I wish fans had a chance to vote for Horse Of The Year categories. Some of the time the people that have the right to vote choose to abstain or vote absurdly in the direction of a horse that doesn't even deserve the award. It's happened before and I'm sure it will happen again this year.
2015 has been remarkable for racing, a throwback to the 70s when horses ran beyond the age of 4, when we had a TRIPLE CROWN champion, when the fillies competed against the boys and took them prisoner. We even got to witness our first major sprinter in at least a decade. I can't believe the season we've had and I sincerely hope this trend continues next year!
If I had a vote in this year's Eclipse Awards, this is how I would vote:
HORSE OF THE YEAR: American Pharoah
This really deserves no other explanation other than the fact that this horse is a living legend. His performances this year have been absolutely spectacular and the one defeat in the Travers was vilified by the thrashing he gave in the Breeders' Cup Classic. His major competition for this award was Beholder and her defection from the Classic left him a runaway winner (literally) in both the BCC and the Eclipse Awards.
No horse has run 8 races this season on seven different tracks, seven of which were victories. His crazy cross country journey in the summer and a too fast gallop the day before left him tired for the dance in the Travers. Keen Ice, the horse who beat him that day was nowhere to be scene in the Classic.
Pharoah earned a whopping 120 beyer speed figure while breaking a track record by more than five seconds. His winning margin was 6 3/4 lengths, the second largest in history. I think older horses proved no problem for the sensational Triple Crown winner.
TWO YEAR OLD MALE: Nyquist
This handsome son of Uncle Mo did his best impersonation of American Pharoah. He's already got a stud deal for when he's retired with Darley and he's undefeated. So far he seems above the pack and on the merits of his two year old season, Nyquist is the best MALE. He's won the Best Pal Stakes, the Del Mar Futurity, the Front Runner Stakes and the Breeders' Cup Juvenile. For the fourth consecutive year in a row, it looks like the path to the Kentucky Derby will be through California.
TWO YEAR OLD FILLY: Songbird
This filly is possibly the best two year old in training. The scary look-a-like to Rachel Alexandra beat Rachel's daughter by a pole in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies under wraps, and in a time that was a full second faster than her male counterparts. She's won the Del Mar Debutante, the Chandelier and Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies. Also from California, Songbird may be pointed to the Oaks, but she's already too good for her female counterparts. Perhaps she'll rewrite the history books in 2016.
THREE YEAR OLD MALE: American Pharoah
He is the best three year old in the country bar none. Firing Line fell to the wayside after the Preakness. Frosted hasn't been able to beat him yet and perfect circumstances set Keen Ice up for a Travers victory at Saratoga. None of those horses were anywhere near him at the finish line. This should be an unanimous award.
THREE YEAR OLD FILLY: Stellar Wind
This award is definitely going to be one of the closest votes. I believe it's between I'm A Chatterbox and Stellar Wind. From my personal standpoint, I believe Stellar Wind is the rising star in this division. A super wide trip under Victor Espinoza and her first shipping from California, got this Curlin daughter beat in the Kentucky Oaks. Since that race, Stellar Wind won the Torrey Pines and Summertime Oaks in dominating fashion. She ran a gutsy race against seasoned older mare Stopchargingmaria in the Breeders' Cup Distaff and really was far better than her three year old counterparts.
I'm A Chatterbox finished ahead of Stellar Wind in the Kentucky Oaks, but she couldn't hold a candle to the then in from Lovely Maria. She also has been beaten by Embellish The Lace in the Alabama and Curalina in the CCA Oaks, that one a DQ. However, she ran in tougher races and notched a victory in the Cotillion.
Perhaps, I'm A Chatterbox's tougher season should be rewarded, but on a fair track, she had no answer for the older mares or Stellar Wind.
OLDER MALE: Honor Code
Honor Code has grown on me this season. I really did think he was a one turn miler, but what I think he is is a horse that needs pace to run into like Damascus. His Met Mile and Whitney Handicap were shockingly good. He took down future Breeders Cup Dirt Mile winner Liam's Map and left two time Jockey Club Gold Cup winner behind in the Whitney. Although he did lose the Kelso and Breeders' Cup, the lack of pace in both races hurt his impressive closing kick. He was at the best he's ever been this season and his development should be rewarded.
