Eclipse finalists were announced today. I thought there would be a chance to see three Curlin babies among them.
Only one got the call.
Sure, Keen Ice (Medomak, by Awesome Again) was never going to actually win Champion Three Year Old Male. American Pharoah locked that up as soon as he crossed the wire in the Belmont. Still, Keen Ice is a Grade I winner in his own right, and the only horse to get his nose on a wire ahead of American Pharoah this year. He finished third in the Belmont, second in the Haskell, and was fourth beaten a length for everything against older in the Clark (GI).
In other words, Keen Ice had a strong enough season to deserve consideration for the undersides of Eclipse ballots. However, the three named finalists this morning make sense, and all have cut-and-dried arguments for garnering that status over Keen Ice. American Pharoah won the Triple Crown and the Breeders’ Cup Classic (GI)…and the Rebel (GII), and the Arkansas Derby (GI), and the Haskell (GI). Runhappy crushed the sprint division. He won three Grade I races, including the Breeders’ Cup Sprint, and tallied four victories against older. Dortmund, the third finalist, had a stronger overall season than Keen Ice. He won the Santa Anita Derby (GI) and finished third in the Kentucky Derby. He had five stakes wins through the year, including a pair against older.
No, the real bafflement comes in the three-year-old fillies’ division.
Stellar Wind (Evening Star, by Malibu Moon) was, by any estimation, a shoo-in to be among the finalists for Champion Three Year Old Filly. She won the Santa Ysabel (GIII) and the Santa Anita Oaks (GI) as her Oaks prep races, and then finished a trip-troubled fourth behind Lovely Maria in the Kentucky Oaks (GI). She went back to California, won the Summertime Oaks (GII) and the Torrey Pines (GIII) against her own age group, and finally tried older company in the Breeders’ Cup Distaff (GI). There, she finished a game second, beaten just a neck by nine-furlong savant Stopchargingmaria. In a three-year-old filly division with no clearly dominant runner, Stellar Wind ran strongly all year long, and should become Curlin’s first Eclipse Award-winning progeny come January 16.
Still, Curalina (Whatdreamsrmadeof, by Graeme Hall) had put together a good enough resume to be among those final three, too. Though she did not point toward the Oaks, she started her season with convincing wins in a maiden special weight and an allowance, and then graduated to stakes company. She won the Acorn (GI) on the Belmont undercard despite it being her stakes debut, and despite a horrid trip. Even with that, she had as many Grade I wins as Stellar Wind — though she captured another one by DQ in the Coaching Club American Oaks (GI) after being carried out late by I’m a Chatterbox, and still only missing by a nose. She could only muster third in the Alabama (GI) in her final try against straight sophomore company, but both of her attempts against older were solid. She finished second behind in-form horse-for-the-Belmont-course Wedding Toast in the Beldame (GI). Then, she finished her season with a third-place finish in the Breeders’ Cup Distaff. Even without her late trip trouble, she probably would not have beaten either Stopchargingmaria or Stellar Wind that day. Still, that capped a very strong season for Curalina: four wins and three more money finishes in seven starts this year, including a pair of Grade I wins against her own age, and a pair of Grade I placings against older company.
And, yet, Curalina was not a finalist for the three-year-old filly Eclipse, and I’m a Chatterbox and Found are?
Between those two, I’m a Chatterbox makes a bit more sense than Found. I’m a Chatterbox swept the Fair Grounds prep races for the Kentucky Oaks, typically a strong set of feeder races, and finished third behind stablemate Lovely Maria in the Oaks. Post-DQ, I’m a Chatterbox and Curalina split the head-to-head, with the carried-out Curalina being placed ahead in the Coaching Club American Oaks, but I’m a Chatterbox finished second to Curalina’s third in the Alabama. That came on the square. In the latter part of the season, she captured her Grade I in the Cotillion. Still, her only try against older was a disappointing eighth in the Breeders’ Cup Distaff. Her season against her own age was strong — on a similar level to Curalina, even — but her form against older did not shine through in that one attempt.
This space would rank Curalina over I’m a Chatterbox, but would have no issue with anyone who decided to rank them the other way around.
Found is the real issue here. She only raced once in North America. Of course, that one race was huge — she won the Breeders’ Cup Turf, putting away Arc winner Golden Horn, and leaving solid American turf horses like Big Blue Kitten and The Pizza Man in her wake. She had also been competitive in Group-level company in Europe through the year. Though, therein lies the rub.
Yes, the Eclipse Award rules require only one race here to be eligible to be elected American champion. Still, a single race hardly qualifies as a campaign on these shores. A single race, as good as it may be, should not be able to nullify an entire strong season contested here. Ascot, the Curragh, Leopardstown, and Longchamp — the tracks over which Found contested the rest of her season — all fall under the purview of the Cartier Awards. If she was really among the best of her class where she conducted the vast majority of her campaign, let them recognise it.
Curalina campaigned here all year. She has two Grade I wins to show for it, and held form all year long. She should be the third finalist, and she ended up spurned in favour of a horse who — though undeniably classy — only ran here once.