by Jon White
January 24, 2018
The 2017 Eclipse Award finalists were revealed earlier this month. The winners in each category will be announced at the 47th annual Eclipse Awards dinner at Gulfstream Park on Thursday, Jan. 25.
The first year that I made Eclipse Award predictions in this column was for the racing that was conducted in 2011. Through the years, my Eclipse Award predictions have proven to be correct 92.1% of the time:
2011: 15 correct, 2 wrong
2012: 16 correct, 1 wrong
2013: 16 correct, 1 wrong
2014: 17 correct, 0 wrong
2015: 14 correct, 3 wrong
2016: 16 correct, 1 wrong
Total: 94 correct, 8 wrong
Remember, these are my predictions, not who I think should win or who I voted for.
In terms of forecasting Eclipse Award winners, Daily Racing Form’s Mike Watchmaker recently wrote this: “Of the 11 equine Eclipse Award categories on the flat, 10 appear to be devoid of uncertainty.”
According to Watchmaker, “the only equine flat division with any hint of uncertainty is female sprinter.”
I disagree with that assertion.
It is Watchmaker’s opinion that Breeders’ Cup winners Good Magic and Caledonia Road will be the winners in the 2-year-old male and female divisions. It might turn out that Watchmaker is right about that. But I see it more like the Racing Form’s Jay Privman does in that there is some uncertainty in more than one category.
“A few categories have genuine drama that should spice up the night, most notably 2-year-old male, in which Good Magic and Bolt d’Oro both have strong support, and female sprinter, in which Bar of Gold, Paulassilverlining and Unique Bella are the finalists in a wide-open division,” Privman wrote.
I also do not believe Caledonia Road is a done deal in the 2-year-old filly category. I think Rushing Fall has a chance to get it.
And now here are my predictions for the 2017 Eclipse Awards:
Finalists (alphabetically): Bolt d’Oro, Good Magic, Solomini
Predicted Winner: Good Magic
I think a compelling case for this title can be made for both Bolt d’Oro and Good Magic. Steve Byk, host of the radio program At The Races, has said he believes Bolt d’Oro will win, though he also said his vote went to Good Magic.
Good Magic made Breeders’ Cup history at Del Mar when he became the first maiden to ever win the Grade I Juvenile, which he did by 4 1/4 lengths at 11-1. Bolt d’Oro, the 3-5 favorite in that race, had a ridiculously wide trip and finished third.
Bolt d’Oro was three for three going into the BC Juvenile, including Grade I victories in the Del Mar Futurity and Santa Anita’s FrontRunner. Though the BC Juvenile was Good Magic’s first win, he did finish second in the Grade I Champagne at Belmont Park.
I am predicting that Good Magic, on the strength of his BC Juvenile triumph, will get the Eclipse Award in this category.
Finalists: Caledonia Road, Moonshine Memories, Rushing Fall
Predicted Winner: Caledonia Road
I see this category as being between Caledonia Road and Rushing Fall. And, as I noted earlier, I think it could go either way.
Caledonia Road won the Grade I BC Juvenile Fillies on the dirt at Del Mar by 3 1/4 lengths. She won two of three starts during the year.
I am sensing a lot of support for Rushing Fall in this category. Winner of the Grade I BC Juvenile Fillies Turf at Del Mar by three-quarters of a length, she was three for three during the year.
In terms of predicting the winner in this category, I am going to go with Caledonia Road. But it won’t surprise me one bit if I’m wrong.
Finalists: Always Dreaming, Battle of Midway, West Coast
Predicted Winner: West Coast
West Coast is a slam-dunk following his victories in the Grade I Travers at Saratoga, Grade I Pennsylvania Derby at Parx and his third behind older foes Gun Runner and Collected in the Grade I BC Classic at Del Mar.
Always Dreaming won both the Grade I Florida Derby at Gulfstream Park and Grade I Kentucky Derby at Churchill Downs. However, after the Run for the Roses, he lost his remaining three 2017 starts by 14, 5 1/4 and 16 lengths.
Battle of Midway, third in the Kentucky Derby, won the Grade I BC Dirt Mile against older rivals at Del Mar. However, the BC Dirt Mile was his lone Grade I win during the year.
Finalists: Abel Tasman, Elate, Unique Bella
Predicted Winner: Abel Tasman
I believe it’s between Abel Tasman and Elate. I am pretty confident Abel Tasman will get it.
