Every sport and most professions have an end of the year awards or recognition for the best performances, athletes and accomplishments. Horse racing calls their version of the peer recognition the Eclipse award named after the great race horse of the same name.
The awards are presented at a formal, black tie ceremony in January. This writer has no official vote or a ballot to fill out, but I can’t help but use this space to give my Chok’s Choices for the major equine categories and the Chok’s Choice for Horse of the Year.
While there are numerous categories for equine and human accomplishment I will focus on the major categories and the finalists for Horse of the Year, which were announced earlier this week.
There are a few slam-dunks this year — in my opinion — including Older Male and Older Turf Horse. These Eclipses will go Main Sequence, who also will win the award for horse most casual racing fans have never heard of before. Main Sequence won four of the top grade 1 races on turf this year in North America including the Breeders Cup Turf. He was undefeated this year and deserves the award over two-time winner Wise Dan whose season was cut short by an injury.
The second slam-dunk is Delta Downs Jackpot winner Take Charge Brandi who won the Louisiana race as well as the Breeders Cup race for two-year-old fillies.
Another horse we in Louisiana are familiar with and a sure thing Eclipse award winner is Untapable for three-year-old filly. A winner of six out of seven races including the Fair Grounds Oaks and the Fair Grounds Rachel Alexandra Stakes she was dominant over her rivals this year and is back in training at the Gentilly oval for trainer Steve Asmussen.
This leads us to the most contentious category because as sports fans we have been indoctrinated that every sport needs and has a the playoff system of selecting champions in our sports — including college football — finally. But, that’s just not the way it works in horse racing.
Sure, horses all run against each other on occasion making it easier to declare that a Wise Dan is better than a Main Sequence, but those great match up races are rare making decisions for Eclipse awards more akin to an MVP award in football or basketball. Subjective vs. objective.
The three-year male category and the debate raging within the horse racing community about California Chrome vs. Bayern is a good discussion. One can argue — and I do — that California Chrome should be a stone cold lead pipe lock for this award. After all, Chrome captured our hearts and the Kentucky Derby and Preakness — two legs of the Triple Crown. Easy decision right? Not so fast Mr./Mrs. Eclipse voter. A horse named Bayern — also a three-year-old male — won the most prestigious race at the end of the year — the Breeders Cup Classic — beating California Chrome by a scant half length. So, no brainer right as the old adage “he proved it on the track” trumps the hypothetical.
But, as we all remember, the Breeders Cup start was a roughly run affair resembling a rodeo or bumper cars at the old Fun Fair Park. Bayern had to withstand a post-race inquiry before being declared the winner. Ah, nothing is easy in horse racing — even finding the winners of the Eclipse awards.
This is a not a close call and I’m no fence sitter so my vote — if I had one — would go to California Chrome for three-year male because his accomplishments throughout the entire year heavily outweigh the win by Bayern in the Breeders Cup Classic.
Drum roll or a more appropriate blowing of the bugle please … the Chok’s Choice for final three for the Eclipse Horse of the Year would be Main Sequence, California Chrome and Untapable. And because I’m a contrarian at heart my vote for the Eclipse Award for Horse of the Year goes to Untapable.
This filly was dominant in her wins, raced the entire year, and was the fastest of the fast horses on the track. Untapable won’t win the Eclipse for Horse of the Year and in fact, she wasn’t even in the final official three (Main Sequence, Chrome and Bayern) but like in politics that doesn’t mean the voters got it right.