everyone’s question

Eclipse award announcements are coming up shortly, and one of the more disputed races for 2013 has been that for Champion Two-Year-Old Colt.

Of course, there’s no mathematical formula for who is going to win the award.  It’s voted on, so inherently subjective.  However, most of the quibbling that I’ve seen has been over whether New Year’s Day should win because he won the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile, or whether Shared Belief should win because he won two graded stakes.

I cannot get behind the argument that multiple of New Year’s Day’s proponents have made, that the horse who wins the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile ought to be a shoo-in for the award no matter what.  It should be a consideration, and a strong one due to the strength of the field.  However, it’s still a single race.

Does some line have to be drawn for which horses are reasonable votes for the championship?  Sure.

The minimum line that should be drawn for the Champion Two-Year-Old Colt award (or any award) would be a Grade I stakes victory.  If a horse hasn’t won a Grade I that year, it seems absurd to consider them division champion material.  Almost anyone would agree that this is a bare minimum — as in, a Grade I is necessary, but not sufficient, to justify that a horse has had a Championship campaign.

With that, this is, in alphabetical order, the widest possible list of horses who could be considered for the award:

  • Bond Holder (Frontrunner S.)
  • Havana (Champagne S.)
  • New Year’s Day (Breeders’ Cup Juvenile)
  • Outstrip (Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf)
  • Shared Belief (Cashcall Futurity)
  • Strong Mandate (Hopeful S.)
  • Sweet Reason (Spinaway S.)
  • Tamarando (Del Mar Futurity)
  • We Miss Artie (Dixiana Breeders’ Futurity)

What did New Year’s Day do during the rest of his two-year-old season?  He ran two other races: both in August, and both $75,000 Maiden Special Weights at Del Mar.  He finished third (beaten 4 lengths) in the first one, at five and a half furlongs, behind Indexical and Hi Fashioned.  He won two weeks later, at a mile, against a field that included Bond Holder and Candy Boy.  In that race, he held on to take it 1 3/4 lengths over Bond Holder in second.  His third and final race was the BC Juvenile, which he finished 1 1/4 lengths in front.  That record only includes one stakes run, though the race in which he broke his maiden had some far-stronger-than-average horses, including one of the others who have won a Grade I this year.

Among the others?  The one who jumps out off the page as a legitimate rival to New Year’s Day is Shared Belief.  He raced three times as a two-year-old, and won all three races.  The first was a six furlong, $27,000 Maiden Special Weight at Golden Gate Fields in October, which he won by seven lengths.  After a change in ownership, he moved down to Hollywood Park and won the Hollywood Prevue S. (GIII), and then the Cashcall Futurity (GI).  He won both of these races by open lengths — 7 3/4 in the Hollywood Prevue, and 5 3/4 in the Cashcall.

Compared to New Year’s Day?  Shared Belief’s MSW was definitely weaker.  However, he has something that no other two-year-old colt among the GI winners last year has: a second graded stakes victory.  Shared Belief’s new ownership must have known he had far more talent than your average horse who wins a MSW at Golden Gate, and even though there was no way that running the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile was going to happen for Shared Belief at that point in time, his new owners still put together a strong campaign.  Shared Belief showed more than enough in the Hollywood Prevue and the Cashcall to demonstrate that he could romp against classy two-year-old colts.  Take the Cashcall, particularly — in that race, he beat two of the other GI winners on the year, Tamarando and Bond Holder, as well as Candy Boy, one of the horses New Year’s Day beat in his victorious MSW.

In short?  I throw my lot in with Shared Belief, but just barely.  It’s not only the fact that he has two graded stakes, but the fact that both of his graded stakes wins were such commanding performances.  New Year’s Day is a credible choice, based on both his Breeders’ Cup Juvenile victory as well as the strength of the Maiden Special Weight he won.  It isn’t as cut-and-dried as many people say (“he won the Juvenile!” versus “he won two graded stakes!”), and the Eclipse voters do have a tough choice.

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