2016 Eclipse Awards Recap: California Chrome Becomes Two-time Horse of the Year Award Winner

http://www.drf.com/news/2016-eclipse-awards-beholderThe vote for ‘Horse of the Year’ was not nearly as close as many of the pundits thought it would be on Sunday at the 46th Annual NTRA Eclipse Awards dinner from Gulfstream Park in Hallandale Beach, Florida. California Chrome achieved a ‘daily double’ winning the ‘Horse of the Year’ award for the second time in the past three years. He won his first award in 2014 after a year highlighted with wins in the Kentucky Derby and Preakness. 2016 was much more deserving; Chrome had won all seven starts leading up to the Breeders’ Cup Classic in which Arrogate dethroned the magnificent five year-old. His wins included a Dubai World Cup victory at Meydan over the ultra-talented Frosted, and a hard fought victory over 2016 Breeders’ Cup Distaff winner Beholder in the Pacific Classic from Del Mar. Even with those two victories under his belt, many people thought that when you add the impressive Travers’ Stakes victory from Arrogate with his amazing finish in the Breeders’ Cup Classic that he deserved ‘Horse of the Year’ honors.  The tension was palpable at the Sport of Kings Theatre, but as usual time typically factors into these awards. California Chrome has a significant West-Coast following, which comprises a sizeable voting block, but even so Chrome won with 81.4% of the vote. Arrogate did make it interesting and Bob Baffert will always have wonder had Arrogate got started a bit earlier in the three year-old season, could we be talking about back-to-back Triple Crown champions. We will never know at this point.

NOTE: California Chrome also won the award for ‘Champion Older Male’. He won unanimously with 248 votes.

California Chrome by Lucky Pulpit, trained by Art Sherman, and ridden by Victor Espinoza is owned by California Chrome LLC. Ironically, with the Eclipse Awards down at Gulfstream Park, Chromes trophies could have been presented directly to him considering he will be making what is likely the final start of his career in the $12 million Pegasus World Cup next Saturday, after which he will enter stud at Taylor Made in Kentucky.  He will likely begin breeding between four and six weeks after The Pegasus according to Taylor Made.

CHAMPION 3-YEAR-OLD MALE

ARROGATE

Well I discussed the merits of the champion three year-old above, but what’s most interesting to me is that Arrogate became only the third horse since the inception of the Eclipse Awards in 1971 to have won the three year-old male division without competing in a single Triple Crown race. Another funny fact, Arrogate didn’t even win his first race until after the first two legs of the Triple Crown had already been run. Oh, did the division get a hell of a wake-up-call in August at Saratoga, Arrogate absolute ran off with a race that traditionally has had some great stretch battles, and usually marks the return of the Kentucky Derby winner. For the first time in my life, a three year-old budding this late in the year, honestly, made me forget the horse that won the Kentucky Derby. I was like Nyquist, damn, what happened to that horse? It’s amazing how fast your mind moves on in this game, and Arrogate, if given the chance, will have an opportunity to stamp his name as one of the greats in 2017. The fact that Juddmonte purchased a spot in the Pegasus World Cup for Arrogate at the end of December only means he came out of the race as healthy as he possibly could have, and California Chrome better find his A-game down in Miami before next weekend.

CHAMPION 3-YEAR-OLD FEMALE

SONGBIRD

I tried to beat Songbird, ohhh, five too many times in 2016. The horse just kept making me look like an idiot. I could rip up my tickets on the backstretch in just about every race. Any avid horseplayer knows that feeling, the feeling when you’ve watched 5000 races, and your horse is sitting second last, the horse on the front has set slow to moderate fractions, and your horse swings four wide into the stretch and starts spinning their wheels. Well, I didn’t even get to the backstretch with some of these tickets betting against Songbird. She would have an open-lead after the first three-sixteenths and I would be like Jesus-Christ, how fast can this horse go? She kept going faster and faster.

Had it not been for my favorite older female horse, BEHOLDER, SONGBIRD would have had to be considered for ‘Horse of the Year’ as well.  She was just so impressive in all of her starts. She made some fillies look like they were two year olds facing older.

