Now that the Breeders’ Cup has come and gone, many racing fans are looking ahead and contemplating which horses stand a good chance to be honored with a 2019 Eclipse Award.
This is the 49th year of the Eclipse Awards. Voting closes on Dec. 31. The 2019 recipients will be announced at Gulfstream Park early next year on Jan. 23.
There still is some important racing to be conducted during the remainder of 2019, which could conceivably impact 2019 Eclipse Award voting. This is how I see the Eclipse Award situation at this time in various equine categories, including Horse of the Year.
2-YEAR-OLD MALE: This is up for grabs. Storm the Court certainly is a contender after winning the Grade I Breeders’ Cup Juvenile, though he did so in a 45-1 upset. Tiz the Law, undefeated in two starts and a four-length winner of the Grade I Champagne Stakes, might well snag this award if he wins the Grade II Kentucky Jockey Club Stakes at Churchill Downs on Nov. 30, a race in which he no doubt will be the favorite.
2-YEAR-OLD FILLY: British Idiom, undefeated in three starts, appears to have this award locked up following her win in the Grade I BC Juvenile Fillies. She also won the Grade I Alcibiades.
3-YEAR-OLD MALE: It appears this one is coming down to either Maximum Security or Code of Honor. Code of Honor could have pretty much wrapped it up if he had won, or at least hit the board, in the Grade I BC Classic. Code of Honor won the Grade I Travers Stakes and Grade I Jockey Club Gold Cup (via the disqualification of Vino Rosso). Code of Honor defeated older horses in the Gold Cup, but wound up seventh vs. his elders in the BC Classic.
Daily Racing Form’s David Grening reported that trainer Jason Servis said Maximum Security is going to run against older foes in Aqueduct’s Grade I Cigar Mile on Dec. 7. It seems to me that this award quite likely will go to Maximum Security if he wins the Cigar Mile to go along with his Grade I victories in the Florida Derby and Haskell Invitational. Maximum Security also did finish first in the Grade I Kentucky Derby, though he was disqualified and placed 17th for causing interference. Maximum Security most recently won Belmont Park’s Grade III Bold Ruler Handicap against older horses.
3-YEAR-OLD FILLY: It looks like there are three top candidates -- Covfefe, Guarana and Serengeti Empress. Covfefe captured the Grade I Test Stakes and Grade I BC Filly & Mare Sprint. Guarana won the Grade I Acorn Stakes and Grade I Coaching Club American Oaks. Serengeti Empress won the Grade I Kentucky Oaks and also finished third against older rivals in the Grade I BC Distaff. Right now, I’d say maybe Covfefe will get this award. But I honestly think it’s possible it will go to any one of these three.
OLDER DIRT MALE: Vino Rosso almost certainly clinched this award when he won the Grade I BC Classic with authority by 4 1/4 lengths. He also won the Grade I Gold Cup at Santa Anita, plus finished first but was disqualified and placed second in the Grade I Jockey Club Gold Cup.
OLDER DIRT FEMALE: Even though Midnight Bisou ran second to Blue Prize in the Grade I BC Distaff, I believe Midnight Bisou is a slam-dunk to get the award in this category. This was Midnight Bisou’s only 2019 loss. And even though she did not win the BC Distaff, Midnight Bisou acquitted herself well in defeat. She won all seven of her other 2019 starts, including Grade I triumphs in the Apple Blossom Handicap, Ogden Phipps Stakes and Personal Ensign Stakes.
MALE SPRINTER: Mitole undoubtedly will get this award following his stellar 2019 campaign in which he won six of seven starts, capped by a victory in the Grade I BC Sprint. He posted four Grade I wins during the year. In addition to the BC Sprint, he took the Grade I Churchill Downs Stakes, Grade I Met Mile and Grade I Forego Stakes.
FEMALE SPRINTER: The aforementioned Covfefe is odds-on in this category.
MALE TURF: Bricks and Mortar also is odds-on to be voted champion in this category. He won all six of his 2019 starts. Racing from Jan. 26 to Nov. 2, he registered five Grade I victories, all in a different state (Florida, Kentucky, New York, Illinois and California).
Bricks and Mortar won the Grade I Pegasus World Cup Turf at Gulfstream Park in January, Grade I Turf Classic at Churchill Downs in May, Grade I Manhattan Stakes at Belmont in June, Grade I Arlington Million at Arlington Park in August and Grade I BC Turf at Santa Anita in November.
