Précis: J.N. Campbell’s 2021 Eclipse Award Votes …

It is that time of year ... voting for the coveted Eclipse Awards is underway. Our own J.N. Campbell, NTWAB RW Member is casting his ballot. See who he voted for, and why ... below! (Photo credit: NTRA)
It is that time of year ... voting for the coveted Eclipse Awards is underway. Our own J.N. Campbell, NTWAB RW Member is casting his ballot. See who he voted for, and why ... below! (Photo credit: NTRA)

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The 51st Annual Eclipse Awards are scheduled to be handed out on February 10, just before the Super Bowl. After a “virtual” show last year, the best in the sport assemble in Southern California at Santa Anita Park to mark those achievements that were noteworthy in 2021. For the 1st time, I am pleased to take part as a Full Race Writing Member of the National Turf Writers and Broadcasters (NTWAB). Along with my colleagues, I will cast a ballot in several categories that includes the coveted, “Horse of the Year.” With votes due by January 10th, I thought I might take this opportunity to delineate my individual choices. Tabulating all year long, through mechanisms like the NTRA Poll, now assist with focus. Voting in the Eclipse Awards … what a privilege!

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Votes entered in order of preference …

American Horse of the Year

Knicks Go, Letruska, Essential Quality

I know that this category is supposed to be the proverbial “slam dunk,” what with Brad Cox’s Knicks Go capping off his year with a win in the Breeders’ Cup Classic (G1) at Del Mar. His front-running style was a punch to the gut to any opponent. But the “Horse O’ the Year” for me also included a discussion of the merits of Fausto Gutierrez’s Letruska. This mare by Super Saver rattled off 5 wins in-a-row (4 G1s). Still, it wasn’t enough to upend the Korean Racing Authority’s son of Paynter. Cox watched his charge win the Pegasus, miss in Saudi and in the Met Mile, but afterwards notch 4 wins, including that impressive BC score. My 3rd choice is another Cox runner that made headlines dating back to 2020. The Godolphin homebred, Essential Quality was caught wide in the Kentucky Derby, but he stormed back nicely to win both the Belmont (G1) and the Travers (G1) … no small feat. Those are my Top 3 for HOY …

American Champion Two-Year-Old Male Horse

Corniche, Rattle N Roll, Pappacap

This category is a challenge, since 2-yr-olds only effectively have ½ of the year to compete. The capstone to the year for these freshmen colts is, of course, the BC Juvenile (G1). Bob Baffert’s Corniche was dominant in that race, and he was clearly the best horse that day. Others like Kenny McPeek’s Rattle N Roll, and Mark Casse’s Pappacap, looked promising with solid runs at Keeneland (McPeek’s 1st in the G1 Breeders’ Fut.) and Santa Anita (HOF Casse’s was 2nd to Corniche in both the G1 Am. Pharoah and G1 BC Juvenile). Baffert’s ace was more impressive on the biggest stage, and that has made him a frontrunner when it comes to the early “Derby Talk.” Who will be training him by April, and into early May, is certainly a question many would like an answer to? In the meantime, this one was a clear choice …

American Champion Two-Year-Old Filly

Echo Zulu, JuJu’s Map, Pizza Bianca

Speaking of choices that are clear … Steve Asmussen’s Echo Zulu was so dominant in the BC Juvenile Fillies (G1) that this is one of those categories that is a cinch. In all 4 of her career races, she exhibited such a strong kick that it left others in the dust. What a set of gears this one has! The HOF trainer brought her along … MSW, Spinaway S. (G1), and the Frizette S. (G1)—major scores. Her only true competitor on this list was Brad Cox’s Juju’s Map, and after a “signature win” at Keeneland in the Darley Alcibiades S. (G1), she was 2nd to “Echo” 5+ lengths behind her at Del Mar in the BC Fillies. As for a 3rd choice in this category, I was swayed by the Bobby Flay homebred, Pizza Bianca. Her effort in the BC Juvenile Filly Turf (G1) was impressive not only because of that late turn-of-foot she exhibited, but also because it was trainer Christophe Clement’s very 1st BC win. Flay look shocked as he entered the winner’s circle … who says celebrities are not humble?

