I don’t have much to offer in the way of analysis, other than to note that there appear to be quite a few horses in this year’s field that like to be forwardly placed early in their races. That much contention for the early lead tends to leave all of those early runners gasping for air down the stretch of the mile and a quarter Kentucky Derby. I’m going to play against those early runners and focus on horses that can sit off the pace and make up ground in the stretch.
#4 – Danza
#16 – Intense Holiday
#19 – Ride On Curlin
#12 – Dance With Fate
Last year at this time I proposed a Graded Stakes Point System to measure and rank racing accomplishments throughout the year and to use those rankings to determine the division champions at the end of the year. Now that the finalists for the Eclipse Awards have been announced, let’s see how my system compares to the selections of the intelligentsia at the DRF, NTRA, and National Turf Writers and Broadcasters Association.
The Eclipse Award finalists are listed alphabetically. The Graded Stakes Point System top three are listed in order of preference, top pick first.
Graded Stakes Point System: Acclamation, Game On Dude, Cape Blanco
Eclipse Award Voters: Acclamation, Game On Dude, Tizway
Comment: We agree on two of these, the difference being Tizway over Cape Blanco. I suspect some voters won’t consider a pure turf horses for this award, since there is a specific Turf Male award, but that doesn’t explain Acclamation who ran five of his seven races on grass this year. Even if that was the case, I would have gone with Flat Out over Tizway, who only raced four times.
GSPS: Havre de Grace, Never Retreat, Dubawi Heights
EAV: Awesome Maria, Blind Luck, Havre De Grace
Comment: We only agree on Havre De Grace here. Awesome Maria did win all four of her starts this year, all graded stakes, but the first two were Grade 3’s and the last two, a Grade 1 and a Grade 2, were both five horse fields. That doesn’t generate many points in my system. After Havre De Grace, in my system, are two turf specialists (Never Retreat and Dubawi Heights) and a sprinter (Hilda’s Passion) who may not have been considered here due to being selected for awards in other divisions. The next two in my rankings are Switch, who only won one graded stakes this year, and Blind Luck, who only competed in one Grade 1 before easing in the Grade 1 Lady’s Secret. I think the turfers had better years.
GSPS: Caleb’s Posse, Shackleford, Stay Thirsty
EAV: Animal Kingdom, Caleb’s Posse, Shackleford
Comment: We agree on two of the three, with the difference being the Eclipse voters choosing Kentucky Derby winner (and Preakness runner-up) Animal Kingdom, who didn’t race again after finishing sixth in the Belmont Stakes, over Stay Thirsty who raced all year, winning the Jim Dandy and Travers Stakes. I think Caleb’s Posse’s four graded stakes wins, including the Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile, should prevail in a sophomore class that failed to otherwise distinguish itself in 2011.
GSPS: Royal Delta, Zazu, It’s Tricky
EAV: It’s Tricky, Plum Pretty, Royal Delta
Comment: Again we agree on two of three, but I really think the Eclipse voters got this one wrong by picking Plum Pretty over Zazu. Plum Pretty raced nine times in 2011, winning two graded stakes, but never faced older runners until her fifth place finish in the Breeders’ Cup Ladies’ Classic. (Granted, those were two huge wins – the $1,000,000 Kentucky Oaks (G1) and the $750,000 Cotillion Stakes (G2).) However, Zazu beat Plum Pretty twice in 2011, only losing to her in the Kentucky Oaks, and beat older runners winning the Grade 1 Lady’s Secret.
GSPS: Union Rags, Creative Cause, Hansen
EAV: Creative Cause, Hansen, Union Rags
Comment: We agree on all three.
GSPS: My Miss Aurelia, Stephanie’s Kitten, Weemissfrankie
EAV: Grace Hall, My Miss Aurelia, Stephanie’s Kitten
Comment: Agreement again on two of three selections, with the difference being voters presumably selecting Spinaway Stakes (G1) winner Grace Hall over two-time Grade 1 winner Weemissfrankie on the strength of Grace Hall finishing second in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile fillies, six lengths ahead of Weemissfrankie.
