by Jon White
January 2, 2020
Established in 1971, the Eclipse Awards are presented annually to recognize outstanding achievements in North America by Thoroughbreds and individuals.
Eclipse Awards are voted on by members of the Daily Racing Form, National Thoroughbred Racing Association and National Turf Writers and Broadcasters. Eclipse Awards also are bestowed to members of the media for outstanding coverage of the sport. Additionally, an Eclipse Award is presented to the winner of the National Horseplayers Championship.
The 2019 recipients will be honored at the 49th annual Eclipse Awards Dinner on Jan. 23 at Gulfstream Park.
The ballots for the 2019 Eclipse Awards were disseminated to voters in December. Below is how I filled out my official ballot:
TWO-YEAR-OLD MALE: 1. Storm the Court, 2. Structor, 3. Maxfield.
TWO-YEAR-OLD FEMALE: 1. British Idiom, 2. Bast, 3. Sharing.
THREE-YEAR-OLD MALE: 1. Maximum Security, 2. Omaha Beach, 3. Code of Honor.
THREE-YEAR-OLD FEMALE: 1. Covfefe, 2. Serengeti Empress, 3. Guarana.
OLDER DIRT MALE: 1. Mitole, 2. Vino Rosso, 3. McKinzie.
OLDER DIRT FEMALE: 1. Midnight Bisou, 2. Blue Prize, 3. Elate.
MALE SPRINTER: 1. Mitole, 2. Shancelot, 3. Imperial Hint.
FEMALE SPRINTER: 1. Covfefe, 2. Come Dancing, 3. Mia Mischief.
MALE TURF: 1. Bricks and Mortar, 2. Mo Forza, 3. World of Trouble.
FEMALE TURF: 1. Uni, 2. Got Stormy, 3. Sistercharlie.
STEEPLECHASE: 1. Winston C, 2. Brain Power, 3. Scorpiancer.
TRAINER: 1. Chad Brown, 2. Brad Cox, 3. Bob Baffert.
JOCKEY: 1. Irad Ortiz Jr., 2. Javier Castellano, 3. Flavien Prat.
APPRENTICE JOCKEY: 1. Kazushi Kimura, 2. Julio Correa, 3. Angel Diaz.
OWNER: 1. Klaravich Stables and William Lawrence, 2. Gary Barber, 3. Peter Brant.
BREEDER: 1. Calumet Farm, 2. George Strawbridge Jr., 3. Godolphin.
HORSE OF THE YEAR: 1. Bricks and Mortar, 2. Maximum Security, 3. Mitole.
I will not quibble with anyone who feels Maximum Security or Mitole is the 2019 Horse of the Year. But my vote went to Bricks and Mortar.
Granted, this year’s older male grass division in this country was far from its strongest ever. Nevertheless, the way I see it, Bricks and Mortar put together a 2019 campaign quite worthy of a Horse of the Year.
Bricks and Mortar was six for six during the year. The 5-year-old Kentucky-bred son of Giant’s Causeway won five Grade I races and a Grade II. He also had a sustained 2019 campaign in which he raced from Jan. 26 to Nov. 2 for trainer Chad Brown.
It also was impressive, I think, that Bricks and Mortar managed to win at six different tracks. He was victorious at:
--Gulfstream Park in Florida on Jan. 26.
--Fair Grounds Race Course & Slots in Louisiana on March 23.
--Churchill Downs in Kentucky on May 4.
--Belmont Park in New York on June 8.
--Arlington Park in Illinois on Aug. 10.
--Santa Anita in California on Nov. 2.
Bricks and Mortar won two of this nation’s most significant grass events, the Arlington Million and Breeders’ Cup Turf. In the 1 1/2-mile BC Turf, he won when racing out of his comfort zone, so to speak, in that it was the first time he had raced farther than 1 1/4 miles.
