by Jon White
January 23, 2019
The 2018 Eclipse Award finalists were revealed earlier this month. The winners in each category will be announced at Gulfstream Park on Thursday at the 48th annual Eclipse Awards dinner presented by The Stronach Group, Daily Racing Form and Breeders’ Cup.
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 92.4% 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
2017: 16 correct, 1 wrong
Total: 110 correct, 9 wrong
Remember, these are my predictions, not who I think should win or who I voted for.
And now here are my predictions for the 2018 Eclipse Awards:
Finalists (alphabetically): Game Winner, Improbable, Knicks Go
Predicted Winner: Game Winner
This category, folks, is a slam-dunk. The award no doubt will go to undefeated Game Winner, winner of three Grade I races, including the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile.
Finalists: Bellafina, Jaywalk, Newspaperofrecord
Predicted Winner: Jaywalk
This category is not a slam-dunk. I could see the award going to either Jaywalk or Newspaperofrecord.
Jaywalk won four of five starts. She took the Grade I Frizette by 5 3/4 lengths and Grade I BC Juvenile Fillies by 5 1/4 lengths.
Newspaperofrecord, who did all of her racing on turf, won all three starts by margins of 6 3/4, 6 1/2 and 6 3/4 lengths. She was victorious in a pair of stakes races, the Grade II Miss Grillo and Grade I BC Juvenile Fillies Turf.
This, for me, is one of the tougher calls this year. I am going with Jaywalk to get the Eclipse Award in this category. But I won’t be shocked if I am wrong.
Finalists: Catholic Boy, Justify, McKinzie
Predicted Winner: Justify
The award in this category undoubtedly will go to undefeated Triple Crown winner Justify. He is a finalist for Horse of the Year, along with Accelerate and Monomoy Girl.
Finalists: Midnight Bisou, Monomoy Girl, Rushing Fall
Predicted Winner: Monomoy Girl
Considering Monomoy Girl is a finalist for Horse of the Year, I make her a 1-20 favorite to get the Eclipse Award as champion 3-year-old filly. She was a five-time Grade I winner (Ashland, Kentucky Oaks, Acorn, Coaching Club American Oaks and BC Distaff).
OLDER DIRT MALE
Finalists: Accelerate, City of Light, Gun Runner
Predicted Winner: Accelerate
Inasmuch as Accelerate is a finalist for Horse of the Year, I believe it is a certainty he will get the award as champion older dirt male.
OLDER DIRT FEMALE
Finalists: Abel Tasman, Marley’s Freedom, Unique Bella
Predicted Winner: Unique Bella
After Abel Tasman won the Grade I Ogden Phipps in June and Grade I Personal Ensign in August, she was in a prime position to get the award in this category. But then she went off form -- way off form -- in her final two starts of the year. She lost the Grade I Zenyatta in September by 10 1/2 lengths when she finished fifth, then lost the Grade I BC Distaff in November by 22 lengths when she ended up 11th.
Unique Bella was retired after a victory in late July. But I think she probably will get the Eclipse Award in this category off her two Grade I victories (Santa Maria and Clement L. Hirsch) in conjunction with her overall consistency (four starts, three wins and a second).
Finalists: Imperial Hint, Roy H, Stormy Liberal
Predicted Winner: Roy H
“You can take it to the bank that Roy H will get this one,” I wrote a year ago regarding the 2017 male sprint category.
And Roy H, who won the Grade I BC Sprint in 2017, did indeed get the 2017 Eclipse Award as champion male sprinter.
I say once again that you can take it to the bank that Roy H will get the 2018 Eclipse Award as champion male sprinter. He won a pair of Grade I races in 2018 (Santa Anita Sprint Championship and BC Sprint).
Finalists: Finley’sluckycharm, Marley’s Freedom, Shamrock Rose
Predicted Winner: Shamrock Rose
Shamrock Rose put together a four-race winning streak that was highlighted by victories in the Grade II Raven Run and Grade I BC Filly & Mare Sprint. I think that will be sufficient for her to get the Eclipse Award in this category.
Finalists: Expert Eye, Glorious Empire, Stormy Liberal
Predicted Winner: Glorious Empire
This, to me, is the toughest of all categories to try and predict the winner. Even though there are only three finalists to choose from, I feel like it will be a miracle if I get it correct.
Any one of the three finalists might get it. All three have pluses and minuses.
Expert Eye’s plus is he won the Grade I BC Mile. His minus is that was his lone start in North America.
Glorious Empire’s pluses are he won a Grade I race (Sword Dancer) and two Grade II races (Bowling Green and Fort Lauderdale). His minuses are that one of his Grade II wins was a dead heat and, in his most important start of the year, he was eased in the Grade I BC Turf.
