Breeders' Cup Classic champ Curlin tops Steve Haskin's list of likely Eclipse Award winners.<br><a target="blank" href="">Order This Photo</a>

Breeders' Cup Classic champ Curlin tops Steve Haskin's list of likely Eclipse Award winners.
Order This Photo

Jeffrey Snyder

Eclipse Awards a No-Brainer This Year

Start engraving the Eclipse Awards. This year's honors are all but a done deal.

Start engraving the Eclipse Awards. This year’s honors are all but a done deal. Despite the horrible conditions at Monmouth Park, the Breeders’ Cup World Championships were surprisingly formful, with several favorites and leading contenders turning in dominating performances. Other than the absent Rags to Riches, there is an excellent chance every Breeders’ Cup winner on Oct. 27 will take home an Eclipse Award.

Horse of the YearCurlin’s tour de force in the Breeders’ Cup Powered by Dodge (gr. I) clinched Horse of the Year honors for the son of Smart Strike, who sired the winners of both the Classic and the John Deere Breeders’ Cup Turf (gr. IT).

Curlin will become the first 3-year-old to be voted Horse of the Year since Point Given in 2001, and the honor is well deserved. Not even veteran horsemen can recall a horse accomplishing what Curlin has in such a short period of time. By clinching the title, he will become the second horse (excluding 2-year-olds) since Counterpoint in 1951 to break his maiden and be voted Horse of the Year in the same year. Tiznow broke his maiden, won the Classic, and was voted Horse of the Year in 2000.

Curlin’s accomplishments are even more remarkable, considering he had two distinct campaigns. There was the whirlwind Triple Crown campaign, in which he kept firing bullets race after race, and getting through a grueling Triple Crown, despite having little foundation under him. Everyone kept waiting for him to hit the proverbial brick wall, but he never did. Then there was his summer and fall campaign, in which he had two eight-week layoffs and showed that he’s equally effective going into his races fresh.

In his victories the grade I Breeders’ Cup Classic, Preakness, and Jockey Club Gold Cup, grade II Arkansas Derby, grade III Rebel Stakes, and a maiden victory, he has won on the lead, come from one length back to win, three lengths back, five lengths back, and 10 and 13 lengths back.

He equaled the track record in the Classic (though Monmouth no longer cards races at 10 furlongs, many great horses have competed at that distance over the years) and equaled the stakes record in the Preakness, each time turning in powerful final fractions. He has won photo finishes and he has routed his opposition by as many as 10 1/2 and 12 3/4 lengths.

On a sloppy track that was playing relatively slow all day in two-turn races, and producing slow final fractions, he came home each of his final two quarters in the Classic in :24 1/5. This is starting to sound like we’re venturing into Spectacular Bid territory. It’s obviously too early to compare Curlin with The Bid, but if he stays in training at 4, he’d certainly be heading in that direction.

2-Year-Old Male – Undefeated in four starts and winner of the grade I Champagne Stakes and Bessemer Trust Breeders’ Cup Juvenile (gr. I). That’s a wrap. War Pass could very well receive every vote for the Eclipse Award.

2-Year-Old Female – Undefeated in three starts and winner of the grade I Frizette Stakes and Grey Goose Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies (gr. I).  Indian Blessing, like her male counterpart, blew her opponents away on the turn and drew off to a huge lead at the eighth pole. Another horse who could and should receive every vote.

3-Year-Old MaleCurlin, of course, but let’s not forget the heroics all year of Street Sense and Hard Spun. Street Sense may have just been over the top after those two tough races at Saratoga. While he was battling his way to hard-earned victories in sweltering heat, Curlin was resting up for his fall campaign. Let’s also remember that while Curlin was breezing an easy half in :50 1/5 over Keeneland’s Polytrack surface five days before the Classic, Street Sense was working five furlongs, coming home his final quarter in :22 and change and galloping out seven panels in 1:25 2/5 and pulling up a mile in 1:38 3/5 four days before the race. His Breeders’ Cup Juvenile-Kentucky Derby-Travers triple will not be duplicated for a long time. As for Hard Spun, he didn’t have a championship year, but proved he’s a throwback to the tough, durable horses of years past. Not only has he been running his butt off since last October, he, unlike closers such as Street Sense, runs hard every step of the way from gate to wire, fighting off all challengers. These are three rare individuals.

3-Year-Old Female – How good does Rags to Riches’ Belmont (gr. I) win look now? This is one of the all-time greats, and you can throw out her defeat in the Gazelle (gr. I), in which she suffered a hairline fracture. Talk about a clean sweep, who else can you possibly vote for?

Older Male – Lawyer Ron, despite his poor showing in the Classic, is the frontrunner, based on his two spectacular victories at Saratoga in the grade I Whitney and Woodward, but what if Corinthian postpones his retirement and returns to the track and wins the Cigar Mile (gr. I)? It would give him wins in the two most prestigious mile races in the country – the Met Mile (gr. I) and Cigar Mile -- and a Breeders’ Cup romp, as well as a victory in the Gulfstream Park Handicap (gr. II). Far-fetched, but an interesting scenario. If Lawyer Ron shows up at Aqueduct to try to prevent Corinthian from dethroning him it would make for one super race, especially if the freaky Midnight Lute, winner of the TVG Sprint (gr. I) shows up as well. Trainer Bob Baffert said he is considering it, and this monster may be unbeatable right now. And how about last year's Horse of the Year Invasor, who is sure to get votes just off his victories in the Donn Handicap (gr. I) and Dubai World Cup (UAE-I).

Older Filly or Mare – There is no way anyone can take it away from Ginger Punch after her gutsy win in the Emirates Airline Distaff (gr. I) -- her third grade I victory of the year to go along with a grade II score, a second and a third in a grade I and a second in a grade II. She has won on fast, muddy, and sloppy tracks, from seven furlongs to 1 1/8 miles. This is another sure thing.

Turf Male – The most deserved Eclipse goes hands-down to the indefatigable little warrior English Channel, whose dominating performance in the John Deere Turf (gr. IT), along with victories in the grade I Joe Hirsch Turf Classic and United Nations Handicap, gives the son of Smart Strike a rare Triple Crown of turf races. It was his third start in the BC Turf, and this one was due. And who wins grade I turf stakes at this level by seven lengths? What a fitting conclusion to a magnificent career.

Turf Female – What was a wide-open division now appears cut and dry, with Lahudood closing out her campaign with victories in the grade I Emirates Airline Filly & Mare Turf and Flower Bowl Invitational.

Male SprinterMidnight Lute says good night to the other top sprinters after pulverizing them in the BC Sprint with as explosive a stretch run as you’re likely to see – shades of Ghoztzapper in the 2003 Vosburgh (gr. I). Add his powerful victory in the seven-furlong Forego Handicap (gr. I) in 1:21 flat and you have your champion sprinter.

Female Sprinter Maryfield probably sewed up the Eclipse with her victory in the new BC Filly & Mare Sprint to go along with victories in the Ballerina (gr. I) and Distaff BC Handicap (gr. II), but she could get some competition from Dream Rush, who got cooked setting suicidal fractions of :21 1/5 and :44 flat in the slop in the Filly & Mare Sprint, dueling early with La Traviata. If you forgive her for that race, in which she finished fifth, beaten six lengths, she has impressive credentials with two grade I wins, a grade II, and a grade III, and a second in a grade I. She would be equally as worthy of championship honors.