OLDER FEMALE: Beholder
This category is almost a carbon copy of three year old filly of the year, except Beholder has been far more dominant than Stellar Wind. She's beaten males in the Pacific Classic and in less than 2 minutes. She's embarrassed her competition in every start this season and she was probably the only horse capable of giving Pharoah a real run for his money. We didn't get to see the showdown, but at least we'll get to see Beholder at the age of six years old.
MALE SPRINTER: RunHappy
I'm pretty positive that RunHappy is the best sprinter in the country. You don't break a long standing track record without being a great horse. I hope the owners get the trainer situation straightened out and that he's vetted properly. If all of these things are taken care of, we could see the best sprinter in decades run in 2016.
FEMALE SPRINTER: La Verdad
I'm probably going to be in the minority on this one, but I really think La Verdad should be female sprinter of the year over Wavell Avenue. Although, Wavell Avenue ran by her in the Breeders' Cup Filly and Mare Sprint, La Verdad did the dirty work and ran her out to finish second. La Verdad ran seven times this year, only losing this past weekend. A week before that she dominated a New York Stakes using new tactics. She beat Wavell Avenue square on the nose in the Honorable Miss.
Among her 2015 stakes wins are the: Distaff Handicap, Vagrancy Handicap, Dancin Renee, Honorable Miss Handicap, Gallant Bloom Handicap and the Iroquois Stakes. Outside of her loss at Keeneland, she's been perfect.
MALE TURF HORSE: Big Blue Kitten
The turf scene was riddled with two major losses in Main Sequence and 2 time Horse Of the Year Wise Dan. Big Blue Kitten and The Pizza Man have become the major faces of the division after those defects. Both horses have beaten each other at least once this year. However, in the Breeders' Cup Turf, Big Blue Kitten finished third to Arc winner Golden Horn and European rock star Found. Big Blue Kitten's wins.
Are Big Blue Kitten's wins in the Fort Marcy, United Nations and Joe Hirsch Turf Classic better than The Pizza Man's wins in the Opening Verse, Stars and Stripes and Arlington Million? I'm not sure. The seven year old Kitten's Joy stallion has been awfully consistent though.
There will be some support for Flintshire, but he only raced once in the US at Saratoga. I saw him conquer our horses with ease, but one win should not define an entire year of good performances from the US horses.
FEMALE TURF HORSE: Tepin
There are some very good mares right now and outside of Beholder, this one is the most dominant at the moment. Outside of two near-miss losses at Saratoga, Tepin has been unstoppable this year. The good news is she is only going to get better. Her wins in the Distaff Turf Mile, Just A Game Stakes, First Lady Stakes and Breeders' Cup Mile all stack up beautifully. She beat males, something that Breeders' Cup Filly and Mare Turf winner Stephanie's Kitten did not do.
Again, people will say Found deserves this award, but the bay mare only came here and won a single race over Golden Horn. The Breeders' Cup should only decide close awards, not when another filly has such an outstanding record.
OUTSTANDING OWNER & Breeder (2 categories): Zayat Stables
Usually this award goes to the owner and breeder with the most wins and highest earnings, however, I think it should be based on performance of runners. If that's the case, American Pharoah should give Zayat Stables the victories in both categories. He is a home-bred for them and they campaigned him excellently and brought new fans into the sport by racing him after the Triple Crown.
OUTSTANDING TRAINER: Bob Baffert
What other trainer has trained a Triple Crown winner in the last 30 years? None. Other than Baffert that is. He deserves the award and not just for finally capturing the elusive crown. To keep a horse at top form from March to November is an impressive job in itself. He had immense pressure on his shoulders and he came through for the fans, for the horse and for the sport. I have to admit, I haven't always been his biggest fan, but this season really showed me a different side to Baffert.
OUTSTANDING JOCKEY: Victor Espinoza
Javier Castellano may be the winningest jockey in the country and his talent is immense. However, I feel a little sentimental toward Victor Espinoza. He should have won this award with California Chrome last year. I'm tacking that on to this year's performance with Pharoah. He piloted one Triple Crown winner and another almost Triple Crown winner. His brilliant ride in the Belmont left his opponents reeling and that same measured calculation was on display in the Classic. Definitely deserving.
Although there's still more racing to be done before 2015 is over, I'm pretty confident that the top horses of these categories will remain the favorites to win their respective Eclipse awards in January of 2016.