Going into the 2019 Breeders’ Cup, there were three leading candidates for the Horse of the Year. All three -- Bricks and Mortar, Midnight Bisou and Mitole -- were undefeated in 2019 going into the Breeders’ Cup.
In the NTRA’s Top Thoroughbred Poll just prior to the Breeders’ Cup, Bricks and Mortar was ranked No. 1, followed by Midnight Bisou at No. 2 and Sistercharlie at No. 3.
Despite not having the best of trips, Bricks and Mortar won his Breeders’ Cup race. Meanwhile, neither Midnight Bisou nor Sistercharlie won at the Breeders’ Cup. Midnight Bisou finished second in the BC Distaff. Sistercharlie ran third in the BC Filly & Mare Turf.
And so Bricks and Mortar was the No. 1 ranked horse in the final NTRA Top Thoroughbred Poll following the Breeders’ Cup. It was the 32nd consecutive week that he had held the top spot in the poll.
Maximum Security finished first in seven of nine starts during the year. The 3-year-old Kentucky-bred New Year’s Day colt was disqualified from first and placed 17th for causing interference on the far turn in the Grade I Kentucky Derby on May 4.
Just about everybody agrees Maximum Security was the best horse in the Kentucky Derby. In his only other 2019 defeat, he had an excuse. He stumbled at the start in Monmouth Park’s Pegasus Stakes on June 16 before finishing second.
Maximum Security won a pair of Grade I races vs. 3-year-olds, the Florida Derby at Gulfstream in the spring and the Haskell Invitational at Monmouth on an extremely hot day in the summer. He was scratched from the Grade I Pennsylvania Derby at Parx Racing on Sept. 21. Maximum Security missed the Pennsylvania Derby due to what was reported to be a large colon nephrosplenic entrapment that developed shortly after the colt returned to Monmouth following a Sept. 16 workout at Parx.
Instead of running in a Breeders’ Cup race, Maximum Security won Belmont’s Grade III Bold Ruler Handicap at seven furlongs when facing older foes for the first time on Oct. 26. He then registered a sparkling 3 1/2-length victory against his elders in Aqueduct’s Grade I Cigar Mile on Dec. 7 for trainer Jason Servis.
Mitole won six of seven starts during the year. The 4-year-old Kentucky-bred son of Eskendereya won possibly the deepest non-Breeders’ Cup race contested in this country in 2019, the Grade I Met Mile. He put the icing on the cake when he took the Grade I BC Sprint at Santa Anita by 1 1/4 lengths on Nov. 2. In the six-furlong BC Sprint, Mitole ran down the sophomore speedster Shancelot in the stretch to win going away for trainer Steve Asmussen.
Mitole’s lone 2019 defeat came in Saratoga’s Alfred G. Vanderbilt Handicap at six furlongs on July 27. He lost, fair and square, when he ran third behind the outstanding sprinter Imperial Hint and Diamond Oops.
Again, I respect what both Maximum Security and Mitole did this year. But as mentioned earlier, my Horse of the Year vote went to Bricks and Mortar, who compiled an unblemished 2019 record while racing in six different states from January to November.
MY ECLIPSE AWARD CHOICES IN 1976
I first had the honor of filling out a ballot for the Eclipse Awards in 1976. These were my selections:
TWO-YEAR-OLD MALE: 1. Seattle Slew, 2. Run Dusty Run, 3. Royal Ski.
TWO-YEAR-OLD FEMALE: 1. Sensational, 2. Mrs. Warren, 3. Any Time Girl.
THREE-YEAR-OLD MALE: 1. Bold Forbes, 2. Elocutionist, 3. Honest Pleasure.
THREE-YEAR-OLD FEMALE: 1. Revidere, 2. Optimistic Gal, 3. T.V. Vixen.
OLDER MALE: 1. Forego, 2. King Pellinore, 3. Youth.
OLDER FEMALE: 1. Proud Delta, 2. Miss Toshiba, 3. Sugar Plum Time.
