The title alone is probably going to get me in trouble, but please hold off with the skewering until you read my reasoning.
Turf Male – Flintshire, Twilight Eclipse, Ashleyluvssugar
This one is pretty short, but honestly, who doesn’t like FLINTSHIRE for champion turf male.
The poor fella just doesn’t have any luck whatsoever in the Breeders’ Cup Turf (G1), finishing second in 2016 after taking a one-year hiatus from the race following a half-length runner-up effort in the 2014 edition.
That in no way diminishes his other accomplishments this year, and for that reason Flintshire is my choice for turf male.
Twilight Eclipse and Ashleyluvssugar are both good runners, but they aren’t on the same level as Flintshire, who triumphed in the Manhattan Stakes (G1), Bowling Green Stakes (G2) and Sword Dancer Stakes (G1) before running second in Joe Hirsch Turf Classic Stake (G1).
And what about Breeders’ Cup Turf winner Highland Reel? Why do I leave him out? Stay tuned.
Turf Female – Tepin, Lady Eli, Sea Calisi
This category proved tough in terms of nominees. Not in finding them, but in who to bypass. Tepin and Lady Eli are the obvious choices, but it was hard to pick between Sea Calisi and Al’s Gal for the third spot.
Sea Calisi captured the Beverly D. Stakes (G1) and Sheepshead Bay Stakes (G2) while running third in the Flower Bowl Stakes (G1) and second New York Stakes (G2). Al’s Gal scored in the E. P. Taylor Stakes (Can-G1) and just missed by a half-length to Sea Calisi in the Beverly D. Neither made it on the board for the Breeders’ Cup Filly & Mare Turf (G1).
In the end, Sea Calisi won me over to earn as nomination for champion turf female of 2016.
As for Lady Eli, she triumphed in the Flower Bowl, sandwiching that between a runner-up effort in the Ballston Spa Stakes (G2) in her long-awaited return after battling laminitis and a nose second in the Filly & Mare Turf.
After all that agonizing, though, TEPIN is the true female turf star this season. I’d even say she was better than Flintshire, but that could just be my distaffer bias showing.
Or is it?
Tepin made eight starts and captured the first six of those, including the Woodbine Mile (Can-G1) against the boys and Queen Anne Stakes (Eng-G1) at the prestigious Royal Ascot meet in England. Her only losses came in her last two races of the season, and she was only beat a half-length while going for a title defense in the Breeders’ Cup Mile (G1).
Some may wonder why I left out Found, third as the defending champion of the Breeders’ Cup Turf and winner of the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe (Fr-G1); Queen’s Trust, victress of the Breeders’ Cup Filly & Mare Turf; and, getting back to the turf males, Highland Reel.
Get ready for my soap box moment.
Quite simply, none of them qualify under my standards. Though the Eclipse Award rules allow a horse making only one U.S. start to be considered for a championship title, I don’t. Coming over and winning one race, even if it is a Breeders’ Cup event, shouldn’t qualify a horse for an Eclipse Award. Europe has the Cartier Awards, Canada the Sovereign Awards, Japan the JRA Awards and so on. The Eclipse Awards should be for U.S. runners.
There is no question that Found was one of the top fillies in training during 2016 but, just like last year, the only U.S. race she competed in was the Turf. As for Queen’s Trust, she was good but honestly wouldn’t have made the nominee list even if she had raced more than once stateside. Highland Reel would have made the turf male nominee list based on his 2016 accomplishments, but once again he made one U.S. start.
In the end, Found still earned her award but it came from the appropriate presenter – a Cartier Award for top older horse of 2016.