American Champion Three-Year-Old Male Horse

Essential Quality, Medina Spirit, Life Is Good

This might be the toughest of all the categories because it all depends on your perspective. Casting votes like this bridges the subjective and the objective. Many will argue that when Bob Baffert’s Medina Spirit went head-to-head with Brad Cox’s Essential Quality, the Zedan Racing colt bested him in both the Derby and the BC Classic. Those statements are true enough. However, there are 2 other points worth considering … The first is that clearly something happened with a failed drug test, and I believe that it is only a matter of time (2 yrs+!) before Baffert’s colt, now sadly deceased, will be DQ-ed from the Derby. Poor choices were made, and I cannot see that voting for him, in the here and now, is feasible. Too many clouds and questions … The other point is that “EQ” ran wide in the Derby (finishing a respectable 4th), and then came back to win the 3rd and “4th” legs of the Triple Crown at Belmont and The SPA. That counts as a banner year for Cox and Godolphin. Though he was 3rd behind “Medina” @DMR, that still amounts to a strong year. Let’s face it, neither was going to catch Knicks Go. My top vote goes to “EQ” because he accomplished something few have (winning both, i.e. Tiz the Law, Point Given …). Rounding out the trio, I was also swayed to include Baffert’s former charge, Life Is Good. Currently trained by Todd Pletcher, he rebounded from a Derby Trail injury, and won impressively at the BC Dirt Mile (G1). What a group … in the toughest category!

American Champion Three-Year-Old Filly

Malathaat, Clairiere, Search Results

To my eye, the best filly in the land in ’21 was Todd Pletcher’s Malathaat. Her gutsy win in the late April running of the G1 Kentucky Oaks was just spectacular against Search Results. Though she missed in the CCA (G1), her rebound win in the Alabama S. (G1) @The SPA was impressive. Taking on older runners in the BC Distaff (G1), and ending up 3rd was an accomplishment. My 2nd choice is clear … Clairiere, trained by Steve Asmussen, was incredibly consistent as a homebred for Stonestreet Stables. In 10 starts, the Curlin filly earned $1.2 million+, and her route through the LA Series was strong. Wins in the Rachel Alexandra (G2), and later the Cotillion S. (G1) @Parx were highlights. As for Search Results, I put Klaravich’s own in the 3rd position, since she did not race in the BC Distaff (G1). I know you cannot penalize a horse for something they did not do, but her rivals went up against the best in the older division. She did not … Had she won the Test S. (G1) @The SPA … maybe that would have assisted. Still, it was an impressive year for this Chad Brown trainee.

American Champion Older Dirt Male Horse

Knicks Go, Mystic Guide, Silver State

In actuality, this vote was easier, since Knicks Go was not against Letruska. The grey wins this category by a landslide, and it is deserved, for the same reasons that I mentioned above in the HOY category. The remaining selections are a little more tenuous, to say the least. Of course, I realize that you cannot name horses that have won races outside of the U.S., but it seemed appropriate to include Mike Stidham’s Mystic Guide. After all, he did win the Razorback H. (G3) at Oaklawn Park, before shipping to Dubai for the WC. His score in that race was impressive, despite what many said about the weak competition. His return to America in the Suburban S. (G2) was a miss. His subsequent injury put on the shelf. Leaving him off, after a win in one of the most-important races in the world, seemed inappropriate. I debated long and hard about just which horse to include last in this category, but in the end, there was only one choice—Steve Asmussen’s Silver State. With a perfect record at Oaklawn, this son of Hard Spun was excellent, and performed wonderfully on the Belmont undercard in Met Mile (G1). Though the rest of Winchell’s own did not result in any more victories, it was a sparkling ’21 for the connections.