Abel Tasman won the Grade I Kentucky Oaks at Churchill, Grade I Acorn at Belmont and Grade I Coaching Club American Oaks at Saratoga. In her final start of the year, she finished second, a half-length behind the older Forever Unbridled, in the Grade I BC Distaff.
Elate won the Grade I Alabama at Saratoga and Grade I Beldame vs. her elders at Belmont. But Abel Tasman beat Elate in both the CCA Oaks and BC Distaff.
OLDER DIRT MALE
Finalists: Arrogate, Collected, Gun Runner
Predicted Winner: Gun Runner
I make Gun Runner a 1-20 favorite to get this Eclipse Award. He had an outstanding 2017 campaign, winning five of six. His lone defeat during the year came when he finished second on foreign soil in the Group I Dubai World won by Arrogate. In Gun Runner’s final 2017 start, he won the Grade I BC Classic by 2 1/4 lengths, turning the tables on Arrogate, who finished in a dead heat for fifth.
OLDER DIRT FEMALE
Finalists: Forever Unbridled, Songbird, Stellar Wind
Predicted Winner: Forever Unbridled
Even though she was lightly raced, I view Forever Unbridled as an odds-on favorite to get the Eclipse Award as champion older dirt female. She made only three starts during the year, but won them all, taking the Grade II Fleur de Lis Handicap at Churchill, Grade I Personal Ensign at Saratoga and Grade I BC Distaff at Del Mar.
Finalists: Imperial Hint, Mind Your Biscuits, Roy H
Predicted Winner: Roy H
You can take it to the bank that Roy H will get this one. He won a pair of Grade I events in 2017, the Santa Anita Sprint Championship and BC Sprint at Del Mar. The only time Roy H lost during the year, he had a legitimate excuse. He finished second in the Grade I Bing Crosby at Del Mar when carried out extremely wide coming into the stretch by a riderless Drefong, the Eclipse Award-winning sprinter of 2016.
Finalists: Bar of Gold, Paulassilverlining, Unique Bella
Predicted Winner: Unique Bella
This category is, I believe, the toughest to predict in the equine categories. That being said, I think I essentially have a 50-50 chance to get this prediction right because I do not think enough voters felt Bar of Gold did enough other than win the Grade I BC Filly & Mare Sprint in a 66-1 shocker.
I voted for Unique Bella. My prediction is Paulassilverlining.
Paulssilverlining won two Grade I races in 2017 (one more than Unique Bella). Paulassilverlining also won an especially strong edition of the Grade II Honorable Miss Handicap at Saratoga. She beat Unique Bella in the Grade I BC Filly & Mare Sprint, with Paulassilverling finishing sixth and Unique Bella seventh.
Perhaps being a dual Grade I winner in 2017 will be enough to propel Paulassilverlining to the Eclipse Award in this category despite the fact that her final two starts of the year left much to be desired, a fifth in the Grade I Ballerina at Saratoga prior to her sixth at the Breeders’ Cup.
Not helping Unique Bella is the fact that her lone Grade I win of 2017 in Santa Anita’s La Brea occurred on Dec. 26, meaning that race did not appear in the past performances for Eclipse Award candidates mailed to the voters. (I wonder how many people submitted their Eclipse Award votes before the La Brea was run.)
Unique Bella won four of five starts during the year, with all victories coming in graded stakes races. Her only 2017 defeat occurred when she ran seventh as the even-money favorite in the Grade I BC Filly & Mare Sprint at Del Mar.
Finalists: Beach Patrol, Talismanic, World Approval
Predicted Winner: World Approval
The way I see it, World Approval is a lock in this category. One reason I consider him a lock is he is one of the three finalists for Horse of the Year.
In his final three 2017 starts, World Approval reeled off Grade I victories in the Fourstardave Handicap at Saratoga, Woodbine Mile and BC Mile at Del Mar.
Finalists: Lady Eli, Off Limits, Wuheida
Predicted Winner: Lady Eli
This is the third time that Lady Eli has been a finalist. I predict that the third time will be the charm and she will get the 2017 Eclipse Award in this category. It would be her first Eclipse Award after also being a 2014 finalist in the 2-year-old filly category and a 2016 finalist in the female turf category.
Lady Eli in 2017 won the Grade I Gamely at Santa Anita and Grade I Diana at Saratoga. Sent away as the 3-2 favorite in the Grade I BC Filly & Mare Turf at Del Mar, she finished seventh after being knocked around in traffic early. She emerged from the race with a number of nasty cuts on her hind legs.
