Early look at closely contested Eclipse Awards
Upsets at the Breeders’ Cup have made some Eclipse Awards more competitive than they were a couple of weeks ago. Gun Runner (older dirt male), Lady Eli (female turf horse), Roy H (male sprinter) and Abel Tasman (three-year-old filly) look like sure winners in their respective categories. In the other four non-juvenile categories, however, the winner is not quite so obvious.
Note: There are still over 40 graded races yet to be run this year, including nearly 10 Grade 1s, enough to potentially influence Eclipse Award voting.
Eclipse voters will be choosing between a mare who raced only four times in 2017 (Stellar Wind) and one who raced only three (Forever Unbridled). With three straight Grade 1 wins coming into the Breeders’ Cup, Stellar Wind appeared to have this award locked up. Unfortunately, the only Distaff result that could deny her a second championship (Forever Unbridled winning the race and Stellar Wind finishing last) is exactly what transpired.
Chances are that voters will give more weight to Forever Unbridled’s relatively recent Personal Ensign/ Distaff double than to Stellar Wind’s three Grade 1 scores back in the
spring and early summer — especially given Stellar Wind’s last-place finish in the Distaff.
When Always Dreaming reeled off decisive victories in his first four starts of 2017, including the Florida Derby and Kentucky Derby, it looked like he might add his name to the list of outstanding sophomores of recent years. An up-the-track finish in the Preakness, however, was followed by two disappointing outings at Saratoga. Always Dreaming’s ninth in the Travers turned out to be his last start of the year.
When no obvious division leader emerged from the Triple Crown, West Coast charged into the championship picture by running off five straight wins, including the Travers and Pennsylvania Derby. A good third in the Breeders’ Cup Classic was probably enough to clinch the Eclipse Award for this late-developing son of Flatter.
US-based horses have won seven of the last eight championships in this category. Thanks to the strong Breeders’ Cup performances by World Approval and Beach Patrol, the home forces are certain to make it eight of nine.
World Approval added a third consecutive Grade 1 win by out-finishing an accomplished international field in the Mile. Beach Patrol, looking to add to his Grade 1 victories in the Arlington Million and Joe Hirsch Turf Classic, finished a brave second to 14-1 upsetter Talismanic in the Turf. The half-length loss may well have cost Beach Patrol a championship, with the Eclipse Award going to an equally deserving World Approval.
The competition for this Eclipse was pretty wide open prior to the Breeders’ Cup. It became even more so when the Filly & Mare Sprint was won by Bar of Gold, a 66-1 longshot, and the three most accomplished horses in the race — Unique Bella, Paulassilverlining and Finley’sluckycharm — finished off the board.
Who deserves the Eclipse? Bar of Gold’s only other 2017 stakes win came against her fellow New York-breds in the Yaddo Stakes. Unique Bella ran off five straight victories prior to the Breeders’ Cup, but only one of her three graded wins occurred in a sprint.
That leaves Finley’sluckycharm and Paulassilverlining. Going into the Breeders’ Cup, Finley’sluckycharm was a neck shy of being undefeated in five starts. But Paulassilverlining faced tougher competition, sweeping the Grade 1 Madison Stakes and Humana Distaff back in the spring. She also finished ahead of Finley’sluckycharm the two times they met, including in the Filly & Mare Sprint.
Jockey Mike Smith is all smiles after riding West Coast to victory in the 148th running of the Grade 1 Travers Aug. 26 at Saratoga Race Course.