American Champion Older Dirt Female Horse

Letruska, Shedaresthedevil, Marche Lorraine (JPN)

Fausto Gutierrez, St. George Stable, and Letruska had a banner year … The mare was stupendous, and exhibited a unique combination of power and speed. I wanted to see her in a match race with Knicks Go. We could have sold some tickets to that one. She easily wins this category, despite that loss to Shedaresthedevil @OP. Her spring-summer win streak that started against Monomoy Girl in the G1 Apple Blossom was a sight. As for Brad Cox’s talented former champion of the KYOaks, her ’21 was impressive, to say the least. Her Azeri S. (G2) win against Letruska was a “signature” moment. Following that up with a victory in the La Troienne S. (G1) @CD on the Oaks undercard issued a strong statement. Even though, both she and Letruska failed to hit-the-board in the BC Distaff (G1), it was a fab run for them. Speaking of the G1 BC Distaff, in case you were wondering who won that race … it was a Japanese runner, Marche Lorraine (JPN). Trained by Yahagi Yoshito, this mare capitalized on her Breeders’ Gold Cup win at Mombetsu Racecourse by coming to SoCal ready to take on the best. At long odds (50/1), she triumphed by a nose with Oisin Murphy aboard. It gave Japan, a country that is absolutely rabid about racing, their 2nd BC win (the other was in the G1 F&M Turf). What a category!

American Champion Sprint Horse

Aloha West, Dr. Schivel, Jackie’s Warrior

I am going to stir some controversy with this one … I know my selection is not the most popular, especially considering the possible choices (including John Sadler’s highly-regarded Flightline, who I am not willing to bandwagon on, just yet). Most will probably choose either Steve Asmussen’s Jackie’s Warrior or Mark Glatt’s Dr. Schivel. Cases could be made that each of these runners deserved to be on top. But I can find fault with both of them; they are not without weaknesses. Asmussen’s charge came off the Derby Trail, and though he ran nicely in the Pat Day Mile (G2), was beaten in the Woody Stephens (G1). His greatest flop came in the G1 BC Sprint, where he ended up 6th. As for Glatt’s ace, though he took on older horses as a 3-yr-old, he not only lost the BC Sprint, but he returned to the G1 Malibu S. at Santa Anita, failing to even be in-the-money. I was blown away by the late kick of Eclipse Thoroughbreds’ Aloha West in the G1 BC Sprint. At 11/1, the Hard Spun colt wowed everyone, winning over Dr. Schivel by a nose. In magnificent fashion, it was Wayne Catalano’s 4th BC win. I do not think basing a vote solely on a singular performance is a good rule of thumb … but there are exceptions. This is one. Aloha West was 2nd in the G2 Phoenix S. at Keeneland in early October, so he did have prior “G” experience. The effort at Del Mar was absolutely special. My vote …

American Champion Female Sprint Horse

Gamine, Ce Ce, Edgeway

When it comes to female sprint horses, I think this is one of the weaker categories. As far as the top sprinters, you really can choose from Gamine, Ce Ce, Edgeway, and Bella Sofia. My vote went to Bob Baffert’s Gamine, even though she lost in the F&M Sprint to both Ce Ce and Edgeway. Her 2021 included 4 wins in-a-row (which included a pair of G1s). As for Ce Ce, the daughter of Elusive Quality comes in 2nd for me. She did best Gamine @DMR, but her ’21 did include a couple of key losses too. Those ticks against her probably landed her in this spot. Rounding out the Top 3, is John Sadler’s Edgeway, who won a nice G3 at Del Mar in August. She tried hard returning to the scene at the Breeders’ Cup with that 2nd place finish. You could probably shake these up in a bag, pour them out, and not go wrong with whomever was out 1st. My feeling … Gamine goes back-to-back!

American Champion Male Turf Horse

Yibir (GB), Domestic Spending (GB), Broome (IRE)

When it comes to turf horses in the longer routing division, let’s face it, Europe is best. The Charlie Appleby Breeders’ Cup was in full swing at Del Mar, and Yibir (GB) reigned supreme in the G1 BC Turf. I would have liked to have seen Klaravich’s Domestic Spending show, but Chad Brown had to put him on the shelf after an injury. His 2021 was solid, with a “Dead Heat” at Churchill in the Turf Classic (G1) with Colonel Liam. Even though we never got to see that matchup, we did get the pleasure of witnessing Aidan O’Brien’s Broome (IRE) end up with the place position in the BC Turf. For that reason, plus his European form, it seemed logical to put him 3rd on the list, displacing Todd Pletcher’s Colonel Liam. Once again, the Euros were hegemonic …

