By Gene Kershner
On New Year’s Eve, I submitted my first ever Eclipse ballot as a member of the National Turf Writers and Broadcasters Association (NTWAB). I was elected into the NTWAB during Derby weekend last May and one of the benefits to being a part of that esteemed group is receiving voting privileges for the annual Eclipse awards.
The Eclipse voters are made up of the NTWAB, representatives from the Daily Racing Form (DRF) and the National Thoroughbred Racing Association (NTRA). The NTWAB will make their voters’ selections public after the winners are announced at the 42nd annual Eclipse Awards to be held at Gulfstream Park on Saturday, January 19. The top three contenders in each category will be released on Saturday, January 5 by the NTRA.
What’s interesting is that there are no specified criteria as to how you are to vote for the champions in the 17 different categories ranging from Horse of the Year to Apprentice Jockey. I tried to be objective in each of the categories and considered a horse’s consistency, race difficulty (similar to a strength of schedule metric) and performance in key races as a guide to my selections.
Below are my selections in the main categories (there are 17 in total) and my thoughts in selecting the various horses in each category.
Horse of the Year: Wise Dan. The horse that received the top honor in our sport was consistent throughout the year, winning five of six races, including three Grade 1 races. He placed on all three surfaces during the year in stakes competition (turf, dirt, synthetic) and won the Breeders’ Cup Mile to culminate the year. It was a tough decision to edge out Triple Crown threat I’ll Have Another, but the Derby champ’s season ended in mid-May and looking at the full body of work over the course of the year, I gave Wise Dan the nod. I placed Groupie Doll third behind I’ll Have Another.
Two-Year-Old Male: Shanghai Bobby. After winning the Hopeful (G2) at Saratoga, a prestigious race for 2-year-olds, Rosie Napravnik steered the Harlan’s Holiday colt to victory in the Grade 1 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile at Santa Anita to easily sew up my vote in this category.
Two-Year Old Filly: Beholder. It was a ding-dong matchup with Executiveprivilege in this category, wherein the two fillies met five times, and Beholder won three of them, including the Grade 1 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies by a length. The Henny Hughes filly won this won straight up on the track on my ballot.
Three-Year Old Male: I’ll Have Another. He was simply the best of the 3-year-olds in 2012, sweeping the Derby and Preakness before his injury the day before the Belmont. He became the first colt in 23 years to pull off a Santa Anita-Kentucky Derby double. No brainer here.
Three-Year old Filly: Questing. One of the tougher votes I had to cast was selecting Questing over My Miss Aurelia, even though she was beaten by her in the Cotillion on Pennsylvania Derby day at Parx. I gave more credence to the two Grade 1 victories at Saratoga (Coaching Club American Oaks and the Alabama) then the weight-aided (7 pounds) loss in the Cotillion by a head. Closest call, but the two impressive wins at the Spa turned the tide.
Older Male: Wise Dan. Another category where Fort Larned, Breeders’ Cup Classic winner and Whitney champion made enough noise for consideration. But the overall effort for the year was
just more consistent by Dan and we gave our Horse of the Year selection the pick here.
Older Female: Royal Delta. While Groupie Doll made me think twice about this category, the Grade 1 Breeders’ Cup Ladies Classic winner rebounded from a dull effort in Dubai to win two Grade 1’s and two Grade 2’s to earn my top spot in this category.
Male Sprinter: Trinniberg. The 3-year-old sprinter by Teuflesberg, was simply brilliant all year, topping it off with a win in the Breeders’ Cup Sprint against older horses to solidify my selection. He was dominant in the early Derby trail sprint races and won the Woody Stephens on the Belmont Stakes undercard.
Female Sprinter: Groupie Doll. She won five races in a row up through the BC Filly and Mare Sprint at Santa Anita. She won the nearby Grade 1 Presque Isle Downs Masters in Erie down the Thruway in early September. Her connections showed their gumption by trying her against the boys in the Cigar Mile in November where she was nipped in a photo by Stay Thirsty. She’s the female sprint champ in this corner.
Male Turf Horse: Little Mike. In an odd scenario, I actually went with Little Mike over Wise Dan (ever so slightly) and Point of Entry based on his three Grade 1 wins in the Turf Classic at Churchill, the Arlington Million and the Breeders’ Cup Turf (over Point of Entry). Both Wise Dan and Point of Entry had excellent turf resumes and I logically could have voted for any of the three.
Female Turf Horse: Zagora. She won five of her eight races of 2012, including the big one, the BC Filly and Mare Turf. While she was beaten by Winter Memories in the Diana at the Spa, I thought her overall body of work was superior with the Breeders’ Cup win putting her over the top.
Human Categories. The other human categories went as follows for me: Owner (John Oxley), Breeder (Darley), Jockey (Ramon Dominguez), Apprentice Jockey (Irad Ortiz, Jr.) and Trainer (Todd Pletcher).
I abstained from the Steeplechase category, one that I did not follow during the year and did not feel right casting a vote not studying the category during the year.