While most of the main players landed in their expected spots, a few surprises and conspicuous absences were present when the finalists for the 2016 Eclipse Awards were announced Jan. 5.
Led by Horse of the Year candidates Arrogate, California Chrome and Songbird, the National Thoroughbred Racing Association (NTRA), Daily Racing Form and the National Turf Writers and Broadcasters (NTWAB) voted on the honorees in 17 horse and human categories with the winners being announced at the 46th annual Eclipse Awards dinner and ceremony, presented by Daily Racing Form, Breeders' Cup and The Stronach Group, Jan. 21 at Gulfstream Park.
Of the 264 eligible voters representing the NTRA, the NTWAB and Daily Racing Form, 248 (93.94%) took part in this year's voting. Finalists were determined in each category by voters' top three selections, using a 10-5-1 point basis. Eclipse Award winners are determined solely by first place votes.
In addition to being the front-runners for Horse of the Year honors, Arrogate and California Chrome—the 1-2 finishers in the $6 million Breeders' Cup Classic (G1)—are also slam dunks to take home divisional honors for champion 3-year-old male and champion older dirt male, respectively. Though the late-blooming Arrogate did what no other horse achieved last year in handing California Chrome his lone defeat from eight starts, the latter still looms as the heavy favorite to take home the hardware thanks to remarkable season that saw him become North America's all-time leading money earner.
California Chrome earned Horse of the Year honors in 2014 and would become first horse to take the accolades in non-consecutive years since John Henry in 1981 and 1984.
Like her fellow Horse of the Year finalists, Songbird is a lock to reign over her division as champion 3-year-old filly following a campaign that saw no member of her class seriously challenge her during her seven wins. Her one loss came when she was bested by the barest of noses by champion Beholder in the Longines Breeders' Cup Distaff (G1). Fittingly, Beholder is slated to earn her fourth career Eclipse Award as the favorite among the finalists for champion older dirt female.
Having earned three grade/group 1 wins in three different countries including two against males, Robert Masterson's Tepin headlines the finalists for champion turf female, a category she captured in 2015. Though the daughter of Bernstein is expected to take that honor again over fellow finalists Lady Eli and Miss Temple City, her absence as a Horse of the Year finalist was one of the mild surprises.
The race for Outstanding Jockey figures to be hotly contested with three-time defending winner Javier Castellano taking his expected place alongside Mike Smith and first-time finalist Jose Ortiz. Not included in the bunch, however, was Florent Geroux, who ranked second behind Castellano in graded stakes wins with 30 for 2016, 10 of which were grade I triumphs.
Juddmonte Farms, owners of Arrogate and turf male finalist Flintshire , headline the finalists for Outstanding Owner along with four-time category winners Ken and Sarah Ramsey and B. Wayne Hughes' Spendthrift Farm, which posted seven graded stakes wins from just 35 starts. Not making the cut was the partnership Klaravich Stables and William H. Lawrence, which led all owners in graded stakes wins (9) and ranked fifth overall in earnings with 5,143,549.
The race for leading trainer is between four-time winner Bob Baffert, Canadian Hall of Famer Mark Casse, and Chad Brown, who led the nation in earnings, graded stakes wins, and grade I victories. Should Brown prevail as expected, it would mark the first Eclipse Award for the former protege of the late Hall of Famer Bobby Frankel.
The 2016 Eclipse Awards finalists (in alphabetical order) are:
Horse of the Year: Arrogate, California Chrome, Songbird
Two-Year-Old Male: Classic Empire, Not This Time , Practical Joke
Two-Year-Old Filly: Champagne Room, Lady Aurelia, New Money Honey
Three-Year-Old Male: Arrogate, Exaggerator , Nyquist
Three-Year-Old Filly: Cathryn Sophia, Queen's Trust, Songbird
Older Dirt Male: California Chrome, Frosted , Lord Nelson
Older Dirt Female: Beholder, Cavorting, Stellar Wind
Male Sprinter: A.P. Indian, Drefong, Lord Nelson
Female Sprinter: Finest City, Haveyougoneaway, Paulassilverlining
Male Turf Horse: Flintshire (GB), Highland Reel, Tourist
Female Turf Horse: Lady Eli, Miss Temple City, Tepin
Steeplechase Horse: Rawnaq (IRE), Scorpiancer (IRE), Top Striker
Owner: Juddmonte Farms, Ken and Sarah Ramsey, Spendthrift Farm
Breeder: Clearsky Farms, Darley, WinStar Farm
Trainer: Bob Baffert, Chad Brown, Mark Casse
Jockey: Javier Castellano, Jose Ortiz, Mike Smith
Apprentice Jockey: Kevin Gomez, Lane Luzzi, Luis Ocasio