American Champion Female Turf Horse

Loves Only You (JPN), Althiqa (GB), War Like Goddess

Flipping to the female side of the grass, it was an amazing year for these runners. I was absolutely impressed with Loves Only You (JPN) who won Japan’s 1st ever BC race in the F&M Turf (G1). She was just unbelievable, and it was gratifying to see her presence felt in such a prestigious race. A close 2nd was Charlie Appleby’s Althiqa (GB), who bested her stablemate, Summer Romance (IRE) on 2 occasions at NYRA courses. Although she failed to score at Keeneland in the First Lady (G1), it was still a stellar stay in America. Rounding out the medal count for me was Bill Mott’s War Like Goddess. I would imagine she will receive a good many votes, but I thought the level of competition she was up against before arriving in SoCal for the BC F&M Turf (G1) was not quite up to par. She makes the grade, but ending up 3rd @DMR, when it counted, was a miss. And so it goes …

Outstanding Owner

Klaravich Stables, Godolphin, Winchell Thoroughbreds

The year 2021 was a banner one for Seth Klarman & Co., and for that reason, I put their organization at the head of my ownership list. Godolphin was a close 2nd, but Klaravich set a new record for itself when it came to earnings. With over 7 million bucks, and successful runners like Domestic Spending and Search Results, they continued to expand their operations. They might not have the global reach of the “Boys in Blue,” but I thought their ability really stretched into areas this year that they hadn’t probed before. Rounding out my list was Winchell Thoroughbreds, who watched as their leading trainer, Steve Asmussen became the all-time winningest conditioner in North American history. Godolphin won the top cash prize in earnings, but Klaravich proved themselves to be impressive too.

Outstanding Breeder

Spendthrift Farm, Claiborne Farm, WinStar Farm

Who has the No.1 sire in the world? Into Mischief … it’s Spendthrift Farm. After seeing their breeding operation 1st hand, I cannot deny that B. Wayne Hughes’ legacy is alive and well. The super sire progeny earnings for him eclipsed $24 million this past year, breaking his own record. Claiborne and WinStar are special places in my book because of their history, but none could compare to Spendthrift. They are quite simply the best! Easy choice …

Outstanding Trainer

Brad Cox, Steve Asmussen, Todd Pletcher

Brad Cox gets my votes, not only because he led all US-based trainers with $31 million+ in earnings, but he did it up and down the divisions. Dirt … turf … 3-yr-olds … older females … Cox ruled! I know Steve Asmussen continued to rack up training titles at places like Churchill, Remington, Sam Houston, and Lone Star, plus he set the all-time record for North American wins, but Cox had not only the BC Classic winner, but a bevy of “G” stakes scores to his name. Todd Pletcher was once again competitive, especially at Gulfstream Park, but Cox bested them all. He received my vote, and should be the Eclipse Award winner for the 2nd year in-a-row. Plain and simple …

Outstanding Jockey

Luis Saez, Joel Rosario, Flavien Prat

Last but not least, it is time to discuss jockeys. This is a tough category since wins and earnings are on everyone’s minds. I thought 2021 was really Luis Saez’s coming-out-party. He was a rising star in years past, but this time around he was simply stellar at meetings like Saratoga, where he racked up 62 wins in 325 starts. As Essential Quality’s jockey, the pair won impressively at Keeneland. Saez has dominated this past month at Gulfstream, and it seems anywhere he shipped to ride. Joel Rosario was a close 2nd for me, especially considering his handling of Cox’s Knicks Go. Rosario had his streaky moments over the course of ’21, but he and Flavien Prat, both exhibited some unbelievable talent. Prat rides primarily in Southern California, which is a colony that is not as competitive as the Eastern tracks. Still, his winning percentage, and grass skills continue to be something to behold. That riding talent he exhibited aboard Domestic Spending will always be one of personal favorites from ’21. Saez gets the prize though … ultra impressive!

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*Stay tuned, as we report on the results of the 2021 Eclipse Awards from Santa Anita Park! If you have not already … follow us on Twitter … Horseracing_USA !!!

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