2022 in Review: Leading Turf Horses by Eclipse Award categories

December 28th, 2022

A majority of Eclipse Award categories for equine flat performers is technically open to all runners, regardless of surface proclivity. However, American racing's continued emphasis on dirt, a general adherence to voting precedent, and a traditionalist mindset among most with a ballot (and I count myself being one of these) have largely shut out turf specialists from winning division titles other than the two restricted exclusively to them.

While not personally in favor of having separate Eclipse Award championships for turf runners, it's fair to acknowledge and and perhaps have a debate about those specialists who made the most impact on their respective divisions, and who might or should win if separate categories existed.

For example, Modern Games is arguably the favorite to win the champion turf male Eclipse over stablemate Rebel's Romance, who had one fewer start and win in North America. However, under a theoretical system in which three-year-old males and older males had their own categories, both would likely be recognized as champions off their respective Breeders' Cup victories.

The results of the two main Breeders' Cup turf events for two-year-olds, like their dirt counterparts, would undoubtedly have an outsized influence on who would be named champion in the juvenile categories. Therefore, Victoria Road and Meditate would be tough to look past for the Coolmore partnership and trainer Aidan O'Brien.

The Breeders' Cup Turf Sprint (G1) would also be one of the more influential, championship-deciding races of the year. Caravel, the five-year-old mare who shocked this year's renewal at Keeneland, would most certainly have clinched the female sprint title. And despite a couple stumbles during the year, Golden Pal remains a gold standard among American male turf sprinters in recent times and would be favored to take down another division crown.

Perhaps the most intriguing turf-only race would be among three-year-old fillies. The victory by Tuesday in the Breeders' Cup Filly and Mare Turf (G1) of course was solid, but my theoretical vote would likely go to the American-based Spendarella. Not only was she undefeated in stakes company at home, winning the Del Mar Oaks (G1), Appalachian (G2), and Herecomesthebride (G3), but acquitted herself, and her country, quite well by finishing second to Inspiral in the Coronation (G1) at Royal Ascot in June.

As far as the older mares, I'd personally side with my own Eclipse choice, War Like Goddess, who transcended her division by winning the Joe Hirsch Turf Classic (G1) and fared best of the U.S.-based runners when finishing third in the Breeders' Cup Turf (G1). The stablemates In Italian and Regal Glory had terrific seasons, too, and it will be interesting to season how close the tabulations are in that category when announced.