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Wise Dan returns to the winners’ circle at Saratoga following a courageous win in the Bernard Baruch Handicap (II) over Optimizer.

Wise Dan returns to the winners’ circle at Saratoga following a courageous win in the Bernard Baruch Handicap (II) over Optimizer.

2002 U.S. Horse of the Year Azeri's sale-topping baby by two-time Japanese Horse of the Year Deep Impact [JPN] is probably one of the best-looking babies I’ve seen to date (check out his conformation and walking video). He sold for the equivalent of $2.35 million. (Photo by JHRA)

2002 U.S. Horse of the Year Azeri's sale-topping baby by two-time Japanese Horse of the Year Deep Impact [JPN] is probably one of the best-looking babies I’ve seen to date (check out his conformation and walking video). He sold for the equivalent of $2.35 million. (Photo by JHRA)

Through thick and thin, Wise Dan wins! (Photo by Reed Palmer)

Through thick and thin, Wise Dan wins! (Photo by Reed Palmer)

Never was there a more graceful gob of spit, 
Than the saliva dripping from Rachel Alexandra's bit.
THANK YOU I WROTE THAT ONE MYSELF!

Never was there a more graceful gob of spit,

Than the saliva dripping from Rachel Alexandra's bit.

THANK YOU I WROTE THAT ONE MYSELF!

I love how these two are pasture mates! 2011 Horse of the Year Havre de Grace and 2011 Kentucky Oaks winner Plum Pretty hanging out at Taylor Made. (Photo by Kent Sweezey)

I love how these two are pasture mates! 2011 Horse of the Year Havre de Grace and 2011 Kentucky Oaks winner Plum Pretty hanging out at Taylor Made. (Photo by Kent Sweezey)

Havre de Grace, the $10 million lady, at Taylor Made

Havre de Grace, the $10 million lady, at Taylor Made

Havre de Grace (Photo by Greg Brandow)

Havre de Grace (Photo by Greg Brandow)

To “Grace” Be The Glory: The Eclipse Awards Last Night

This year was my first time tuning into the Eclipse Awards, American Thoroughbred racing’s highest year-end honors, and while the stream was very poor, the awards did not disappoint. In a year with many divisions lacking a single stand-out champion, the illustrious Horse of the Year prize went to heavily-favored Havre de Grace along with a shut-out in Older Female, culminating a remarkable campaign against girls and boys alike. Hansen drew the voters in for his two-year-old award, and Bill Mott triumphed in a close race for Trainer of the Year.

  • Horse of the Year: Havre de Grace [166 votes] (Acclamation: 26, Game On Dude: 10)
  • Male Juvenile: Hansen [194 votes] (Union Rags: 52, Secret Circle: 1)
  • Female Juvenile: My Miss Aurelia [247 votes] (Stephanie’s Kitten: 1)
  • Three-Year-Old Male: Animal Kingdom [114 votes] (Caleb’s Posse: 111, Shackleford: 12)
  • Three-Year-Old Female: Royal Delta [243 votes] (Awesome Feather: 2, Plum Pretty: 2)
  • Older Male: Acclamation [95 votes] (Game On Dude: 70, Tizway: 52)
  • Older Female: Havre de Grace [245 votes] (Blind Luck: 2, Awesome Maria: 1)
  • Male Turf: Cape Blanco [IRE] [172 votes] (Acclamation: 55, St. Nicholas Abbey [IRE]: 16)
  • Female Turf: Stacelita [158 votes] (Perfect Shirl: 28, Never Retreat: 25)
  • Male Sprinter: Amazombie [201 votes] (Caleb’s Posse: 42, Regally Ready: 2)
  • Female Sprinter: Musical Romance [131 votes] (Hilda’s Passion: 53, Sassy Image: 46]
  • Steeplechaser: Black Jack Blues [IRE] [137 votes] (Tax Ruling: 80, Decoy Daddy [IRE]: 1)
  • Trainer of the Year: Bill Mott [83 votes] (Bob Baffert: 60, Todd Pletcher: 57)
  • Jockey of the Year: Ramon Dominguez [197 votes] (John Velazquez: 30, Javier Castellano: 14)
  • Apprentice Jockey of the Year: Kyle Frey [77 votes] (Ryan Curatolo: 57, Rosario Montanez: 19)
  • Owner of the Year: Ken and Sarah Ramsey [55 votes] (Midwest Thoroughbreds: 60, Team Valor International: 25)
  • Breeder of the Year: Adena Springs [151 votes] (Ken and Sarah Ramsey: 62, Ocala Stud: 5)