SONGBIRD, 3yo filly, (Medaglia d’Oro – Ivanavinalot by West Acre) is owned by Fox Hill Farms, Inc. was also up for ‘Horse of the Year’ honors based on the merit of her victories in the G2-Las Virgenes, G3-Santa Ysabel, G1-Santa Anita Oaks, G2-Summertime Oaks, G1-Coaching Club American Oaks, and G1-Alabama Stakes.

Songbird is set to return in March for her four year old campaign which could include starts in the Delaware Handicap, Pacific Classic, and Breeders’ Cup Distaff/Classic.

CHAMPION 2-YEAR-OLD MALE

CLASSIC EMPIRE

I have some what of a biased opinion when it comes to this two year old by Pioneerof the Nile who happened to also be the sire of the great, American Pharoah. Classic Empire was my top play this past Breeders’ Cup and ended up winning by a neck over Not This Time in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile at odds of 9/2.  One thing, a smart gambler should do is forget which horses you’ve won betting and lost betting in the past, and rather do the smart thing in the next race in which you evaluate that individual horse. I do admit though, it will be difficult for me when Classic Empire comes back for his three year old debut in what looks like will be the Holy Bull Stakes at Gulfstream Park in a couple weeks.

Classic Empire, 2yo (Pioneerof the Nile – Sambuca Classica by Cat Thief) won every start with the exception of the one start in which he threw the jockey when the horse appeared to veer towards the auxiliary gate.

Classic Empire won the award for 2-year-old champion male unanimously by getting all 248 votes.

CHAMPION 2-YEAR-OLD FEMALE

CHAMPAGNE ROOM

When Champagne Room stayed on under full drive from Mario Gutierrez to win the 14 Hands Winery Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies after pressing the pace set by Noted and Quoted through the opening half and then driving to a clear open-length advantage in the stretch. Champagne Room would be the only runner of the top six at the half-mile call to be better than eighth which could mean she is an extremely talented young filly. Trainer Peter Eurton doesn’t typically train this quality of horse, but he has done a good job getting her fit for all of her starts.

She broke her maiden in the Sorrento Stakes after having to pay a supplemental entry fee of $2,000. And if there is anything called a good defeat, Champagne Room ran well in the Del Mar Debutante and the Chandelier Stakes, but not quite impressive enough to earn respect from the betting public, seeing she went off at 33-1 in the Breeders’ Cup.

Champagne Room: 2yo (Broken Vow-Lucky to be Me by Bernstein) was a $310,000 purchase from a two year-old’s in training at the Ocala Breeders’ Sale. She went off as the favorite in her debut and closed well to finish second. After finally showing a bit of speed for the first time during a two turn race, she won the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies. It will be interesting to see at three year’s old if she shows speed routing how well she does. It can be assumed that she is the early favorite for the Kentucky Oaks. If you are interested in betting her, I advise adding her to your Virtual Stable, follow her workouts, and keep an eye on how Peter Eurton is doing out at Santa Anita. It is important moving forward especially if they plan on being the one to beat in Kentucky on May 5th.

CHAMPION OLDER FEMALE

BEHOLDER

I could write an entire book on the career of Beholder. She is probably my favorite female horse of the past decade including the likes of Zenyatta, Rachel Alexandra, Songbird and others.

Heading into 2016, she accomplished almost everything a female horse could possibly accomplish. And a lot of horseplayers’ had the opinion had she been healthy, she would have beaten American Pharoah in the 2015 Breeders’ Cup Classic. Sadly, it didn’t work out that way.

Had she been able to beat California Chrome in the Pacific Classic and add on to that the tremendous victory over Songbird in the Distaff, we may be talking about Beholder as 2016 Horse of the Year.

Even so, the victory over Songbird was an epic way to cap a career that included 18 wins in 26 career starts. The six year old by Henny Hughes out of Leslie’s Lady earned $6.15M and won 11 Grade 1 races.

Beholder was simply amazing. She will be missed at the starting gate.

TRAINER OF THE YEAR

CHAD BROWN

You can ask anybody at the racetrack that watches races and pays attention to the national scene. What trainer had the best year? I think about four out of every five would answer Chad Brown.

I got nothing against the guy. He learned from the one of the best in Shug McGaughey and also had tudilige from veterinarian Steve Allday. He learned the ropes from both sides. From a trainers’ perspective and from a vets’ perspective.

Not only has he trained the likes of Flintshire and Lady Eli recently. He has trained Awesome Feather, Big Blue Kitten, Bobby’s Kitten, Dayatthespa, Maram, Stacelita, Stephanie’s Kitten, and Zagora.