SPRINTER: 1. My Juliet, 2. Bold Forbes, 3. Cherry River.
TURF HORSE: 1. Youth, 2. King Pellinore, 3. Intrepid Hero.
STEEPLECHASE: 1. Straight and True, 2. Life’s Illusion, 3. Arctic Joe.
TRAINER: 1. Lazaro Barrera, 2. Jack Van Berg, 3. Charles Whittingham.
JOCKEY: 1. Sandy Hawley, 2. Laffit Pincay Jr., 3. Angel Cordero Jr.
APPRENTICE JOCKEY: 1. George Martens, 2. Bobby Gonzalez, 3. R.L. Velez.
OWNER: 1. Dan Lasater, 2. Elmendorf, 3. Sigmund Sommer.
HORSE OF THE YEAR: 1. Forego, 2. Bold Forbes, 3. Youth.
Note: I still have the past performances that accompanied the Eclipse Awards ballot that was mailed to me. It was fun this week to peruse those past performances, especially for Forego and Seattle Slew.
By the way, I noticed that Dancing Gun’s past performances were included in the older female section in 1976. Oops. Dancing Gun was a 4-year-old gelding trained by Laz Barrera. Winner of the 1976 Whitney Handicap on a sloppy track at Saratoga, Dancing Gun obviously belonged in the older male category.
OMAHA BEACH’S SPEED FIGURE DESERVES A “PLUS”
When Hall of Fame jockey Mike Smith won Santa Anita’s Grade I Malibu Stakes for 3-year-olds last Saturday aboard 2-5 favorite Omaha Beach, he did not ask the colt for any run at all toward the end of the 7-furlong race. In deep stretch, Smith sat motionless. Heck, you will see more movement from a statue.
In a Malibu recap posted on the Paulick Report website, this was the accurate headline: Omaha Beach Never Had To Be Asked In Malibu Romp
Omaha Beach absolutely toyed with his four Malibu opponents. He won by 2 3/4 lengths, but the margin by no means is a true reflection of his superiority on that occasion. To say he was far from all out would be an understatement.
The official Equibase chart correctly notes Omaha Beach won “handily.” The chart states Omaha Beach “chased off the rail, bid four wide into the turn, put a head in front midway on the turn, came three wide into the stretch, inched away in the drive and won clear without encouragement while drifting in a bit late.”
To say Omaha Beach “won clear without encouragement” is spot on. It’s important because it suggests that Omaha Beach most likely would have posted a faster final time than 1:22.33 if he had been all out.
Earlier on the card, the one-eyed filly Hard Not to Love rallied from last in a field of nine to win the Grade I La Brea Stakes for 3-year-old fillies going away by 2 1/4 lengths. Her final time was 1:22.17.
Yes, Hard Not to Love won her race in faster time than Omaha Beach later in the day. But as the chart correctly states, Hard Not to Love won “driving,” not “handily.”
Hard Not to Love was credited with a 102 Beyer Speed Figure. Omaha Beach received a 101 Beyer.
But this is another example of a race in which I think the Beyer Speed Figure does not do justice to a winner’s performance. When a winner is far from all out, like Omaha Beach in the Malibu, the Beyers do not take that into account.
That’s why for a long time I’ve felt the Beyers would be much better if a + was added to the figure on the rare occasions in which a horse wins in a manner like Omaha Beach did in the Malibu.
To make Omaha Beach’s figure for the Malibu a 101+ and Hard to Love’s fig for the La Brea a 102 would, I believe, put the two performances in better perspective.
CAMPAIGN MARRED BY THROAT PROBLEM
Why, oh why, did Omaha Beach’s 3-year-old campaign have to be so rudely interrupted by a throat problem that knocked him out of the Triple Crown races?
I have been sky high on Omaha Beach ever since he splashed his way to a big maiden victory on a sloppy track early in 2019 at Santa Anita. After he earned his maiden diploma, I immediately added him to my Kentucky Derby Top 10 list. I put him at No. 9.
