The 2016 Eclipse Award finalists recently were revealed. The winners in each category will be announced this Saturday at the 46th annual Eclipse Awards dinner in Florida at Gulfstream Park.
The first year I made Eclipse Award predictions in this column was for racing in 2011. My Eclipse Award predictions have been correct 91.7% of the time:
2011: 15 correct, 2 wrong
2012: 16 correct, 1 wrong
2013: 16 correct, 1 wrong
2014: 17 correct, 0 wrong
2015: 14 correct, 3 wrong
I am hoping to bounce back with my predictions for 2016 after getting three wrong for 2015. Remember, these are my predictions, not who I think should win or who I voted for.
Here now are my predictions for the 2016 Eclipse Awards:
Finalists (alphabetically): Classic Empire, Not This Time, Practical Joke
Predicted Winner: Classic Empire
The late, great Chick Hearn, my all-time favorite sports announcer, coined the term “slam dunk” when broadcasting games for the Los Angeles Lakers. The way I see it, Classic Empire, winner of the Grade I Breeders’ Cup Juvenile at Santa Anita Park, is a slam-dunk to get the Eclipse Award as the champion 2-year-old male of 2016.
Finalists: Champagne Room, Lady Aurelia, New Money Honey
Predicted Winner: Champagne Room
Will the winner be Lady Aurelia? No. New Money Honey? I don’t think so. I look for Grade I BC Juvenile Fillies winner Champagne Room to get the Eclipse Award in this category.
Finalists: Arrogate, Exaggerator, Nyquist
Predicted Winner: Arrogate
After Nyquist won the Grade I Kentucky Derby, he was undefeated in eight career starts. But following his victory in the Run for the Roses, he lost his next three races.
Exaggerator was a three-time Grade I winner during 2016 (Santa Anita Derby, Preakness Stakes, Haskell Invitational), but all three victories came on a sloppy track. Exaggerator was zero for six during 2016 when racing on a fast track.
Arrogate won the Grade I Travers Stakes in scintillating fashion by 13 1/2 lengths when he broke Saratoga’s track record for 1 1/4 miles. As an encore, he won the Grade I BC Classic when he handed older superstar California Chrome his only 2016 defeat.
I think it is a certainty that Arrogate is going to get the Eclipse Award in this category.
Finalists: Cathryn Sophia, Queen’s Trust, Songbird
Predicted Winner: Songbird
Voted a 2015 Eclipse Award as champion 2-year-old filly, Songbird is an absolute cinch to get the 2016 Eclipse Award as champion 3-year-old filly.
When racing against 3-year-old fillies, Songbird was seven for seven during 2016, winning the Grade II Las Virgenes, Grade III Santa Ysabel, Grade I Santa Anita Oaks, Grade II Summertime Oaks, Grade I Coaching Club American Oaks, Grade I Alabama and Grade I Cotillion.
In Songbird’s lone 2016 defeat, she lost the Grade I BC Distaff by a nose to a mighty tough older rival in Beholder (an Eclipse Award winner in 2012, 2013 and 2015).
OLDER DIRT MALE
Finalists: California Chrome, Frosted, Lord Nelson
Predicted Winner: California Chrome
I make California Chrome a 1-20 favorite to get this Eclipse Award. The 2014 Horse of the Year had an outstanding 2016 campaign. He won six straight races during 2016 before finishing second, a half-length behind Arrogate, in the Grade I BC Classic.
California Chrome, a fan favorite, won five graded/group races in 2016 (Grade II San Pasqual, Group I Dubai World Cup while racing with a saddle that had slipped, Grade II San Diego Handicap, Grade I Pacific Classic and Grade I Awesome Again).
OLDER DIRT FEMALE
Finalists: Beholder, Cavorting, Stellar Wind
Predicted Winner: Beholder
This is yet another category with a slam-dunk winner. If this does indeed turn out to be the case, it will be Beholder’s fourth Eclipse Award, a tremendous accomplishment.
Beholder was voted her first Eclipse Award as champion 2-year-old filly in 2012. She then was voted champion 3-year-old filly in 2013 and champion older dirt female in 2015.
