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Eclipse Awards: Rachel Alexandra, Zenyatta And The Rest

Last night, they handed out a few awards for horse racing – you may have heard a bit about it.

2-year-old male: Lookin at Lucky
As per usual with the juvenile awards, there was no surprise here. His three G1 wins sealed the deal, and he looks to improve this year. We’ll soon find out if he likes real dirt, but trainer Bob Baffert seems quite happy with things thus far.

2-year-old filly: She Be Wild
While this category had a little more competition, She Be Wild has a good backstory – former claimer, unwanted at auction wins four out of five, including the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies. Both dirt and turf could be in her future – versatility FTW!

Turf Male: Gio Ponti
A well-deserved bit of recognition for a horse who showed up just about everywhere – but who truly excelled on the grass. And the night was just beginning for him…

Turf Female: Goldikova
While I respect the notion that the Eclipse Award winner should have more than one start in the US, I am quite happy to toss that guideline out when the horse in question is as overwhelmingly superior as Goldikova is. Her repeat of Miesque’s back-to-back Mile victories, under the tutelage of Miesque’s former jockey, Freddie Head, completes an undeniably satisfying circuit – and the news that she’s aiming to capture a third Breeders’ Cup victory this year should certainly be rewarded. Given the excitement over Rachel Alexandra and Zenyatta, it may be difficult to recall that the opportunity to see a horse of Goldikova’s caliber is rare indeed – and it should be celebrated.

Steeplechaser: Mixed Up
How often does a 10-year-old PA-bred win an Eclipse Award? And hey, he doesn’t even take Lasix. These are Good Things.

Breeder: Juddmonte Farms
These awards tend to follow the money, and it’s certainly hard to argue with Juddmonte’s success in producing top-level horses. There were a few stray votes for Dolphus Morrison for breeding Rachel Alexandra – even if he did not want to truly unleash her talents.

Female Sprinter: Informed Decision
The overwhelming pick of her division (although one has to assume that Ventura’s positioning in both this category and the Turf Female category may have hurt her chances), Informed Decision won at nearly every track she visited, under a variety of conditions – and the best news is that she’ll be back later this spring to extend her winning streak.

Male Sprinter: Kodiak Kowboy
Although he had a respectable career as a 2 and 3-year-old, Kodiak Kowboy truly had the chance to prove himself as a 4-year-old, winning as a sprinter and miler. He goes to stud with a solid record of achievement.

3-year-old Male: Summer Bird
This was a no-brainer – but I am quite curious to know who cast the single vote for I Want Revenge. Trainer Tim Ice reiterated that we should be seeing him back on the track later this year; let’s hope his recovery continues in such an encouraging fashion.

3-year-old Female: Rachel Alexandra
The great filly took home the least-suspenseful award of the night – it was also the sole unanimous award (but more on that in a moment). Owner Jess Jackson’s acceptance speech was thoughtful, but at something approaching seven minutes, it could have used some judicious editing. But given that the award winners can’t speak for themselves, we can allow a little indulgence.

Owner: Godolphin Racing
This was one of the most competitive awards, with only five votes separating the winner from Jerry and Ann Moss. But as in the case of the Breeder category, the Eclipse voters tend to recognize revenue – but the narrow margin of victory demonstrates that there is also a desire to reward owners with a more personal touch.

Trainer: Steven Asmussen
Once again, you cannot argue with the numbers – or his great good fortune in having Rachel Alexandra drop into his lap (although her original trainer, Hal Wiggins, also received a few votes). While I may not be a fan of his record of medication violations, his staff clearly loves the horses they work with, so the award is as much an acknowledgement of their hard work.

Older Male: Gio Ponti
A double on the night for the versatile 4-year-old was clearly in the offing; as much as I love Einstein, based on this year’s wins, it had to go to Gio Ponti. He’s still flying under the radar in the eyes of the general public, and even the racing press sometimes overlooks his accomplishments, so it was entirely justified that he be doubly rewarded. The Blood-Horse points out that he is the first horse to win this award without a win on traditional dirt – so it’s particularly interesting. His future plans may involve the Dubai World Cup – that could end up a very competitive race indeed.

Older Female: Zenyatta
While this was another foregone conclusion, there was a single (protest?) vote from someone at the Daily Racing Form for Icon Project – presumably the backstory there will be revealed at some point. While I still believe she should have been crowned Horse of the Year last year, the news that she will return to the track this year means she may finally get to take home that honor; in any case, winning two consecutive Eclipse Awards and making history in the Breeders’ Cup Classic is certainly enough to consider without worrying about Horse of the Year – yet.

Apprentice Jockey: Christian Santiago Reyes
Further proof that Puerto Rico knows what it’s doing when it trains jockeys, this 19-year-old has a bright future – he would be wise to study the next winner.

Jockey: Julien Leparoux
It’s hard to imagine he won the Eclipse for Apprentice only four years ago – it seems he’s had nothing but success since arriving in the US. Clearly, the title of his Facebook fan group is on the right track.

Horse of the Year: Rachel Alexandra
In the end, it wasn’t even close: the votes were 130 to 99. That in no way reflects poorly on Zenyatta’s accomplishments – it simply honors the fact that during the past racing season, Rachel Alexandra had more opportunities to show off her immense talent, in a wider variety of venues – she won for her efforts throughout the year, not for a single race (regardless of how impressive that race may have been). But as I have said before, while Horse of the Year honors are important to some, a firm place in history means more in the long run. If we are lucky enough to see Rachel Alexandra take on Zenyatta, that would be tremendous – I’d like to see a Best of Five race series at a variety of different tracks. The difficulty will be getting other horses (male or female) into the gate to fill a race – but someone should certainly be working to set that up. Any takers?

3 comments to Eclipse Awards: Rachel Alexandra, Zenyatta And The Rest

  • Anonymous

    I wish I could see a map of the US with where the votes came from.

  • LindaVA

    I agree, I'd rather see a "best of" series of races with Zenyatta and Rachel rather than just one. Given their different styles I don't think one race would be the best judge of their abilities against each other.

  • Ben Aitken

    I was surprised by the winning margin between Rachel Alexandra and Zenyatta, I would have though it would have been much closer. Either would have been a deserved winner but the striking memory from last season for me was ZENYATTA winning at the breeders cup. Our european horses had no answer to her breathtaking performance.

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