I wrote: “New on my Top 10 this week is Omaha Beach, who found a cure for second-itis in a big way at Santa Anita last Saturday. The War Front colt, trained by Hall of Famer Richard Mandella, registered a resounding nine-length win in a seven-furlong maiden special weight race contested on a sloppy track. Omaha Beach’s final time was an excellent 1:21.02 after he carved out fractions of :21.75, :43.74 and 1:08.24. He posted a 90 Beyer to equal the figure earned by Mucho Gusto later in the card when he won the Lewis.”
I received some criticism at the time for putting Omaha Beach on my Kentucky Derby Top 10 in early February off just a maiden victory. One friend even said I was off my rocker for doing that. But I’d say Omaha Beach’s subsequent performances justified my judgment in this case.
Omaha Beach went on to win a division of the Grade II Rebel Stakes by a nose over 2018 Eclipse Award winner Game Winner on March 16. After that, I moved Omaha Beach to No. 1 on my Kentucky Derby Top 10.
Following the Rebel, Omaha Beach won Oaklawn Park’s Grade I Arkansas Derby on a sloppy strip by one length on April 13. Improbable finished second.
Mike Battaglia installed Omaha Beach as the 4-1 morning-line favorite for the Grade I Kentucky Derby on May 4. Omaha Beach was my pick to win. For Xpressbet.com, I wrote: “I’m not going to beat around the bush. I like Omaha Beach to win this Saturday’s 145th running of the $3 million Kentucky Derby. In fact, I like him a lot. As I see it, he is the total package. He has the speed, class, tractability, gameness, breeding, Hall of Fame jockey (Mike Smith), Hall of Fame trainer (Richard Mandella) and wet-track prowess (if needed) to get the job done.”
However, I wrote that before Omaha Beach was withdrawn from the Run for the Roses. He had to miss the race due to an entrapped epiglottis, an issue that required surgery to correct.
Would Omaha Beach have won the Kentucky Derby? We will never know.
When the post-surgery swelling in Omaha Beach’s throat lingered longer than hoped for, his return to training was delayed. That effectively took Saratoga’s Grade I Travers Stakes on Aug. 24 off the table.
But Omaha Beach once again demonstrated what a special equine athlete he is when he did finally return to the races in the Santa Anita Sprint Championship on Oct. 5.
Coming on determinedly in the stretch while racing next to the inside rail, Omaha Beach got up to edge the speedy sophomore Shancelot in a thriller. It was a terrific effort on the part of Omaha Beach to beat one of the nation’s elite sprinters in a seven-furlong race.
In light of Omaha Beach’s huge effort in his Oct. 5 comeback victory, it was asking a lot of him to return just four weeks later in the Grade I BC Dirt Mile. When Omaha Beach did not have the best of starts in the Dirt Mile, he found himself farther back early than normal on a deep, tiring track. Horses as far back as he was on the far turn at Santa Anita just did not win on the main track that day. But Omaha Beach still gave it his all and rallied in the lane to finish second behind fellow 3-year-old Spun to Run, who won in front-running fashion. After being 7 1/2 lengths behind at the quarter pole, Omaha Beach lost by 2 3/4 lengths.
Next for Omaha Beach is his farewell appearance under silks in Gulfstream Park’s Grade I, $3 million Pegasus World Cup at 1 1/8 miles on Jan. 25. He then will head off to Spendthrift Farm in Kentucky to begin his stud career.
The thought of what a 4-year-old Omaha Beach might have accomplished on the track this year makes his retirement from racing a huge disappointment.
There is every chance that as good as Omaha Beach was at 3, he would have been even better at 4. There are many examples of an outstanding 3-year-old being even better when they got older, such as Forego, Seattle Slew, Affirmed, Spectacular Bid, Ferdinand, Alysheba, Skip Away, California Chrome and Gun Runner.
