With the Breeders’ Cup done and over with, the Eclipse Awards debate is kicking into high gear. Since everyone is already giving out their nominees, for the next few days I’ll identify my choices and top picks.
Horse of the Year – California Chrome, Arrogate
Really, there are no other candidates for this category. These two have separated themselves by a good margin.
California Chrome, the presumptive shoe-in for Horse of the Year, suddenly finds himself neck-and-neck with Arrogate all thanks to a half-length loss to that rival in the Breeders’ Cup Classic (G1).
The duo were favored by a wide margin over their other opponents and lived up to all expectations in the Classic. California Chrome brought a perfect 2016 mark into the race that included a trip to Dubai. Arrogate began his career in April and dropped that initial start but proved untouchable ever since.
And my choice is…CALIFORNIA CHROME.
Horse of the Year is supposed to honor a runner’s accomplishments throughout one season. Note I said accomplishments, not wins. If remaining unbeaten or nearly unbeaten was a requirement, then Peppers Pride would have ruled from 2005 through 2008.
It’s not just wins, but the quality of the races as well. California Chrome far outstrips Arrogate in terms of quality starts. He romped in the Dubai World Cup (UAE-G1) in his third start this season and would go on to do the same in the Pacific Classic (G1) and Awesome Again Stakes (G1).
Besides the Classic, Arrogate has faced top-notch competition only once in the Travers Stakes (G1), and the true quality is debatable considering they were all three-year olds. Not to say it wasn’t an impressive win, he easily dominated that day, but Grade 3 winner American Freedom ran second that day. Enough said.
And while some may point to the fact Arrogate actually beat California Chrome in the Classic, the margin was so small as to be discounted, in my opinion. All the sophomore did in the Classic was put himself in the same sphere as his opponent. Before that, he wasn’t even in the conversation for Horse of the Year.
Older Dirt Male – California Chrome, Frosted
You can add whoever else you want to in this category, but truly it comes down to California Chrome and Frosted. And, if you believe as I do that CALIFORNIA CHROME deserves Horse of the Year, then it goes to follow that he should be honored as older male as well.
Frosted put together a stellar season, romping in the Metropolitan Mile (G1) in his first start back after finishing fifth to California Chrome in the Dubai World Cup. The powerful gray also scored a win in Meydan, taking the Al Maktoum Challenge Round 2 (UAE-G2) to ready for the World Cup.
Following his Met Mile triumph, Frosted went on to add the Whitney Stakes (G1) to his resume and just missed by a neck when third in the Woodward Stakes (G1). He suffered his worse finish this year crossing under the Classic wire in sixth, but that in no way detracts from his early season accomplishments.
Unfortunately for Frosted, he was born in the same year as American Pharoah and has been a bit overshadowed, first by that rival and now by CALIFORNIA CHROME.
Older Dirt Female – Beholder, Stellar Wind
Once again it comes down to two, and really just one.
The rivalry between Beholder and Stellar Wind provided for some exciting confrontations this summer, with Stellar Wind sandwiching a pair of triumphs over her foe between a pair of losses, the most recent of which came in the Breeders’ Cup Distaff (G1).
Some may argue that Forever Unbridled, winner of two Grade 1s and third in the Distaff, deserves consideration here, but honestly the question is moot. Who doesn’t think BEHOLDER has this one wrapped up?
Stay tuned for the rest of my nominees and selections.
California Chrome photo courtesy of Cecilia Gustavsson/Horsephotos.com