Among the most surprising and controversial of results, Animal Kingdom won the award for Best Three-Year-Old Male by a mere 3 votes over the terrific, dual-G1 winner Caleb’s Posse. The two, while expected to have a close race, were the hot topic of discussion for several months leading up to the Eclipse Awards, and by the looks of things, many non-voters were disgruntled by the outcome.

Also, now that mares have won the Horse of the Year prize for the past three years running, is it still just to still rank their victories in male-dominated races higher than when those same races are captured by the colts?

Overall, not a bad ceremony, but they could use a new audio and graphics person for the next stream and video presentation!

Personal Eclipse Awards Picks

The problem with the Breeders’ Cup in addition to the Triple Crown races is that while they’re considered among the most prestigious races in the States, they are given too much emphasis when determining the year’s very best horses. A handicap star might lose out to the winner of a single Classic while injuries plague an otherwise gifted horse from securing proper recognition. The Eclipse Awards were designed to revel the year’s best horses, but have been known to leave out a lot of horses in its short-list. Excuses aside, here are my personal picks for the Eclipse Awards.

Award: Winner [Second Choice, Third Choice]

  • Best Two-Year-Old Male: Union Rags [Hansen, Creative Cause]

Creative Cause, while talented, doesn’t stand much of a chance against BC Juvie winner Hansen, who while extremely gifted, doesn’t strike me as a real future champion. The best horse of the bunch is Union Rags, hands down, who came up short in the BC after impressively winning stakes such as the Champagne and Saratoga Special earlier.

  • Best Two-Year-Old Filly: My Miss Aurelia [Stephanie’s Kitten, Killer Graces]

Aurelia’s body of work is astounding and promising, as much as I love Stephanie’s Kitten and Killer Graces.

  • Best Three-Year-Old Male: Caleb’s Posse [Animal Kingdom, Stay Thirsty]

AK, while brilliant, did not get the chance to further prove himself as I would have liked to see. Stay Thirsty had a phenomenal summer campaign, but that was about his limit. Caleb’s Posse always impressed, beating Uncle Mo, Shackleford, Wilburn, and older horses to stay unbeaten around one turn. Who says it has to go to a classic winner?

  • Best Three-Year-Old Filly: Royal Delta [It’s Tricky, Zazu]

The other two noms are great in their own way, but Bill Mott had Royal Delta primed to fire when it truly counted. Aside from a show spot with a sore hoof, she’s beaten just about everybody in her age group!

  • Best Older Male: Acclamation [Tizway, Game On Dude]

Acclamation reads like a dream iron horse that doesn’t exist anymore, winning races against top horses on turf and synthetic to win 5 graded stakes despite a sidelining injury. When I think of brilliance, I think Tizway this year. He showed beautifully in the Met Mile as well as the Whitney to overpower the handicap division in the most competitive company of milers and beyond, but had his career cut a little too early. Game On Dude was consistently edgy and great all year.

  • Best Older Female: Havre de Grace [Blind Luck, Awesome Maria]

Grace had the most impressive campaign, despite a narrow defeat to Blind Luck.

  • Best Sprinter: Amazombie [Jackson Bend, Force Freeze]

Each talented in their own right, Amazombie was a stand-out this year with excellent wins in the BC Sprint and Ancient Title.