Finalists: A.P. Indian, Drefong, Lord Nelson
Predicted Winner: Drefong
It is to Lord Nelson’s credit that he was a finalist in two categories, this one and older dirt male. He was four for four during 2016, with three of his victories coming at the Grade I level (Triple Bend, Bing Crosby, Santa Anita Sprint Championship).
Lord Nelson was entered in the Grade I BC Sprint, but he had to miss that race. Two days before the BC Sprint, trainer Bob Baffert announced Lord Nelson would be withdrawn because of a minor injury. Lord Nelson, Baffert said, “got a little nick and it became infected. We had to treat him with antibiotics. So he won’t be able to run.”
In Lord Nelson’s absence, another Baffert trainer, 3-year-old Drefong, won the BC Sprint by 1 1/4 lengths. Drefong also won the Grade I King’s Bishop against fellow sophomores by 3 1/4 lengths.
Drefong won all four of his 2016 starts. I also think he probably will win a 2016 Eclipse Award as champion male sprinter.
Finalists: Finest City, Haveyougoneaway, Paulassilverlining
Predicted Winner: Finest City
I am pretty confident that Grade I BC Filly & Mare Sprint winner Finest City will get the Eclipse Award in this category.
Finalists: Flintshire, Highland Reel, Tourist
Predicted Winner: Flintshire
I think that even though Flintshire did not win the Grade I BC Turf, he probably will get the Eclipse Award in this category for his overall 2016 record and Grade I triumphs in the Manhattan and Sword Dancer.
Highland Reel and Tourist were 2016 Breeders’ Cup winners. Highland Reel, in his only North American start, won the Grade I BC Turf by 1 3/4 lengths. Tourist, like Flintshire, was a dual Grade I winner in 2016, taking the BC Mile in addition to the Fourstardave Handicap.
Finalists: Lady Eli, Miss Temple City, Tepin
Predicted Winner: Tepin
Tepin was voted the Eclipse Award in this category in 2015. I think there is a 99.9% chance she also will get the Eclipse Award as the champion female turf performer of 2016.
Finalists: Rawnaq, Scorpiancer, Top Striker
Predicted Winner: Rawnaq
I will be very surprised if the connections of Rawnaq (a two-time Grade I winner during 2016) do not jump for joy when the winner of the steeplechase category is announced.
Finalists: Bob Baffert, Chad Brown, Mark Casse
Predicted Winner: Chad Brown
It appears to me that Chad Brown is going to get his first Eclipse Award as outstanding trainer.
Finalists: Javier Castellano, Jose Ortiz, Mike Smith
Predicted Winner: Jose Ortiz.
I think this could go to either Ortiz or Castellano. My guess is it will go to Ortiz.
Finalists: Kevin Gomez, Lane Luzzi, Luis Ocasio
Predicted Winner: Luis Ocasio
I feel pretty confident in predicting Ocasio will get the Eclipse Award in this category.
Finalists: Juddmonte Farms, Ken and Sarah Ramsey, Spendthrift Farm
Predicted Winner: Juddmonte Farms
I look for Juddmonte to get it. It was a big year for Juddmonte in the owner category, led by Arrogate and Flintshire.
Finalists: Clearsky Farms, Darley, WinStar Farm
Predicted Winner: WinStar Farm
This one, I believe, could go to either Clearsky or WinStar. I might be wrong, but I’m going to predict WinStar.
HORSE OF THE YEAR
Finalists: Arrogate, California Chrome, Songbird
Predicted Winner: California Chrome
For me -- and probably the vast majority of voters -- Horse of the Year came down to either California Chrome or Arrogate.
Yes, Arrogate ran a spectacular race in the Travers. And yes, Arrogate won the BC Classic, defeating California Chrome the only the time they met. But I think California Chrome probably is going to be voted 2016 Horse of the Year on the strength of his body of work from his win in January to his win in December.
As I wrote when explaining my Horse of the Year vote for California Chrome, the way I look at who should be Horse of the Year between California Chrome and Arrogate is they both lost once in 2016, but there was a huge difference in the two losses.
In Arrogate’s lone defeat of the year, he finished third in a maiden special weight race at Los Alamitos. In California Chrome’s lone defeat of the year, he finished second in the Grade I BC Classic.
California Chrome was voted Horse of the Year in 2014. And I think he also is going to be elected the 2016 Horse of the Year.