Stormy Liberal’s plus is he put together a four-race winning streak, including a pair of graded stakes races, the Grade III Eddie D. and Grade I BC Turf Sprint. His minus is he raced exclusively in grass sprints. As Bob Ehalt explained in an article he wrote for Thoroughbred Racing Commentary, “the turf sprint division lacks an abundance of robust stakes.”
I voted for Expert Eye. Ehalt voted for Glorious Empire. And I can tell from what I have read and heard there were plenty of votes for Stormy Liberal.
With zero confidence, I’ll predict the Eclipse Award will go to Glorious Empire.
Finalists: A Raving Beauty, Enable, Sistercharlie
Predicted Winner: Sistercharlie
This award definitely will go to either Enable or Sistercharlie.
Enable followed a second Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe trumph by becoming the first horse to ever win the Group I Arc and Grade I BC Turf in the same year. But as in the case of Expert Eye in the male turf category, some will hold it against Enable that she made just one North American start.
Sistercharlie won four Grade I races. She took the Jenny Wily, Diana, Beverly D. and BC Filly & Mare Turf.
I think Sistercharlie’s body of work in North America will trump Enable’s one, albeit impressive, North American victory.
Finalists: Jury Duty, Optimus Prime, Zanjabeel
Predicted Winner: Zanjabeel
Finalists: Steve Asmussen, Bob Baffert, Chad Brown
Predicted Winner: Chad Brown
Finalists: Irad Ortiz Jr., Jose Ortiz, Mike Smith
Predicted Winner: Irad Ortiz Jr.
Finalists: Reylu Gutierrez, Weston Hamilton, Edgar Morales
Predicted Winner: Weston Hamilton
Finalists: Peter Brant; Hronis Racing; WinStar Farm, China Horse Club, Starlight Racing and Head of Plains Partners
Predicted Winner: Hronis Racing
Finalists: Mike Abraham, John D. Gunther, WinStar Farm
Predicted Winner: John D. Gunther
HORSE OF THE YEAR
Finalists: Accelerate, Justify, Monomoy Girl
Predicted Winner: Justify
This definitely comes down to either Accelerate or Justify.
I think it’s fair to say that most people thought the 2018 Horse of the Year title was decided on June 9, the day that Justify became the sport’s 13th Triple Crown winner. However, to Accelerate’s credit, he put together a campaign that no doubt is going to draw some Horse of the Year support.
But as I wrote a number of times during the year here at Xpressbet.com, history tells us that, no matter what Accelerate did, it was going to be an uphill battle for him to topple a Triple Crown winner for Horse of the Year.
Sir Barton in 1919, Gallant Fox in 1930 and Omaha in 1935 won the Triple Crown prior to Granville becoming the first Horse of the Year in 1937. Any way you slice it, what does not bode well for Accelerate’s chances to become the 2018 Horse of the Year is that since Granville, all nine Triple Crown winners prior to this year have been voted that season’s Horse of the Year.
How important is a Triple Crown sweep with Horse of the Year voters? Consider what happened in 1978. Affirmed won the 1978 Triple Crown. Seattle Slew defeated Affirmed both times they met in 1978. But despite Affirmed losing both times to Seattle Slew, it was Affirmed who was voted 1978 Horse of the Year.
As for Justify, not only did he sweep the Triple Crown, he achieved a plethora of firsts.
--No other horse in the 144-year history of the Kentucky Derby won it after running the first quarter-mile as fast as Justify did (:22.24).
--Justify defeated nine opponents in the Belmont Stakes. No Triple Crown winner ever beat that many rivals in the Belmont.
--Justify defeated 19 opponents in the Kentucky Derby, seven in the Preakness and nine in the Belmont, a total of 35 in the three classics, more than any other Triple Crown winner.
Accelerate did put together a 2018 campaign worthy of a Horse of the Year. He joined Lava Man (2006) and Game On Dude (2013) as the only three horses to win Southern California’s three major events for older horses in the same year-- the Grade I Santa Anita Handicap, Grade I Gold Cup at Santa Anita and Grade I Pacific Classic. All three races of those races were contested at 1 1/4 miles. Accelerate won the Pacific Classic by a record 12 1/2 lengths.
It seems some are going to hold it against Justify that he did not race after June. That’s fair. After all, it’s called Horse of the Year not Horse of the Half-Year.
Accelerate raced from Feb. 3 to Nov. 3. Justify raced from Feb. 18 to June 9. But keep in mind it’s not as if Accelerate won more races than Justify. They each won six races during 2018.
As I said, I think Accelerate is going to get some Horse of the Year support. But I also think it will be Justify whose name is announced Thursday as having been voted the 2018 Horse of the Year.