The Eclipse Award finalists, announced Jan. 5, reveal many familiar names in the human categories, with several big-name horses appearing in more than one category. Although most of the winners look like sure things, there are still some potential drag-out battles in the Sprint and 4-Year-Old and Up Female categories.
The three finalists in each category were determined by the three voting organizations – the National Turf Writers Association; racing secretaries at National Thoroughbred Racing Association tracks and employees of Equibase, and the Daily Racing Form
. Like last year, the winners will be determined by popular vote. (View Complete List of Eclipse Award finalists)
No finalists were announced in the Horse of the Year category, where the battle between Ghostzapper and Smarty Jones has evoked strong feelings from supporters of each horse.
Ghostzapper, who is a shoo-in for the 4-Year-Old and Up Male championship following his undefeated campaign and victory in the Breeders' Cup Classic – Powered by Dodge (gr. I), also has been selected as a finalist in the Sprint category off his victory in the seven-furlong Tom Fool Handicap (gr. II), run in a blazing 1:20.42.
In the 3-Year-Old Colt and Gelding category, which Smarty Jones has locked up, it is interesting to note that one of the finalists is Kitten's Joy, who is pretty much a sure thing to win the 3-Year-Old and Up Male Turf championship. The other finalist is Belmont (gr. I) and Travers (gr. I) winner Birdstone.
If there is one aspect of the Eclipse vote that remains consistent, it is the infatuation of the voters with European invaders, who have dominated the turf categories in recent years despite having only made one start in the United States. Although Breeders' Cup Filly & Mare Turf (gr. I) winner Ouija Board, looks like an overwhelming and deserving choice in the 3-Year-Old and Up Female Turf category, voters also have made her a finalist in the 3-Year-Old Filly category, along with Ashado and Stellar Jayne. They overlooked such major stakes winners as Alabama (gr. I) and Test (gr. I) winner Society Selection and Ashland (gr. I) winner Madcap Escapade, winner of four of her five starts, including three stakes.
The two undecided categories are the Sprint, in which voters will have to choose between two deserving horses in Pico Central and Speightstown, and 4-Year-Old and Up Female, dominated by two-time defending champ Azeri and Sightseek.
While the breeder category has the same familiar names, it will be interesting to see if voters go for the leading owner in wins and earnings, Michael Gill; the ebullient Ken Ramsey and his wife Sarah, owners of major stars Kitten's Joy, Roses in May, and Nothing to Lose, or the ubiquitous Frank Stronach, owner of Ghostzapper.
In a surprising development, John Servis, who did such a masterful job on and off the racetrack handling Smarty Jones, as well as 2-year-old star Rockport Harbor, was not among the finalists in the Trainer category. The top three vote-getters were Todd Pletcher, who was dominant all year; Steve Asmussen, who broke Jack Van Berg's record for most wins in a single year; and Bobby Frankel, who has won the award the past three years.(View Complete List of Eclipse Award finalists)