FEMALE TURF: I see Sistercharlie as the favorite even though she finished third in the Grade I BC Filly & Mare Turf. Sistercharlie did win three Grade I races during the year (Diana Stakes, Beverly D. and Flower Bowl). Uni also figures to get plenty of support from voters due to having won a pair of Grade I races this year (First Lady, BC Mile). It appears to me that Sistercharlie and Uni are the two main contenders in this category.
HORSE OF THE YEAR: Will it be Bricks and Mortar or Mitole?
“Both would be deserving winners,” Daily Racing Form’s Jay Privman wrote.
I agree with that. Nevertheless, I see Bricks and Mortar as an overwhelming favorite to get the most coveted of all equine Eclipse Awards.
“But while Bricks and Mortar is the acknowledged favorite, a deeper dive into their campaigns might find this choice should be closer than it first appears,” Privman wrote.
Privman noted that “an argument could be made that the level of competition Mitole ran against was superior to what Bricks and Mortar beat.”
Mitole not only “beat a top-class field” in the BC Sprint, he most notably “won a Met Mile whose next across the finish line were McKinzie, one of the best older runners in the nation and a top-class miler, and Thunder Snow, who was coming off his second straight win in the Dubai World Cup.”
Privman wrote that “Bricks and Mortar for much of the year faced a group of older North American-based turf horses who were not considered world-class talents.”
On the plus side for Bricks and Mortar, he “never lost a race, won more Grade I’s than Mitole, and ran longer distances, an aspect visitors usually prefer,” Privman added.
In the final NTRA Top Thoroughbred Poll of the year following the Breeders’ Cup, Bricks and Mortar ranked No. 1 and received 42 first-place votes. Mitole, who was No. 2, garnered just two first-place votes. No other Thoroughbred received a single first-place vote.
Privman characterized the 42-2 tally between Bricks and Mortar and Mitole as “a shockingly lopsided margin.”
But even though Mitole received only two first-place votes in the final poll on Nov. 4, it was two more first-place votes than he received in the NTRA poll of Oct. 28 leading into the Breeders’ Cup when he got none.
In the Oct. 28 poll, No. 1 Bricks and Mortar received 27 first-place votes, followed by No. 2 Midnight Bisou’s 11 and No. 3 Sistercharlie’s single first-place vote.
Bricks and Mortar then built on his support of 27 first-place votes on Oct. 28 by increasing the total to 42 in the final NTRA poll on Nov. 4. When both Midnight Bisou and Sistercharlie lost at the Breeders’ Cup, they also lost out in the final Nov. 4 poll in terms of first-place votes when they each got none.
While Mitole did win at the Breeders’ Cup, he simply was unable to attract much in the way of first-place support from the voters in the final NTRA poll.
If the Eclipse Award voters do decide to go for Mitole as Horse of the Year, would I be upset? Nope. But I will be casting my Horse of the Year vote for Bricks and Mortar. And I will be shocked if he does not receive the Horse of the Year trophy as a reward for his unblemished 2019 campaign that included five Grade I victories.
Below is the Top 10 in the Oct. 28 NTRA Top Thoroughbred Poll just prior to the Breeders’ Cup, followed by the Top 10 in the final NTRA poll of 2019 on Nov. 4 after the Nov. 1-2 Breeders’ Cup held at Santa Anita.
The Top 10 in the NTRA Top Thoroughbred Poll on Oct. 28:
Rank Points Horse (First-Place Votes)
1. 378 Bricks and Mortar (27)
2. 348 Midnight Bisou (11)
3. 283 Sistercharlie (1)
4. 263 Mitole
5. 191 McKinzie
6. 168 Code of Honor
7. 126 Imperial Hint
8. 91 Omaha Beach
9. 85 Vino Rosso
10. 71 Catalina Cruiser
The final NTRA Top Thoroughbred Poll of 2019 on Nov. 4:
Rank Points Horse (First-Place Votes)
1. 438 Bricks and Mortar (42)
2. 388 Mitole (2)
3. 332 Vino Rosso
4. 297 Midnight Bisou
5. 157 McKinzie
5. 157 Sistercharlie
7. 151 Uni
8. 109 Covfefe
9. 102 Blue Prize
10. 90 Maximum Security