The most difficult decision Eclipse Award voters arguably have to make this year is whom to select for champion three-year-old filly. As none of the main contenders has recorded a published work since the Breeders’ Cup, it’s reasonably safe to assume they will be not be submitting any further evidence to the electorate in support of their respective candidacies.
At the risk of drawing ire for my lack of progressivity, there are several criteria that have never influenced my personal choice for this division: success or failure in races shorter than a mile, success or failure on grass, and quantity of “Grade 1” victories.
From the time year-end polls began, the default attitude of voters has been that this award (and others) should recognize and honor excellence on the main track at distances of one mile and longer. There is no ironclad rule that says this should always be so, but then what compelling evidence is there ever to deviate from such an established norm?
For reasons still unclear to me, a majority of the electorate once proved malleable enough to support a sprinter (Xtra Heat) for this award, as well as a filly who had some off-track dirt form but was basically rewarded for her turf prowess (Wait a While). Having not joined the bandwagon in either instance, it strikes me as odd to see their names on a list of the division’s champions knowing their achievements contrast sharply with every other horse that ever won the award.
By now it should be clear that I don’t see a sprint specialist like Cavorting, or grass specialists like Lady Eli or Found, as championship-worthy. If this proves to be a minority view, so be it.
Lady Eli, whose season was cut short after developing laminitis, and Found, who captured the Breeders’ Cup Turf (G1) in her only U.S. appearance, are sure to attract a lot of votes. Whether Lady Eli would have stayed undefeated through the rest of the campaign is pure conjecture, though, while Found’s limited success speaks more to her attributes for the turf female Eclipse Award.
The reason why Lady Eli and Found are under any consideration at all is because the leading main track candidates for this honor did not separate themselves as well as many would have liked. However, that’s hardly unique in the annals of racing history, and voters in the past were generally able to recognize a worthy filly whose accomplishments fit traditional parameters.
With Lovely Maria tailing off after her Kentucky Oaks (G1) and Ashland (G1) wins and Embellish the Lace unable to back up her upset win in the Alabama (G1), the three-year-old filly title comes down to Curalina, I’m a Chatterbox, and Stellar Wind.
Curalina won the Acorn (G1) and then the Coaching Club American Oaks (G1) by disqualification before placing in the Alabama, Beldame (G1), and Breeders’ Cup Distaff (G1).
I’m a Chatterbox swept Fair Grounds’ three-race series for sophomore fillies — the Silverbulletday, Rachel Alexandra (G3), and Fair Grounds Oaks (G2) — and later captured the Cotillion (G1). She was demoted from first to second in the CCA Oaks, placed in the Kentucky Oaks and Alabama, and was up the track in the BC Distaff.
Stellar Wind was a rough-trip fourth in the Kentucky Oaks as the favorite. She dominated her division in California winning the Santa Ysabel (G3), Santa Anita Oaks (G1), Summertime Oaks (G2), and Torrey Pines (G3), and finished up the year with a second-place finish by a neck in the Distaff after meeting some interference from the winning Stopchargingmaria.
The graded stakes system was devised in the early 1970s to help foreign-based investors make sense of an American catalog page, not as a short-cut tool for domestic followers of the sport to compare the relative merits of horses thus clouding their independent judgment. Therefore, I don’t find Curalina’s two “Grade 1” wins, one more than I’m a Chatterbox or Stellar Wind had, a checkmate. Nor am I able to find much of an excuse for I’m a Chatterbox’s dismal Breeders’ Cup performance.
The Distaff had the potential of clearly deciding this race, but didn’t quite when all three failed to win. However, Stellar Wind only just missed while finishing ahead of the other two by significant margins. You can knock the general quality of races she won, but there’s no denying she was going best at the end of the year and proved it over a neutral track.
Stellar Wind would never be considered the most stellar of three-year-old champions in history, but she’ll be my choice to join that list as the most worthy, traditional choice.
(Stellar Wind photo: Benoit Photos)