Rail Runner

The Observations of a Horse Racing Enthusiast

The Eclipse Awards: Crowning the Champions

Posted by Brian Appleton on January 14, 2011

It’s that time of year once again. After months of debate, speculation and anxiety, one glittering champion shall be honored with the highest achievement in American thoroughbred horse racing, the Horse of the Year award. Virtually all categories have unusually heavy favorites this year with the exception of a few. Two year old male and female, three year old male and female, champion older male and female and champion male and female sprinter categories are virtual locks. Only Turf Male, Turf Female and Horse of the Year are up for major debate and of the three Horse of the Year takes the spotlight once again by a virtual land-slide. Who will win Horse of the Year? Zenyatta or Blame?

Last year was beyond a doubt one of the most hotly contested Horse of the Year battles in history and this year is giving last a year’s contest a run for its money.

Two-Year-Old Male: A vote against Uncle Mo in this category is quite simply a crime and an ignorant vote. Uncle Mo

Uncle Mo

completed one of the most impressive juvenile campaigns seen in years during 2010 by closing out the year with blazing fast victories in the Champagne Stakes (gr.1) and Breeders’ Cup Juvenile (gr.1). He is undefeated, talented, incredibly fast, able to win gate-to-wire or rating off the pace and is the heavy winter book favorite for the Kentucky Derby. He has many racing fans and experts alike wondering at a Triple Crown attempt, me included, my only worry is that his two planned starts prior to the Kentucky Derby will not be enough to prepare him for the Triple Crown rigors.

Two-Year-Old Female: Awesome Feather is yet another contestant almost certain to win her category and after putting together a fantastic campaign of 6 wins in 6 starts she is well deserving of the honor. A dominating win in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies (gr.1) was what sealed the deal for the gifted filly. Prior to her 2 ¼ length Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies win Awesome Feather completed a thorough thrashing of all opponents in winning the Florida Stallion Series, taking all 3 races by a total of 17 lengths. Unfortunately Awesome Feather’s immediate racing future is in question after she suffered a slight tendon injury that will keep her away from the races indefinitely and most likely force her to miss the Kentucky Oaks.

Three-Year-Old Male: Who else but Lookin At Lucky? In a year that was plagued by inconsistent performances early on from many of the leading sophomore males, Lookin At Lucky remained consistently brilliant all year, winning the Rebel Stakes (gr.2), Preakness Stakes (gr.1), Haskell Invitational (gr.1) and Indiana Derby (gr.2). If Lookin At Lucky wins Champion Three Year Old Male he will become the first horse to since Spectacular Bid in 1978-79 to win Champion Two Year Old Male and Champion Three Year Old Male consecutive years.

Three-Year-Old Female: In my humble opinion Blind Luck completed the most ambitious and impressive campaign of

Blind Luck

all Eclipse Award finalists save for international Champion and superstar Goldikova. In 2010 Blind Luck took consistency to a whole new level in the game of racing, winning 3 Grade 1 races, the Kentucky Oaks, Alabama Stakes and Las Virgenes. Out of 9 starts Blind Luck won 5 races, finished second three times, twice by a nose and only once finished third.  Racing from state to state, Blind Luck faced every challenge head on, almost always coming out on top. Behind every great horse there is most certainly a great opponent who forces them to the very limit of their abilities. In the case of Blind Luck there were two such opponents, Havre de Grace and Evening Jewel.

Turf Male: In what I consider to be the biggest snub of the Eclipse Awards nominations, Paddy O’Prado, the gifted son of El Prado, was completely shut out of the Male Turf Horse ballot where he undoubtedly would have found much support for a win. Gio Ponti, despite having a rather dull campaign compared to the amazing season he had in 2009, is the most obvious choice to win this award among the 3 horses nominated.