  • Female Sprinter: Pomeroys Pistol [Turbulent Descent, Musical Romance]

An unfortunately shallow division, Turby had too many bad days to really make an impact. Pomeroy Pistol’s scores were stand-outs to me and came even after the Breeders’ Cup where she ran a short fourth. Musical Romance kind of got lucky and I’m not convinced of her ability yet.

  • Turf Male: Cape Blanco [Acclamation, St. Nicholas Abbey]

I love Acclamation, but Cape Blanco probably would have devoured him and St. Nicholas Abbey on any grassy spot. He was always dominating and impressive this year with three straight G1s.

  • Turf Female: Never Retreat [Stacelita, Winter Memories]

Stacelita was powerful this year and Winter Memories a talented but troubled runner, but among the truly strong runs were done by Never Retreat who won 5 graded stakes.

  • Horse of the Year: Havre de Grace [Cape Blanco, Acclamation]

The second filly to win the Woodward, she led a great campaign all year long to draw the crowds

Four Horses That Could Win HOTY

The American Horse of the Year Award is looking as foggy as ever following the conclusion of the Breeders’ Cup. While voters in the States love giving it to a good, classic dirt horse, honestly, the pickings are slim. Many of the year’s finest runners also never made to the championships, and those that did threw in clunkers when it counted the most. 

Let’s take a peek at who’s looking good enough to make one of the three slots for HOTY candidates:

  • Tizway - If there was a miler award, Tizway would get it, and I wouldn’t be shocked to see this horse steal the Older Male Award. Looking past a few blemishes and the injury/illness that sidelined him from deeper competition, Tizway was the most dominating horse in a year that lacked substance and consistency. He swept the Met Mile (I) with fantastic speed and ease before taking the Whitney (I) the same way over multiple G1 winners like Flat Out and Giant Oak. There hangs the question of “what if?” when it comes to whether or not he could beat other horses on this list, but I think the voters will be able to decide on class for themselves.
  • Acclamation [pictured] - A choice many would not (somehow) agree with, dare I say Acclamation was one of the year’s most impressive horses period. Long gone are the days where horses could get a mile and a quarter, but almost unheard of are the horses who can do that on practically any surface in graded competition. He beat up Twirling Candy in the Pacific Classic (I) and Champ Pegasus in the Joe Hirsch (I) to reel off a stunning five graded victories in a row, three of them G1 and two of them Breeders’ Cup Challenge races. He wasn’t able to make it to the Downs due to a minor injury, but really, how can you question such a resume? I know voters prefer “true” classic dirt horses, but Acclamation had one hell of a year and deserves a serious look.
  • Game On Dude - Arguably the west’s best handicap horse, Game On Dude has been through a vigorous campaign this year, his record for 2011 standing at 3-2-1 in 7 starts— all but one graded stakes, 4 of them G1, and two of those G1s were wins. An incredibly quick horse, had he seen Drosselmeyer coming from behind his blinkers in Classic, I don’t sincerely believe he would have let him pass by. Additionally, may I be so bold to say had it not been for Drosselmeyer’s last-minute rush, there would be no serious need for this article.
  • Havre de Grace - She went from a pretty good sort of horse last year with a nomination for best three-year-old filly (losing to Blind Luck) to beating the boys in one of the most important dirt races for older horses, the Woodward. She has the best shot at winning HOTY, which she desperately wants, with a 2011 record of 5-1-0 from 7 all-graded starts, with three wins in G1 races and her only loss outside the Classic was by a nose to Blind Luck. She’s beaten the JCGC winner Flat Out, the eventual Ladies’ Classic winner Royal Delta, and a whole heap of other great horses. While she finished an honest fifth in the Classic, behind only G1 winners, she’s still one of the best to run this year.

Who gets my personal vote: Havre de Grace. Best campaign, beat who she needed to to get to the award, and let’s face it: the female division was very strong this year compared to the lackluster male.

Going to the Thoroughbred races, keeping "track" of the memories. Obsessively providing a comprehensive and personal glance at the sport of kings through original photography, handicapping analysis, editorials, and much more.

Tracks visited: Calder, Saratoga, Belmont, Suffolk, Aqueduct.


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