2011 was a year of pure mediocrity, but we did see diamonds in the rough. Animal Kingdom ran off to win the Kentucky Derby; Havre de Grace beat the boys in the Woodward; and Hansen stayed undefeated in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile. All three of those horses could potential be rewarded with horse racing’s versions of an Oscar; the Eclipse Award.
The Eclipse Awards ceremony has a bad reputation, but it could improve with ESPN’s Jeannine Edwards hosting the event this year. We can only hope so anyway. The ceremony has been dreadful to watch, but the awards are truly important.
Horse of the Year
2011 was a year of inconsistency, but Game on Dude provided the best resume and most consistent performances. The gritty gelding is my choice in this category. Check out this post from last month to learn why: 2011 Horse of the Year? Game On Dude.
The first time I saw Hansen in the past performances of the Kentucky Cup Juvenile, I thought to myself that I could beat this colt. He won that Turfway race by just over 13 lengths and was never challenged while leading from start to finish. I’m always one to be skeptical of stakes horses that haven’t done anything yet, but Hansen quickly won me over. He rewarded my confidence with a victory in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile, once again leading from the beginning until the end. Keep in mind that Hansen has never been in any place but first at every point of his three races. His triumph on Championship Saturday means he ought to get the trophy. Others would pick Union Rags, but that one had a chance to run past him and couldn’t do it.
There isn’t much controversy here. My Miss Aurelia went a perfect four for four with wins in the Frizette and Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies. No other filly accomplished anything close to what she did. George Bolton and Stonestreet Stables get another trophy for their collection.
There is an argument for Kentucky Derby winner Animal Kingdom, but I’ve got to give the award to Caleb’s Posse. He was the only sophomore other than The Factor to win two Grade 1 races. Caleb’s Posse gave us one of the best races of 2011 when he ran down Uncle Mo on the wire in the King’s Bishop. He dispatched a strong field with a powerful late move in the Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile and that put him over the top. He also owns wins in the Amsterdam Stakes, Ohio Derby and Smarty Jones Stakes.
Royal Delta couldn’t always find her stride. She was a live wire blowing the competition away one race and finishing up the track in the next. That was only for part of the year as she found her best stride to win the Alabama Stakes and Breeders’ Cup Ladies Classic. It’s Tricky and Plum Pretty both put together nice campaigns, but in the end, Royal Delta proved best of all.
Older Male Horse
Have to take Game On Dude by default as he is my choice for Horse of the Year. See above for my reasoning. Honorable mention to Met Mile winner Tizway.
Older Female Horse
Havre de Grace gave the competition a coup de grâce with her Woodward win. She also smashed a decent group in the Apple Blossom and gave us a thrilling runner up effort in the Delaware Handicap behind Blind Luck. Had that filly stayed right she might have given her a run for her money.
Caleb’s Posse never lost around a single turn and proved much the best against older horses in the Breeders’ Cup. Throw in a great win in the King’s Bishop and I’ve got to pick him over Breeders’ Cup Sprint winner Amazombie. That one didn’t have as good of a campaign prior to Championship Saturday and in my mind their wins offset. Therefore, Caleb’s Posse, with the better resume prior to the Breeders’ Cup, gets the award.
This is a tough division and really could be a coin flip. When my coin landed it told me that Sassy Image was the pick. She won the Humana Distaff and Princess Rooney, both Grade 1 races. She also took the Grade 3 Winning Colors Stakes. Hilda’s Passion, winner of the Ballerina, and Breeders’ Cup Filly & Mare Sprint winner Musical Romance also deserve big looks.
Male Turf Horse
When Cape Blanco came to America, the betting public overlooked him and instead made Gio Ponti a heavy favorite in the Man O’ War. Cape Blanco made them pay by registering an easy victory and won again in the Arlington Million next out. He completed the Grade 1 hat trick with a tough as nails victory in the Joe Hirsch Turf Classic. Others will argue with Acclamation, but that one faced much softer competition in California.
Female Turf Horse
Stacelita is going to be the favorite in this spot, but I prefer Never Retreat. She won five times in 2011 with all five wins coming in graded stakes company. That’s over twice as many wins as her main rival for this award. Never Retreat capped her season by dispatching a very strong field in Keeneland’s Grade 1 First Lady Stakes. She peppered in losses between her victories, but I appreciate the fact that Team Block got her to the races eleven times during her final campaign as a racehorse. She deserves it and I hope she gets it.
There are a couple of ways you could go here, but the excellence of Team Valor International stands out in my eyes. Barry Irwin’s crew took America’s favorite race, the Kentucky Derby, along with other important races like the Del Mar Oaks, Ballston Spa Handicap and With Anticipation Stakes. They finished 10th in earnings while starting just 78 horses compared to an average of 365 for the rest of the top 10. On the year they won 16 total stakes races with nine of them being graded stakes races.
Ken and Sarah Ramsey had a splendid year thanks to their sire Kitten’s Joy. The Eclipse Award winning sire produced many great horses with perhaps the best being Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies champ Stephanie’s Kitten. On the whole, the Ramseys bred 13 black type winners and were topped only by Adena Springs who started nearly twice as many horses.
This is one of the easiest choices of all; Bill Mott. The trainer has won more races than anyone in the history of historic Churchill Downs. He added two more victories on Breeders Cup weekend when Royal Delta won the Breeders’ Cup Ladies Classic and Drosselmeyer fired past them all to take the Breeders’ Cup Classic. His 2011 win percentage of 17% is right with the best of them as are his earnings of $10,731,249. This will be his third time taking the award. The previous two wins came in 1995 and 1996.
2011 was the year of John Velazquez. He finished second in earnings at $18,622,964 while reaching the winners circle 248 times. Among those wins were nine Grade 1 victories like the Kentucky Derby, Breeders Cup Filly & Mare Turf, Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies Turf and Clark Handicap. Like trainer Bill Mott, this will be the third Eclipse Award for Johnny V. He won previously in 2004 and 2005.
Outstanding Apprentice Jockey
Irad Ortiz won 151 races while contesting one of the toughest jockey colonies in America; New York. His mounts raked in $2,861,274. This guy is a serious rider and will blossom into one of the best in the business if he continues to progress. I will be watching him closely.
Who are your picks for horse racing’s version of the Academy Awards? Share your Eclipse Award picks below by leaving a comment!