Yes, it’s time for the Eclipse Awards, which in 2020, were brought to you by a scrambled Triple Crown schedule, along with tracks closing, reopening – and closing. Also featured were few – if any – fans in the stands and a rash of retirements.
But the horses running in 2020 didn’t realize there was a COVID-19 pandemic. They ran like they always do: fast, slow, inspiring, disappointing. Just like you’d expect any year at your favorite track.
The Eclipse Award finalists come out next week. Voters cast ballots for their top three selections in 17 categories, with the winners determined by first-place votes. The winners will be announced Jan. 23.
OG News doesn’t have an Eclipse vote. But if we did, here’s who we’d pick:
Two-Year-Old Male—Essential Quality
Winning the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile usually does the trick here. For us, it did the trick despite Jackie’s Warrior running five races to Essential Quality’s three – winning two Grade 1s along the way — and despite Jackie’s Warrior clocking better speed figures. What cinched it was Essential Quality simply beating Jackie’s Warrior when it mattered. Golden Pal won two stakes races, including the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf Sprint. He finished second in his other two, including the Norfolk Stakes at Royal Ascot.
Two Grade 1 wins: the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies and the Spinaway, put the daughter of Nyquist atop this category. Vequist’s built-in rival, Dayoutattheoffice, beat her in the Grade 1 Frizette. Yet, she couldn’t catch her in the biggest race of the year for these two. Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies Turf winner Aunt Pearl – who won all three of her starts – rounds out the worthy finalists.
Few votes come easier than this one. Authentic ran in seven graded stakes – three of those Grade 1s. He won five, including the Kentucky Derby and Breeders’ Cup Classic. He finished second in the two others: the Santa Anita Derby and Preakness Stakes. Tiz the Law was the 3-year-old to watch heading into September, winning four graded stakes – three Grade 1s — including the Belmont and Travers. Charlatan missed seven months with an ankle injury, but gets the edge over retired stablemate Nadal by virtue of his incredible Malibu Stakes win last week.
Three-Year-Old Female—Swiss Skydiver
One of the most impressive seasons from any horse in 2020. Swiss Skydiver ran 10 times this year, the most of any Eclipse candidate. She won five graded stakes, including the Preakness Stakes over likely Horse of the Year Authentic. Gamine will get votes here, but her deserved kudos comes as a sprinter. Gamine finished third behind Shedaresthedevil and Swiss Skydiver in the Kentucky Oaks. Shedaresthedevil won the Kentucky Oaks and Indiana Oaks, the former at 17/1.
Older Dirt Male—Improbable
This time last year, Improbable was an underachieving Bob Baffert charge. But in a classic example of an immature 3-year-old becoming a champion 4-year-old, Improbable won three Grade 1s on two coasts. He captured the Hollywood Gold Cup, The Whitney and the Awesome Again, then finished a solid second to Authentic in the Breeders’ Cup Classic. Maximum Security overcame more turmoil, winning his first three races – all graded stakes – before hitting the wall against Improbable and in the Breeders’ Cup Classic. The Saudi Cup and Pacific Classic look good on any resume. Amid a crowded group of contenders, the show nod goes to By My Standards over Vekoma and Tom’s d’Etat. We like trainers who run their horses and Bret Calhoun ran By My Standards eight times from Feb. 1 to Nov. 27. He won four graded stakes and beat Tom’s d’Etat twice.
Older Dirt Female—Monomoy Girl
Another no-brainer. Monomoy Girl is the best mare of her generation. She won her second Breeders’ Cup Distaff in three years in routine fashion. That was her fourth victory in four races: three of those graded stakes. She is 13-for-15 in her career and even a $9.5 million sale doesn’t mean she’s done running. Unlike Monomoy Girl, who returns for her 6-year-old campaign, Midnight Bisou retired after only three races in 2020. But one of those stood out – her second-place finish in the Saudi Cup. The third spot went to Valiance narrowly over Serengeti Empress, based on her three victories – two in graded stakes – and her second in the Breeders’ Cup Distaff.
This was a tough call. Both Vekoma and Volatile ran only three times and neither made it to the Breeders’ Cup Sprint. Vekoma scratched with a fever and Volatile retired with an injury. Volatile’s best race – the Listed Aristides Stakes – was one of 2020’s best performances anywhere in the world. But Vekoma won two Grade 1s: the Carter and Met Mile, to Volatile’s one (Vanderbilt Stakes). The Carter win came in a boat-race: 7 ¼ lengths. The Met Mile win came against one of the best sprint fields of the season. Sentimental favorite Whitmore will get plenty of votes here – based on his upset in the Breeders’ Cup Sprint at 18/1. But against these two, No. 3 is his ceiling.
If there was a single sprint category, Gamine would run away and hide with this title. Nobody – male or female – covered one turns better than the Bob Baffert-trained, Into Mischief filly. She won four races, including the Breeders’ Cup Filly & Mare Sprint in record fashion (breaking the track record by more than a second with a 121 Equibase Speed Figure) and the Acorn Stakes by 18 ¾ lengths. You’re watching a generational talent every time she enters the gate. Serengeti Empress won two races and was runner up in two Grade 1s, including the Breeders’ Cup Filly & Mare Sprint to Gamine.
Male Turf Horse—Zulu Alpha
Someone’s gotta win the weakest division of the bunch. That someone is Zulu Alpha, based on winning the Pegasus World Cup Turf – one of his three wins in five starts. One of those came against the likely winner – Channel Maker – in the Grade 2 Mac Diarmida Stakes. Channel Maker draws attention for his two Grade 1 wins and third in the Breeders’ Cup Turf to Tarnawa and Magical. He missed the board in his first five starts. United emerges from a crowded pack of Arklow, Factor This, Mo Forza and Order of Australia as No. 3 based on his four victories in six races – all Grade 2s.
Female Turf Horse—Rushing Fall
This is finally Rushing Fall’s year, the one where she’ll grab that elusive Eclipse. She went 3-for-4 – two being Grade 1s – and finished second by a neck in the Breeders’ Cup Filly & Mare Turf. The mare who owns Grade 1 wins at ages 2, 3, 4 and 5 owns Equibases of 117 and 118 this year. Starship Jubilee went 5-for-6, beating the boys in the Grade 1 Woodbine Mile. Tarnawa went 4-for-4, capping a three Grade/Group 1 win season with a decisive victory in the Breeders’ Cup Turf.
Horse of the Year-Authentic
Authentic will win this – and deservedly so. But this vote wasn’t nearly as easy as it looks at first glance. Swiss Skydiver ran 10 times in seven states. She beat Authentic in a Preakness for the ages, clocking a faster time than any horse not named Secretariat in the 145-year history of the event. She won that Grade 1, two Grade 2s and a Grade 3. She dodged nobody. That said, Authentic won three Grade 1s and beat the best of the best: Tiz the Law (twice), Improbable, Maximum Security, Honor A.P. (twice), By My Standards and Tom’s d’Etat. Along with those pelts came more than $7.1 million in season earnings. Ball game. Swiss Skydiver and Improbable round out the trio.