GSPS: Cape Blanco, Get Stormy, Acclamation
EAV: Acclamation, Cape Blanco, St Nicholas Abbey
Comment: With three important Grade 1 wins on the year, Cape Blanco should win this award easily, so I guess it doesn’t really matter who the other two finalists are. Philosophically, however, I do have a problem with voting for a horse who only raced once in this country, even if that one race was a win in the Breeders’ Cup Turf. I’m curious if some voters automatically vote for the winners of Breeders’ Cup races, regardless of what went on during the rest of the year. I’d rather see horses that race in the U. S. all year be rewarded.
GSPS: Never Retreat, Dubawi Heights, Stacelita
EAV: Dubawi Heights, Perfect Shirl, Stacelita
Comment: Another agreement on two of the three picks and another seemingly lazy selection by the Eclipse Award voters (see also: St Nicholas Abbey above). Perfect Shirl won only one race in 2011, but that one win happened to be in the Breeders’ Cup Filly and Mare Turf. She had not even run in another Grade 1 race this year. Why bother racing all year if the Breeders’ Cup races are the only ones that matter? (That’s a rhetorical question. Please don’t take it as a suggestion.)
GSPS: Amazombie, Smiling Tiger, The Factor
EAV: Amazombie, Caleb’s Posse, Regally Ready
Comment: While we agree on Amazombie, who probably wins this award easily, I’m not sure how Eclipse voters could justify ignoring both Smiling Tiger and The Factor in favor of the turf sprinter Regally Ready. As for Caleb’s Posse, the only way to include him here is by treating the one turn Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile as a sprint. Don’t get me wrong, Caleb’s Posse had a great year, and is my pick for the Three-year-old Male award, but only two of his graded stakes wins were true sprints and neither of those were against older horses. Both Smiling Tiger and The Factor won more graded sprints and also beat older horses at least once.
GSPS: Hilda’s Passion, Musical Romance, Sassy Image
EAV: Hilda’s Passion, Musical Romance, Sassy Image
Comment: We agree on all three.
GSPS: John Velazquez, Joel Rosario, Ramon Dominguez
EAV: Javier Castellano, Ramon Dominguez, John Velazquez
Comment: The only difference here is Castellano over Rosario. Both had nearly the same year ($15.6 million in purses and 270+ wins), but Rosario did it with 190 fewer mounts.
GSPS: Todd Pletcher, Bob Baffert, Graham Motion
EAV: Bob Baffert, Bill Mott, Todd Pletcher
Comment: The only difference here is Bill Mott over Graham Motion and I really don’t have a big problem either way. Mott won a couple million more in purses, but Motion won a few more races with fewer starters.
The Graded Stakes Point System and the Eclipse Award voters agree on 24 of the 36 selections above. Of the 12 differences, my only real disagreement is with the voters issuing express passes to the Eclipse Awards for anyone winning a Breeders’ Cup race. (Unless your name is Drosselmeyer. Or Court Vision.)
Overall, I’d say the Graded Stakes Point System did at least as good a job of picking the top three in each division as the Eclipse Award voters did. (OK, better. But I am biased.) I can also see how letting a system determine the division champions would destroy any interest and intrigue there may be in the actual Eclipse Award ceremony. Maybe a system could pick the top three for the ballot and then let the voters decide the Eclipse Award winners.
Now that the seemingly endless Kentucky Derby prep season is but a distant memory and the Triple Crown trail has reached its usual unsatisfying terminus, we can finally look beyond the three-year-olds and enjoy the full breadth that thoroughbred racing has to offer over these next eighteen weeks, leading to the Breeders’ Cup at Churchill Downs on November 4th and 5th.
July starts things off in a big way with 52 graded stakes races worth over $13 million, culminating with the $1,000,000 Haskell Stakes (G1) at Monmouth Park on July 31st. July also brings us two of racing’s most anticipated Opening Day’s – the boutique meets at Del Mar and Saratoga Race Course.
July Graded Stakes Highlights:
- 14 Grade 1’s worth $5,800,000
- 20 Grade 2’s worth $5,125,000
- 22 graded turf races worth $5,625,000
July Graded Stakes