Eclipse Awards a No-Brainer This Year
Horse of the Year – Curlin’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.
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 Male – Curlin, 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
3-Year-Old Female – How good does Rags to Riches’
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 Sprinter – Midnight 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
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