Lady Eli certainly is one of the best stories in recent years in terms of her comeback from a life-threatening battle with laminitis in 2015 to win multiple Grade I races. She was a two-time North American Grade I winner in 2017, whereas Wuheida and Off Limits won one such race. European shipper Wuheida captured the Grade I BC Filly & Mare Turf in an 11-1 upset. Off Limits won the Grade I Matriarch at Del Mar.
Finalists: All The Way Jose, Mr. Hot Stuff, Scorpiancer
Predicted Winner: Scorpiancer
Finalists: Steve Asmussen, Bob Baffert, Chad Brown
Predicted Winner: Chad Brown
Finalists: Javier Castellano, Jose Ortiz, Mike Smith
Predicted Winner: Jose Ortiz
Finalists: Katie Clawson, Hector Diaz Jr., Evin Roman
Predicted Winner: Evin Roman
Finalists: Godolphin Racing, Juddmonte Farms, Winchell Thoroughbreds & Three Chimneys Farm
Predicted Winner: Juddmonte Farms
Finalists: Besilu Stables, Clearsky Farms, WinStar Farm
Predicted Winner: Clearsky Farm
HORSE OF THE YEAR
Finalists: Arrogate, Gun Runner, World Approval
Predicted Winner: Gun Runner
I predict, with a great deal of confidence that Gun Runner is going to be the 2017 Horse of the Year. After he finished second to Arrogate in the Group I Dubai World Cup, Gun Runner returned to the United States and did not lose another race for the remainder of the year.
With no letdown whatsoever after his trip to Dubai, Gun Runner registered four straight impressive Grade I victories for Hall of Fame trainer Steve Asmussen. Gun Runner won the Stephen Foster Handicap at Churchill by seven lengths, Whitney at Saratoga by 5 1/4 lengths, Woodward at Sarartoga by 10 1/4 lengths and BC Classic at Del Mar by 2 1/4 lengths.
I must admit that I can’t help but feel some sympathy for Arrogate. That’s because he really was a victim of the calendar. Arrogate was the “Horse of the Second Half of 2015” and the “Horse of the First Half of 2016.” But he lost out to California Chrome in 2016 Horse of the Year balloting. And I believe it is a sure thing that Arrogate also is going to lose out to Gun Runner in 2017 Horse of the Year voting.
During the second half of 2015 and the first half of 2016, two of Arrogate’s wins truly were performances for the ages. There was his Secretariat-like, track record-breaking win in the 2015 Travers. And in what turned out to be the final win of Arrogate’s career, there was his sensational victory when he overcame a horrible start in the 2017 Dubai World Cup to defeat runner-up Gun Runner by 2 1/4 lengths.
But after Arrogate’s trip to Dubai, he went off form. He lost his final three starts of 2017, which also were the final three starts of his career.
In Arrogate’s first start after his triumphant journey to Dubai, he finished fourth as an overwhelming 1-20 favorite in Del Mar’s Grade II San Diego Handicap won by Accelerate. Arrogate lost that race by 15 1/4 lengths. After the race, Bob Baffert, Arrogate’s Hall of Fame trainer, summed up the colt’s dismal effort in four words: “He laid an egg.”
Arrogate ran much better in the subsequent Grade I Pacific Classic, but again he lost, this time as a 3-5 favorite. He finished second, a half-length behind another Baffert charge, Collected, in the Grade I Pacific Classic at Del Mar.
And then in the Grade I BC Classic on Nov. 4 at Del Mar, the one-two finishers from the Dubai World Cup, Arrogate and Gun Runner, had a rematch. Arrogate was the $2.10 to $1 favorite. Gun Runner was sent away as the $2.40 to $1 second choice.
Gun Runner won in front-running fashion by 2 1/4 lengths. For him, it was sweet revenge for what happened in Dubai, with Arrogate never threatening in the 1 1/4-mile BC Classic and finishing unplaced.
Not only did Gun Runner defeat a strong group in the BC Classic, his win quite likely deserved a measure of extra credit in that he raced on the inside part of the track throughout. Many observers believe that the inside was not the place to be that day on Del Mar’s main track.
I have no doubt that Gun Runner is going to be saluted as the sport’s 2017 Horse of the Year, a title he certainly earned by virtue of his stellar 2017 record.