an open letter to Eclipse Award voters

Dear Eclipse Award voters,

Please do not abstain from voting in the steeplechase category for lack of knowledge about the division.  Please educate yourselves.

44 voters abstained from the steeplechase category last year, more than any other category.  40 abstained in 2014, 52 in 2013.  It’s a refrain in Eclipse Award voter explanations year in and year out: I’m not voting for steeplechase because I don’t know enough about the category.

Why not?

Keeping up with the top echelon of American steeplechase, or catching up on the details before voting in the Eclipse Awards, presents a no more onerous burden than keeping up with the top echelon of American flat racing.  In fact, given the relatively low volume of top-level races, it is a lighter burden than most other categories.  The National Steeplechase Association maintains a schedule of steeplechase race meets, with entries and results.  They archive videos for races at steeplechase meets, allowing you to catch up on jumps races that were not run at flat tracks like Saratoga, Belmont, Monmouth, Suffolk, and Parx.

Voting for our sport’s end-of-year awards is a great privilege, but also a responsibility.  You have your say in deeming Thoroughbreds the best of their division, in determining whose names are written on a page of the history books.  Cast an informed vote in every category.

Can an abstention be an informed vote?  Absolutely.  But, an abstention should come in response to there not being a deserving recipient, not because you did not know enough about the category to cast an informed vote.

But, with all of the information out there, abstaining for lack of knowledge is not enough.  You owe it to the Thoroughbreds, trainers, owners, and jockeys to be thoughtful and thorough with your Eclipse Awards ballot — and, this includes the steeplechase division.


Nicolle Neulist

Stellar Wind: Curlin’s first champion

Curlin, himself a two-time Horse of the Year, has sired his first champion.

At last night’s Eclipse Awards, Stellar Wind (Evening Star, by Malibu Moon) was named the Champion Three-Year-Old filly of 2015.

Stellar Wind deserved it.  She stayed in strong form all year long, and even in the races she did not win, she still turned in strong efforts against classy horses.

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Curlin babies and Eclipse finalists

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.

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Work All Week: a Champion!

Work All Week proved at age four that he was a good sprinter.  He started his 2013 season with a maiden win in his first dirt sprint try, and cleared his first two allowance conditions in short order.  He got nosed out by Sweet Luca in the Addison Cammack Handicap, but returned to his winning ways to take an allowance at Arlington.  He travelled out of state for the first time to win another allowance at Indiana Grand, and then closed the year with two Illinois-bred stakes wins.

The beginning of his five-year-old season started a little more ambitiously.  He opened the season with a frontrunning allowance win at Oaklawn, and then took down the Hot Springs Stakes: his first open stakes win.  He travelled to Iowa next.  Things looked dicey turning for home in the Iowa Sprint Handicap, when Delaunay headed him.  Work All Week would not lose: he dug in, regained the advantage, and edged away to keep his dirt record perfect.  The Addison Handicap eluded him again, but despite a 130 pound impost and a hot pace from Roarin Missile, he still let no one but Sweet Luca past.  After the Addison Cammack, jockey Chris Emigh expressed his hopes that the loss would not derail Work All Week from the Breeders’ Cup trail.

After a brief freshening, his Breeders’ Cup plans remained on target.  He made his graded stakes debut in the Phoenix (GIII) at Keeneland, a Win and You’re In race for the Breeders’ Cup Sprint.  He sat off Zee Bros early, and showed something he had never shown before: an ability to rate.  Holding off a late-running C. Zee, he punched his ticket to California.

The Breeders’ Cup was his first Grade I, and his first trip west.  He worked well at Hawthorne leading up to the race, but despite that and his still-perfect dirt record, the public still slept on him.  Work All Week went off at 19/1, but he had no idea what the bettors thought of him.  He did not run like a horse who knew he was on a class rise.  He just knew it was time to go to work.

That nailed it for him.  The other finalists for Champion Sprinter had good years, very good years.  Goldencents could not have won the Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile more gamely.  Private Zone ran a sharp third behind Work All Week in the Breeders’ Cup Sprint, and returned with an emphatic front-end victory in the Cigar Mile (GI).

When all was said and done it was Work All Week who passed every test on dirt, and Work All Week who worked all year at sprint distances.  He showed up when it counted, he won the biggest sprint race of the year, and today he joined Buck’s Boy (Champion Grass Horse, 1998) in the exclusive club of Illinois-bred horses to win Eclipse awards.

Congratulations, Work All Week!  You make Illinois racing proud.

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 […]