He won the G1-Diana Stakes for the second time in 2016. He won the G1-Beverly D. Stakes for the third time in 2016. He won the $1M G1-Manhattan Handicap for the third straight year, and fourth time in five years. He won the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies Turf for the third time in 2016. And, he won the following Grade 1 stakes for the first time this year. The Man O’ War, The Secretariat, and The Hopeful.

It all capped off an amazing year for Brown, who earned over $23M in North American purse money. He finally surpassed the well-respected Todd Pletcher who held his place atop the earnings list from 2010-2015.

He won 42 graded stakes total, 12 of which were the Grade 1 variety, giving Brown one more Grade 1 victory than Bob Baffert.

Chad Brown’s success on the lawn has given the American trainers a serious player in the run for best turf trainer in the world. European turf racing typically dominates over American turf racing, but the recent success of Brown, who knows, maybe we have our own wizard on the lawn brewing right here in the States.

JOCKEY OF THE YEAR

JAVIER CASTELLANO

Well that’s four in a row for JJ and it’s no surprise at all that he has taken down the title again. He has been as dominant as anybody in North America on the grass. He has continued to improve on the conventional dirt surfaces, and is making it difficult for any rider to compete with him at the top of the sport.

He leads all riders in mount earnings and graded stakes earnings. The latter of which makes him an intelligible, smart rider who has succeeded better than anyone at the highest level of the game.

Now 39, Castellano is still in the prime of his career. As long as he avoids injury problems over the next decade he could become the richest jockey of all time.

His big wins of 2016 included the Kentucky Oaks, the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Filly Turf. All of his wins totaled mount earnings of $26.8M half of which was earned at the graded level against the best in the world.

He won 35 graded races, nine of which were grade one. His biggest wins came in the million dollar Manhattan and The Sword Dancer.

He won 300 total races from 1418 mounts which tallies out to be 21% at the highest level of the game. No one is currently competing with him at the top of the game. He will be going for his fifth straight Eclipse Award in 2017.

MALE TURF HORSE

FLINTSHIRE

He was the leader of the Chad Brown Army (CBA), winning the Grade 1 Woodford Reserve $1 Million Manhattan with a furious rally down the lane, making his first start in six months.

He came under a bit of fire after some ‘games’ played by trainer Chad Brown caused an uproar following his victory in the Grade 1 – Sword Dancer. Either way, Flintshire is just a horse, and he won impressively for the third straight time in 2016 at that point.

The tricky, soft-dead going at Keeneland for the Grade 1 – Joe Hirsch Turf Classic was something Flintshire could not overcome in October. He finished second before being pointed toward the Breeders’ Cup.

The Breeders’ Cup Turf was a difficult race to analyze, but if you look at the internal fractions of each horse. The second place finish by Flintshire to Highland Reel was simply amazing considering the circumstances.

He finished his career with eight wins, 12 seconds, and quite a resume that accumulated nearly $10M in earnings.

MALE SPRINTER

DREFONG

He only raced four times in 2016. He was impressive in all of them. Even with the long breaks between starts, I thought as a sprinter there was no one better.

His most impressive wins were The King’s Bishop and Breeders’ Cup Sprint. He has never raced longer than 7 furlongs which leaves a lot of questions about his future.

They are planning on sending Drefong overseas to the Dubai World Cup to race in the $2M Golden Shaheen.

FEMALE SPRINTER

FINEST CITY

This horse went from a nobody to a somebody in the blink of an eye on Breeders’ Cup weekend.

Won the Grade 2 – Great Lady M. at Los Al in April, finished 3rd in the Grade 1 – Vanity a mile, and then tried two two-turn mile races. As soon as they turned her back in distance at the Breeders’ Cup, you saw what happened.

APPRENTICE JOCKEY OF THE YEAR

LUIS OCASIO

OWNER OF THE YEAR

JUDDMONTE FARMS, INC

BREEDER OF THE YEAR

WinStar FARM

STEEPLECHASER OF THE YEAR

Rawnaq                            

 

I will be updating the Kentucky Derby Standings and writing new articles this week about the Withers Stakes from Aqueduct, and most likely the entire Pegasus World Cup card from Gulfstream Park.

 

 

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