By Gene Kershner
This afternoon the 2013 Eclipse voting ends and on Jan. 8 we will know the three finalists in each of the various categories, including Horse of the Year. Fortunate enough to have an Eclipse ballot as a member of the National Turf Writers and Broadcasters Association (NTWAB), I submitted my ballot earlier in the week. Here is my ballot and a brief summary of my thoughts when voting.
Two-Year Old Male: 1 - New Year's Day; 2 - Havana; 3 - Shared Belief
This was one of the more difficult categories for me as it was difficult to not go with the Breeders' Cup (BC) Juvenile winner, the biggest race for a 2-year-old male of the year. Havana, the second place finisher in the Juvenile and winner of the Grade 1 Champagne, had a solid year and I considered briefly. Jim Rome's Shared Belief won both of his races on polytrack, only one being a graded stake.
Two-Year-Old Filly: 1 - She's a Tiger; 2 - Ria Antonia; 3 - Sweet Reason
She's a Tiger lost the BC Juvenile Fillies to Ria Antonia via disqualification, but had the better overall year when looking at her fully body of work. A Grade 1 win in the Del Mar Debutante and second place finishes in a Grade 1 at Santa Anita and Grade 2 at Del Mar did the trick for me.
Three-Year-Old Male: 1 - Will Take Charge; 2 - Orb; 3 - Oxbow
After the BC Classic this one became a little tougher to decide, but a win against older in the Grade 1 Clark, solidified my leaning towards Will Take Charge as the 3-year-old champion. Add Grade 1 wins in the Travers and Grade 2's in the Rebel and Pennsylvania Derby and the choice became much easier.
Three-Year-Old Filly: 1 - Princess of Sylmar; 2 - Beholder; 3 - Close Hatches
By far the most difficult selection, that was almost a toss-up between the top two choices. They split the two head-to-head meetings in the Kentucky Oaks and the BC Distaff. Each won four Grade 1 races during the year and both won races against older horses. I leaned towards the four straight Grade 1 wins by Princess of Sylmar (Oaks, CCAO, Alabama, Beldame) to make the final call.
Older Male: 1 - Wise Dan; 2 - Mucho Macho Man; 3 - Game On Dude
This category is usually slanted towards older dirt horses, but because of the fact that Wise Dan being my choice as Horse of the Year, he wins this category by default in my eyes. More analysis on this group in my HOY summary.
Older Female: 1 - Royal Delta; 2 - Joyful Victory; 3 - Tiz Miz Sue
It should result in a landslide victory here for her third in a row in this category.
Male Sprinter: 1 - Points Offthebench; 2 - Sahara Sky; 3 - Secret Circle
This is another tough category, wherein the voting should be very close. The late Points Offthebench who was euthanized after a workout a week prior to the Breeders' Cup had the best body of work with four straight wins, including two straight Grade 1 wins. The Met Mile winner and BC Sprint winner are both valid choices for this award.
Female Sprinter: 1 - Cluster of Stars; 2 - Dance to Bristol; 3 - Groupie Doll
I just couldn't bring myself to vote for Groupie Doll, whose best two performances were in the BC and on the Tapeta at Presque Isle. Dance to Bristol's seven-race win streak was impressive, but the head-to-head loss to Cluster of Stars in the Grade 2 Gallant Bloom as the highlight of her undefeated six-race season did the trick for me.
Male Turf Horse: 1 - Wise Dan; 2 - Magician; 3 - Point of Entry
See Older Horse synopsis.
Female Turf Horse: 1 - Dank; 2 - Laughing; 3 - Tiz Flirtatious
Dank's BC Filly and Mare Turf performance was so impressive, that she took this category running only two races in the States this year (she also won the Beverly D. at Arlington on Million day). Laughing had a great season, but was outclassed in the Filly and Mare Turf by Dank.
Jockey: 1 - Gary Stevens, 2 - Mike Smith; 3 - John Velazquez
Just based on Grade 1 and big wins during the year (Preakness, BC Classic) the top two delivered with the motto less is more. Smith had 15 Grade 1 wins to Stevens' nine. The magnitude of Stevens' wins off a seven-year layoff and coming back after spending time in the television booth, makes his comeback all the more impressive. While statistically and earnings-wise Javier Castellano had the best year, these three jocks consistently won the big races.
Trainer: 1 - Todd Pletcher; 2 - Chad Brown; 3 - D. Wayne Lukas
While I was tempted to go with D. Wayne Lukas, Pletcher and Brown both had tremendous seasons, Pletcher winning a Triple Crown race in the Belmont and another Saratoga training title overshadowed the good work performed by Brown in 2013.
Owner: Kenneth L. and Sarah K. Ramsey
Breeder: Adena Springs
I abstained from the steeplechase horse and apprentice jockey votes due to lack of knowledge in both of those arenas, similar to last year.
Horse of the Year: 1 - Wise Dan; 2 - Mucho Macho Man; 3 - Game On Dude
It was Game On Dude's award for the taking with a win in the BC Classic, but another disappointing finish doomed his chances. Mucho Macho Man's only two wins came in Grade 1's at Santa Anita, but winning the Classic gave him the juice to be my second choice. Wise Dan should repeat by default, as he effortlessly went through the year winning four Grade 1 and two Grade 2 races. His only blemish was an off-the-turf effort in the Shadwell Mile that was run on Keeneland's polytrack where he finished a length and a quarter behind Silver Max. He gets the nod for HOY.
Happy New Year!
Gene Kershner, a Buffalo-based turf writer, is a member of the National Turf Writers and Broadcasters Association, and tweets @EquiSpace.