Turf Female: After becoming the only horse in history to win 3 Breeders’ Cup races, not to mention in consecutive


years, super star Goldikova is once again favored to win this award off her single start in the US. That single start came in the form of an explosive win in the Breeders’ Cup Mile against a stellar field of international males. It was the third straight year that Godikova made the long trek from Europe to the United States to contest the prestigious race and the third straight year she came away victorious. The other two nominees for the award are Proviso and ill-fated Tuscan Evening. Tuscan Evening was riding a white-hot 6 race winning streak in 2010, including a victory in the Grade 1 Gamely, before dying of a heart attack on August 8th. Proviso is the most likely challenger to Goldikova for the award after winning 4 straight Grade 1 turf races before finishing 7th behind Goldikova in the Breeders’ Cup Mile.

Male Sprinter: Big Drama most likely sewed up the Eclipse Award with his front-running Breeders’ Cup Sprint victory. His 2010 record stands at 3 wins in 5 starts with two seconds, both in Grade 1 races. Majesticperfection could make things interesting after going undefeated in 4 starts in 2010. Included in his win column was a victory in the Alfred G. Vanderbilt at Saratoga, a race in which Big Drama finished second.

Female Sprinter: Dubai Majesty is almost certain to win here after her impressive Breeders’ Cup Filly and Mare Sprint victory. She tallied up an impressive 11 starts in 2010 with 4 wins and 4 seconds.

Older Male: Blame, no need to explain this one.

Older Female: Zenyatta, enough said.

Horse of the Year: For Zenyatta, this is a make it or break it in the Horse of the Year category, she either wins now or

Blame (right) & Zenyatta (left)

never. After finishing second in the voting two consecutive years, 2008 to Curlin and 2009 to Rachel Alexandra, Zenyatta once again finds herself on uncertain ground. The previously undefeated superstar mare has attained unheard of fame and popularity in the thoroughbred horse racing world due to her extremely charismatic personality, fan-friendly connections and 19 race winning streak. She entered 2010 with a single goal in mind; a repeat win in the Breeders’ Cup Classic. Unfortunately for Zenyatta, owners Jerry and Ann Moss along with trainer John Shirreffs mapped out an extremely conservative campaign for the great mare, winning 5 Grade 1 races with her, all in races restricted to females. Sadly Zenyatta received the only loss of her storied career in the final and biggest race of her career, the Breeders’ Cup Classic.

Blame will forever be remembered for one thing: Becoming the first and only horse to beat Zenyatta. Wins in the Grade 1 Stephen Foster and Whitney Handicap, the later over the very talented Quality Road, propelled Blame to the forefront of the Older Male ranks in 2010 but after finishing in a distant second to Haynesfield in the Jockey Club Gold Cup many people had doubts about his ability to handle Zenyatta in the Classic.


In what will certainly go down as a race for the ages, Zenyatta and Blame laid it all out on the track in the Breeders’ Cup Classic. Zenyatta made one of the single greatest runs in history when coming from more than 20 lengths out of it to just miss winning by a neck. Blame courageously held on to win over what many consider to be one of the greatest mares in racing history.

I’m usually all about Horse of the Year being settled on the track but things were different for me this year. Both contenders are worthy of the win and Blame won it on the track but Zenyatta won the bigger battle, she won the people. It sounds almost too cliché to use, but the hearts of almost every single fan in attendance and every fan glued to their TV set on Breeders’ Cup day belonged to Zenyatta.

Convincing arguments can be made for both Blame and Zenyatta but ask yourself this; 20 years from now when someone asks who the “big horse” of 2010 was only one answer is possible, Zenyatta. There are no rules about what a horse has to do to win Horse of the Year except one; it’s all in the title.

May the best horse win!


2 Responses to “The Eclipse Awards: Crowning the Champions”

  1. Can’t argue with any of your selections.

    As for your question @ my spot about CRISP, she’s back on the worktab as of January 14, her second breeze (the other was Dec. 9) but they were separated by a hiccup that lasted more than a month. Look for her later in the meeting or at Hol.

    For the record, HOY goes to ZENYATTA for me.

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