The list of finalists for the Eclipse Awards that will honor the most accomplished horses and humans in American racing are out, and the roster of nominees has a decided Bluegrass State flavor.
In mid-November Churchill Downs honored the Kentucky horses and connections that performed so well in last year’s Breeders’ Cup races at Santa Anita, with Classic winner Fort Larned, Mile champion Wise Dan, Filly & Mare Sprint winner Groupie Doll and Turf winner Little Mike each paraded in the paddock on a Sunday afternoon. Speaking to fans that day, Louisville born-and-based trainer Dale Romans, who saddled Little Mike, remarked that Kentucky racing continues to endure significant struggles, but the talent on display presented evidence that racing in the state was “still alive.”
Each member of the aforementioned quartet of Kentucky-based Breeders’ Cup winners and several more horses that raced in Kentucky during 2012 are prominent among the 2012 Eclipse finalists. And each of the four that paraded beneath the Twin Spires is a finalist in more than one category. Here’s a look at each division’s final three:
Horse of the Year: Fort Larned, I’ll Have Another, Wise Dan – Each was prominent in Kentucky, with Churchill Downs-based Fort Larned in the care of trainer Ian Wilkes; I’ll Have Another’s abbreviated campaign highlighted by his victories in the Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands and the Preakness; and Lexington-based Wise Dan executing a near-perfect season during which the only blemish was a narrow loss in the Grade I Stephen Foster at Churchill Downs.
Older Male: Fort Larned, Little Mike, Wise Dan – The new name here is Little Mike, who notched a trio of Grade I turf wins during the year that began with the Woodford Reserve Turf Classic on Derby Day at Churchill Downs. He also won the Arlington Million along with his Breeders’ Cup Turf triumph.
Older Female: Groupie Doll, Include Me Out, Royal Delta – Two finalists had Kentucky links, with Churchill Downs-based Groupie Doll scoring Grade I wins at Churchill Downs and Keeneland for the Frankfort, Ky. owner-breeder duo of Fred Bradley and his son, trainer Buff Bradley. Royal Delta won the Grade II Fleur De Lis at Churchill Downs in June during a campaign that climaxed with a second consecutive triumph in the Breeders’ Cup Ladies’ Classic.
Male Turf Horse: Little Mike, Point of Entry, Wise Dan – The only non-Kentuckian was Point of Entry, a New Yorker trained by Lexington native Shug McGaughey. Wise Dan appears to be the frontrunner for Horse of the Year, but might not win this division after enjoying his greatest success at a mile on the grass.
Female Turf Horse: Marketing Mix, Tapitsfly, Zagora – Marketing Mix, trained by Tom Proctor, and Tapitsfly, trainer by Romans, were based at Churchill Downs.
Three-Year-Old Male: Bodemeister, I’ll Have Another, Union Rags – Each contested the Kentucky Derby, with I’ll Have Another catching Bodemeister to win both the Derby and Preakness, and Union Rags winning the Belmont Stakes in the absence of the other two finalists.
Three-Year-Old Filly: Believe You Can, My Miss Aurelia, Questing – The former won the Kentucky Oaks under jockey Rosie Napravnik, the first woman to ride an Oaks winner. My Miss Aurelia trained briefly at Churchill for Steve Asmussen.
Male Sprinter: The Lumber Guy, Shackleford, Trinniberg – Shack won the Grade II Churchill Downs and the Grade I Clark Handicap Presented by Norton Healthcare for Romans. Trinniberg was an also-ran in the Kentucky Derby under former Churchill Downs jockey Willie Martinez, but scored a surprise Breeders’ Cup Sprint victory to complete the year.
Female Sprinter: Contested, Groupie Doll, Mizdirection – Kentucky-based Groupie Doll should dominate this category, though California-based Mizdirection – owned by sports talker Jim Rome – will probably enjoy some love from voters.
Two-Year-Old Male: Shanghai Bobby, Uncaptured, Violence – Uncaptured swept Churchill Downs’ Iroquois and Kentucky Jockey Club in the fall for trainer Mark Casse. Likely champion Shanghai Bobby didn’t race in Kentucky during his unbeaten season, but is owned by Starlight Racing, a partnership that includes Louisvillians Jack Wolf, its managing partner; attorney Ed Glassock; and his son, Clinton.
Two-Year-Old Filly: Beholder, Dreaming of Julia, Executiveprivilege – No Kentucky connection in this category.
Steeplechase Horse: Demonstrative, Divine Fortune, Pierrot Lunaire – No local connections, but that’s not a surprise.
Owner: Godolphin Racing LLC, Midwest Thoroughbreds, Inc., Reddam Racing LLC – J. Paul Reddam’s stable won the Kentucky Derby with I’ll Have Another, while Midwest Thoroughbreds wins big with claiming and allowance horses at Churchill Downs and other tracks.
Breeder: Adena Springs, Darley, Brereton C. Jones – Former Kentucky Gov. Jones won the Kentucky Oaks with his homebred Believe You Can.
Trainer: Bob Baffert, Todd Pletcher, Dale Romans – Romans appears to be the favorite for his first Eclipse, but the list of finalists is very strong. But Romans won nine Grade I races during his “career year” and seems a clear favorite for his first Eclipse in the trainer category.
Jockey: Javier Castellano, Ramon Dominguez, John Velazquez – With the move of Julien Leparoux to the West Coast, no Kentucky-based rider is on the list.
Apprentice Jockey: Jose Montano, Irad Ortiz Jr., Angel Suarez – Again, no locals on this list.