Juvenile colt Eclipse race a tough choice, juvenile filly not so much
In the wake of last weekend's Breeders' Cup, the two most important divisional races that could be hotly contested, or at least more so than nearly every other on the Eclipse Award ballot, are for juvenile male and juvenile filly.
In the Breeders' Cup Juvenile (G1), the division's signature event, odds-on favorite Bolt d'Oro finished third, 5 1/4 lengths behind Good Magic. Earlier, the two-year-old filly races were won impressively by Rushing Fall (Juvenile Fillies Turf [G1]) and Caledonia Road (Juvenile Fillies [G1]).
Bolt d'Oro, who had previously captured the Del Mar Futurity (G1) and FrontRunner (G1), endured a difficult trip at Del Mar. Bobbling at the start, he was hung seven wide into the first turn and remained unfavorably wide down the backside. He was simply left too much to do after making a minor bid into contention on the final turn.
Normally, a head-to-head loss versus Good Magic in the Juvenile, no matter how bad the trip, would prove a hurdle for Bolt d'Oro in the Eclipse race. However, Good Magic's status as a maiden entering the Juvenile could be an impediment for his own candidacy.
Whether Good Magic was a maiden or not prior to the Juvenile really should not be an issue. No championship has or should ever be decided based on a horse's record in overnight company (i.e. maidens, allowances, etc.). Judged purely on his record in stakes company, Good Magic's second in the Champagne (G1) and victory in the Juvenile is not dissimilar to the stakes records of past juvenile champions such as Rhythm (1989) and Anees (1999), and is nominally more substantive than Action This Day's (2003), who won the Juvenile against a modest field one start after breaking his maiden.
Besides having one more top-level victory to his credit, Bolt d'Oro might simply get the benefit of the doubt from a large share of voters for his Juvenile finish, thinking he didn't get a fair run. There's something to be said, in tight races like this, for sometimes backing who your gut tells you is best.
The 1989 juvenile race, in which Rhythm was voted champion, is a case in point. Those of a certain age well remember Rhythm winning the Juvenile by a fairly decisive two lengths over the erratic and green Grand Canyon. Winner of the Norfolk (G1) prior to the Breeders' Cup, the D. Wayne Lukas-trained Grand Canyon had to have made more than a few voters think twice about automatically selecting Rhythm after rebounding in the Kentucky Jockey Club (G3) by 10 lengths and earning a second Grade 1 tally (one more than Rhythm) in the Hollywood Futurity by 6 1/4 lengths in a blistering 1:33 for one mile.
While one could argue Rhythm was the correct choice based on bare form, the selection didn't look so clever in the spring of 1990 when he finished up the track in his first three stakes appearances of the season in the Hutcheson (G3), Fountain of Youth (G2), and Gotham (G2). Sadly, the potentially brilliant Grand Canyon never ran again after injuring a knee in February and succumbing to laminitis later that year.
The choice between Bolt d'Oro and Good Magic is a tough and important one, well worth closer examination in the weeks ahead.
For me, the two-year-old filly race is more clear cut. Dirt racing is more important than turf racing in this country, especially when it comes to discussing two-year-olds and the future classic generation.
No pure grass specialist has won either of the juvenile awards since the advent of the Breeders' Cup juvenile turf races a decade ago, although I can understand if there's some voters who express buyer's remorse for backing Take Charge Brandi over Lady Eli three years ago. I'm not one of them.
Not to sound heretical, but Caledonia Road's brief stakes record is not dissimilar to a couple past juvenile filly champions you might have heard of: Go for Wand (1989 again!) and Beholder (2011). Indeed, Go for Wand prevailed in the polls against Stella Madrid, who had a 3-1 Grade 1 win edge over Go for Wand and had beaten her in the Frizette (G1) before Go for Wand turned the tables in the Breeders' Cup.
History shows that was the right decision. Honoring excellence on the main track, which the juvenile filly championship always has, would also be the right decision in this case.
(Caledonia Road photo: Lauren Pomeroy/Horsephotos.com)