Rounding out my nominees and picks for the 2016 Eclipse Awards are the sprinters.
Male Sprinter – Drefong, A. P. Indian, Masochistic
It’s kind of hard to look past DREFONG for champion sprinter. The bay son of Gio Ponti is four-for-four on the year, capping off 2016 with easy wins in the King’s Bishop Stakes (G1) and Breeders’ Cup Sprint (G1). He earned triple-digit BRIS Speed ratings each time he competed this season.
That’s not to say A. P. Indian and Masochistic didn’t have good years. Any other season and either one would have been worthy to be champion sprinter.
In fact, A. P. Indian brought a perfect 2016 mark of his own into the Breeders’ Cup Sprint, capturing the Belmont Sprint Championship Stakes (G3), Alfred G. Vanderbilt Handicap (G1), Forego Stakes (G1) and Phoenix Stakes (G2) prior to his Southern California trip.
The Indian Charlie gelding had every chance in the Sprint but came up empty in the six-furlong affair, finishing 4 1/2 lengths behind Drefong in fourth. It looks like A. P. Indian’s long season may have caught up with him at the worse possible time.
Masochistic also was unbeaten entering the Sprint, but the six-year-old son of Sought After showed only two wins prior to the November 5. Both were romping, front-running efforts, including the Pat O’Brien Stakes (G2) at Del Mar on August 27. He dueled with Drefong from the half-mile marker to midstretch in the Sprint before the eventual winner drew off and ended up just holding second by a nose.
Female Sprinter – Finest City, Haveyougoneaway, Wavell Avenue
Champion female sprinter is nowhere as easy as champion male sprinter. This division showed about the same diversity in winners as the two-year-old fillies, with everyone seeming to take turns winning the major contests.
Finest City came out on top in the Breeders’ Cup Filly & Mare Sprint (G1), just holding a furious late run from defending race winner Wavell Avenue to score by three parts of a length. Earlier in the season she set a new track record of 1:14.48 for 6 1/2 furlongs at Los Alamitos when earning her first stakes victory in the Great Lady M. Stakes (G2).
The City Zip four-year-old also placed in three other graded contests, but the most prestigious of those wasn’t even technically a sprint. It was the Vanity Mile (G1) and featured only five runners, two of whom turned out to be winner Beholder and runner-up Stellar Wind. As the saying goes, someone had to be third.
Wavell Avenue scored her only win this season in the Shine Again Stakes at Saratoga in early August, but the five-year-old daughter of Harlington also placed in the Madison Stakes (G1) and Gallant Bloom Handicap (G2). Unfortunately, her other two Grade 1 tries before the Breeders’ Cup resulted in her only unplaced finishes for 2016.
With all that in mind, I’m making Haveyougoneaway my choice for an Eclipse Award as champion female sprinter. The Congrats filly went 5-2-0 from eight starts this year, including capturing the Ballerina Stakes (G1) and Honorable Miss Handicap (G2). Her only subpar run of the season came in the Breeders’ Cup Filly & Mare Sprint, where she finished seventh.
Just like A. P. Indian, Haveyougoneaway’s long campaign may have caught up with her on the big day. However, in my opinion, she did enough to warrant a championship title without winning the Breeders’ Cup.
Drefong photo courtesy of Benoit Photos