Life is filled with high points and disappointments. Racing has provided me with an inexhaustible supply of the former, and a few of the latter.
One continuing disappointment is that I have never had an opportunity to cast a vote for an Eclipse Award, racing’s year-end championship honors for the sport’s top horses and humans. In my years in electronic journalism, I was never eligible for membership in the National Turf Writers, a voting bloc that excluded those who spoke into microphones.
I don’t qualify as member of the Churchill Downs team, either. But that doesn’t prohibit me from offering opinions on those awards, so here’s a look at the horses and humans that I believe deserve trophies for their accomplishments in 2010.
Female Turf Horse – Goldikova is the best turf horse in the world and she did dazzle on these shores with her win in the Breeders’ Cup
Mile at Churchill Downs – her unprecedented third straight win in that event. But I could not vote for her off one win in this country. I believe these awards should recognize yearlong achievement in U.S. racing, so my vote would go to Proviso, a three-time Grade I winner in 2010 – although she was drummed by Goldikova in the Mile.
If we had an Eclipse that honored the Horse of the World, Goldikova would be a cinch vote for me. The good news is she will continue to run in 2011 with the primary goal being a return to Churchill Downs in November in search of a fourth straight Mile.
Male Turf Horse – This was a weak division, but my vote goes to Gio Ponti for a second straight Eclipse in this category. He had a solid year and showed up against Goldikova in the Mile, although he was no threat to her brilliance.
Female Sprinter – Dubai Majesty’s good year for trainer Bret Calhoun was capped by a win in the Breeders’ Cup Filly & Mare Sprint. That works for me.
Older Female – Zenyatta towers over the competition for a third consecutive year. She never finished behind a female of any age.
Older Male – Breeders’ Cup Classic winner Blame sticks out in this division as Zenyatta did in hers.
3-Year-Old Filly – Kentucky Oaks winner Blind Luck was one of the most remarkable horses in training in 2010. She never ran a bad race, traveled all over the country and excelled on both dirt and synthetic surfaces – often in paceless affairs that did not suit her stretch-running style. She did not win them all, but Blind Luck deserves this Eclipse Award, just as her trainer, Jerry Hollendorfer, deserves overdue election to racing’s Hall of Fame in 2011.
3-Year-Old Male – Though I believe he was suspect at the Classic distance of a mile and a quarter, Lookin At Lucky won the Preakness and the Haskell Invitational and always gave his best. This big-hearted colt deserves the trophy and I wish we could see him at four, but he’s off to the breeding shed for a new career.
2-Year-Old Filly – Unbeaten Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies winner Awesome Feather gets my vote as champion because she accomplished the most, but I believe unbeaten Dancinginherdreams is the more talented filly. Bring on the Kentucky Oaks.
2-Year-Old – The dominant and very fast Uncle Mo is in the Blame-Zenyatta category of easy choices. Todd Pletcher, who must have wondered if he would ever win a Kentucky Derby, now trains a strong favorite to give him a second consecutive Run for the Roses.
Horse of the Year – As much as I love and appreciate what Zenyatta has done for the sport, my vote – if I had one – would go to Blame.
He gave legendary Claiborne Farm one of its greatest wins in the farm’s 100th anniversary year and he had showdowns with the horses ranked as the best in America at the time – Quality Road in Saratoga’s Whitney and then-unbeaten Zenyatta in the Breeders’ Cup Classic – and beat them both head-up.
This is a category for Horse of the Year – not Horse of a Lifetime, Horse of Three Years or a lifetime achievement trophy. Blame was two-for-two when taking on the horses that mattered most and he deserves the gold Eclipse statuette.
Regarding the Eclipse Award for humans, here we go:
Trainer – Todd Pletcher had another great year and he finally won the Kentucky Derby. He should take the award after watching Steve Asmussen, who again leads the nation in wins in 2010, take the honor over the past two years.
Jockey – Ramon Dominguez gets my nod over Garrett Gomez in a close one.
Owner - I’ll give the nod to Jerry and Ann Moss, the owners of Zenyatta, for their decision to keep the big girl in training for another year, which was a very good year for their entire stable.
Apprentice Jockey – Canada’s Omar Moreno has won nearly $5.5 million in purses and 150 races, the top numbers in North America.
Happy New Year to all – and happy birthday to all thoroughbred race horses! For purposes of competition, every horse turns a year older on New Year’s Day, and all of those new 3-year-olds will have exactly 126 days to get prepared and prove their worthiness to compete in Kentucky Derby 137 on Saturday, May 7, at Churchill Downs.