turf Female or Female Sprinter. Being arguably the best downhill turf sprinter in Santa Anita's history isn't going to win you an Eclipse, but she was an excellent runner that deserves some kudos. I suppose her two Breeders' Cup trophies will suffice.
Groupie Doll is the clear choice in the sprinter category, and while she only raced limited times in North America in 2013, Dank was so good in her two race (Beverly D. and BC Filly & Mare Turf) that it's tough to argue that she wasn't the best female horse to run on the grass in America this year.
Personally, I rated Dank's win in the Beverly D. as the top individual female turf performance of 2013; she was just miles and miles better than her rivals that day. Yeah, she only ran two times in America, but those two times she was clearly the best against top quality competition.
If Orb had done anything - ANYTHING - after his huge Derby victory, he would have been the leader in the clubhouse for this award by July. But a season that essentially fell apart after his triumph at Churchill in May leaves the Derby winner as a long shot to walk away as the champion three-year-old colt of 2013. His run to the Derby and his performance in Louisville was fantastic but it's not enough this year because...
Will Take Charge was simply the best three-year-old colt in the country when you look at the year as a whole. He struggled during the Derby prep/Triple Crown season but when he finally started to figure it all out, he became one of the best classic distance horses in the country. His narrow defeat in the Classic only solidified his status as the top three-year-old male of 2013.
What an incredibly deep category, perhaps the deepest and best of them all. Princess of Sylmar gets my vote for her overall body of work but all three fillies ran some absolutely mammoth races during 2013 and they are all worthy champions in my mind.
I wish all the categories were as deep as the three-year-old filly division. Speaking of weak divisions...
Juvenile Male and Juvenile Female
The juvenile categories... ugh. I suppose if I had to vote I'd go She's A Tiger and Havana but, really, the records of juvenile horses are so thin these days that I just can't declare any of them a "champion" on the level of the other Eclipse winners. They are quality animals that won some big races but, and this is just me, the juvenile category has really decreased in my eyes lately given the glorified allowance company nature of most (not all) of our juvenile graded stakes races.
Now we're getting into the good stuff. Oh, that's right. I don't know jack about steeplechase racing. I actually like watching it when TVG or HRTV show some of the jump races from England and Ireland but, yeah, I can't say that I know anything about the three finalists for this category.
If you are looking strictly at the numbers - total races won and earnings - Gary Stevens isn't going to be your choice as top jockey of 2013 (that would be Javier Castellano). If you look at what the guy accomplished after coming back at the age of 50 - winning the Preakness, the Breeders' Cup Distaff and the Breeders' Cup Classic - it's really incredible.
A funny thing about the jockey category: if you were voting on this one back in May or June, Rosario would have been a much stronger contender given his red-hot riding at that time. The rest of 2013 wasn't as successful as the early part of the year for Joel, pretty much opening the door for a long shot like Stevens.
Castellano has the numbers and I'd have no problem seeing him win this category. In fact, while I think Stevens will get a big chunk of votes, Javier will probably walk away with the hardware given his truly fantastic year in the saddle.
If you've ever hung out at a track, an OTB, or just follow a lot of horseplayers on Twitter, you know there is one immutable truth about horseplayers: we love to complain about jockeys. (As much as I love Twitter, it's almost exhausting to see endless stream of jockey complaints day after day after day from some of the same people. If I didn't know any better, I'd swear these people would have a 90% winning percentage if it wasn't for jockey error.)
Anyway, complaining about a bad ride, or lord knows what else, is kind of a tradition in our sport, not dissimilar from complaining about balls and strikes in baseball. If you want to ramp up the complaining to epic levels, just put a bug next to the weight in the Form, cause horseplayers love nothing more than getting beat due to a bad ride by a bugboy.
Oh, a prediction for the Apprentice Jockey category? Here's a prediction: beware of the rail birds, bugboys, cause the mob is fickle.
Owner & Breeder
We really need Ken Ramsey giving two speeches tonight. I love listening to Ken because his enthusiasm and love for the sport is always on full display. Plus, I think he's a great sportsman; he's taken his horses all across the country and the world to compete at the highest levels. You really can't ask for much more than that in today's sport.