Early look at closely con­tested Eclipse Awards

The Record (Troy, NY) - - SPORTS - Jeff Scott

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.

Older fe­male

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.

Three-year-old male

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.

Turf male

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.

Fe­male sprinter

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.

PHOTO PRO­VIDED BY SPENCER TULIS

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.

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