As I peer from my Churchill Downs window as words flow from my brain to my computer screen, snow coats the paddock garden with fewer than four months remaining before Kentucky Derby 137.
So it’s not entirely surprising that my thoughts on this wintry morn would be focused on Miami. That’s the site of this year’s Eclipse Awards celebration that will honor the best in Thoroughbred racing in 2010.
It must be noted that I really do not need the South Florida climate to stay warm. The heat from the Blame vs. Zenyatta Horse of the Year debate does that job quite nicely, and has done so since early November.
On Monday, Jan. 17, the suspense will be over – although the debate over which horse was the more deserving honoree will continue to sizzle. There are almost no sure things in racing, but the continuation of that debate is guaranteed.
With Monday’s events in mind, here’s one man’s look at the likely winners and, in some cases, which finalist is the deserving winner.
Two-year-old Male: Unbeaten early Kentucky Derby favorite Uncle Mo is one of the biggest cinches of the night. He will and should win.
Two-year-old Female: Unbeaten Awesome Feather will and should win.
Three-year-old Male: Preakness winner Lookin At Lucky will and should win.
Three-year-old Filly: Kentucky Oaks winner Blind Luck, who has never run a bad race, will and should win.
Older Male: Breeders’ Cup Classic winner Blame was two-for-two over Quality Road in 2010 and he should and will win. In an interesting side note, those two were rated the second and third best horses in the world in the World Thoroughbred Rankings unveiled in London early this week.
Older Female: Zenyatta in the easiest call on the ballot.
Male Sprinter: Tight one between Breeders’ Cup Sprint winner Big Drama and Majesticperfection. Will give the edge to the latter as the sprinter who will and should win.
Female Sprinter: Churchill Downs-based Dubai Majesty should and could win in a weak category.
Male Turf: Gio Ponti will and probably should win his second consecutive Eclipse in this category, although Winchester had a good year in a very weak division.
Female Turf: Goldikova, who has defeated males in the Breeders’ Cup Mile for an unprecedented three consecutive years, will get the trophy for her brilliant run at Churchill Downs. But Proviso won three Grade I’s in this country and deserves the honor, though she was well-beaten in Goldy’s U.S. raid.
Owner: Strong group of nominees and the honor will go to Mr. and Mrs. Jerome Moss for their decision to bring Zenyatta back to the races in 2010, though the other nominees – Claiborne Farm and Adele Dilschneider (Blame) and WinStar Farm (Super Saver in the Derby and Drosselmeyer in the Belmont) are just as deserving. I’ll give the Mosses a lukewarm “should win.”
Breeders: Claiborne Farm and Dilschneider should win this, another fitting “will and should” win to continue the 2010 celebration of the great farm’s centennial.
Trainer: Todd Pletcher. Look at the scoreboard: he finally won his Derby, and tons of other races. Bob Baffert and John Shirreffs (Zenyatta) had great years, but Todd will and should win.
Jockey: Garrett Gomez will win in a close one, but Ramon Dominguez had an amazing year and should win., Canada-based Omar Moreno will and should win before he heads south to try an American market to-be-named.
Horse of the Year: Saved the big one for last.
The nominees are Blame, Zenyatta and Goldikova, but you can eliminate the latter because she ran one time in this country. If there was an Eclipse for Horse of the World, she’d be the deserving winner.
Blame should win this award and I would cast a vote for him without hesitation – if I had one. But I don’t, and that makes Zenyatta fans happy.
Zenyatta had another wonderful year and we all know the many layers of her story. It was wonderful of the Mosses to bring her back and she ran in a race for the ages in her narrow loss to Blame in the Classic at Churchill Downs. The massive mare is obviously a special creature in both talent and temperament, and turned in the biggest race of her career in her brightest moment in the spotlight.
If you want to give her a special Eclipse for contributions to racing, that’s great. Her team (the Mosses, Shirreffs and jockey Mike Smith) is already getting one.
But Blame earned the Horse of the Year honor on the track. On two occasions he faced horses that were, at the time, front-runners for Horse of the Year. He took on the fast and talented Quality Road in Saratoga’s Whitney and the 1-2 favorite had everything his way, but Blame still ran him down.. Then he beat Zenyatta heads-up in the Classic.
Looking to an impartial source, the aforementioned World Thoroughbred Rankings assigned these weights as show of world-wide quality in 2010. European star Harbinger, injured and retired well before the Breeders’ Cup, led the rankings at 135 pounds and was followed by Blame (129); Quality Road (128); a quartet of Euro stars Makfi (128), Workforce (128), Canford Cliffs (127), Cape Blanco (126); and Zenyatta and Goldikova (125) shared honors as the planet’s top-ranked females.
While I firmly believe Blame should win the solid gold Eclipse Award that goes to the Horse of the Year, I have believed since the Breeders’ Cup Classic that Zenyatta was odds-on to take the trophy and that opinion has not changed.
This year’s Horse of the Year honor will be a lifetime achievement award for Zenyatta and, while it’s not the way I would vote, I have no real problem with the result.
In a year in which racing continued to struggle on many fronts, the exploits of Blame, Zenyatta, Goldikova and rising star Uncle Mo were reminders of everything that is wonderful about our sport and why it is worth supporting and preserving. Those memories will, for me, far outweigh which horse collected any trophy.
May we be so fortunate to have similar debates when we look back on 2011.