SMITH NOW ALL-TIME LEADER IN GRADE I WINS
When “Big Money” Mike Smith won both the Grade I La Brea and Grade I Malibu, he tied and then surpassed retired jockey Jerry Bailey’s North American record for Grade I victories. Smith upped his total to 217.
It’s clear that breaking a record held by Bailey was very meaningful to Smith, whose riding prowess at the advanced age of 54 is truly remarkable.
“Jerry is someone that comes from my hometown,” Bailey said. “I was born in New Mexico, but raised in Texas in El Paso where he’s from. His father was my dentist. I went to the same high school as he did. When his high school gave him an honor, I was in the grandstand watching him. I wasn’t even riding yet. I was just a kid. He’s always meant a lot to me. So to surpass him means a whole lot.”
Daily Racing Form’s Steve Andersen reported that Bailey sent Smith what he called a “beautiful” congratulatory text.
“I must have gotten 200 texts [from] so many people around the country, all over the industry, even overseas,” Smith said. “It was pretty neat. I answered every one of them. I stayed up to do it.”
RACING’S RECORD-KEEPING LEAVES MUCH TO BE DESIRED
How long, I wondered, had Bailey’s record for Grade I wins stood?
In what unfortunately has become typical for horse racing, finding out the answer to that proved problematic when it should have been easy. After I spent a considerable amount of time searching for the answer, I finally gave up.
Equibase calls itself the “official source” for Thoroughbred racing information. But the Equibase website was of no help in trying to find out how long Bailey’s record for Grade I victories had stood. In fact, if there is even just a list somewhere on the Equibase website of the all-time leading jockeys in Grade I wins, I can’t find it.
And so horse racing once again demonstrates just how woefully inferior it is when it comes to its record keeping compared to other sports that utilize the Elias Sports Bureau for statistics and records. If you follow pro baseball, football or basketball, you no doubt have heard of the Elias Sports Bureau.
“The Elias Sports Bureau is a company providing historical and current statistical information for sports, especially for major professional sports leagues in the United States and Canada,” according to Wikipedia. The Elias Sports Bureau is the “official statistician” for Major League Baseball, the NFL, the NBA, the NHL, the WNBA, Major League Soccer and professional golf.
Thanks to the Elias Sports Bureau, it’s widely known when a baseball player, a basketball player, a football player or a team is approaching a record, ties a record or breaks a record. Too often the same can’t be said in horse racing. Consider how horse racing now handles its world time records for horses.
For a great many years, the official list of world records could be found in the American Racing Manual. But after Equibase took charge of horse racing’s statistical information, the world records no longer appeared in the American Racing Manual. (What, you may wonder, is difference between a world record and an American record? A North American record is the fastest time on dirt, grass or synthetic. A world record is the fastest time at a particular distance, period. It’s the fastest time no matter the surface.)
Equibase, I was informed, decided to do away with keeping track of world records because it had no way of knowing for sure if a horse’s time was anything more than a North American record. Thus, the list of world records in the American Racing Manual disappeared. The book only listed North American records. (I will say it’s to Equibase’s credit that on its website at least you currently can find a list of North American records for dirt, turf and all-weather surfaces.)
But now, unfortunately, the American Racing Manual itself has disappeared. Daily Racing Form did not publish it in 2019. Consequently, horse racing now finds itself in even worse shape concerning the availability of statistics, records and information.
Oh, I finally did get the answer as to how long Bailey’s record for Grade I wins had stood. Bloodhorse’s Jay Hovdey found it somehow. This particular record of Bailey’s lasted for 14 years.
“Bailey won his first Grade I event on Sept. 1, 1980, aboard Heavenly Ade in the Delaware Handicap and his 216th Grade I on Nov. 19, 2005, on I’m a Tiger in the Frank J. De Francis Memorial Dash at Laurel Park,” Hovdey wrote.
Hovdey then quotes Bailey as saying: “I don’t remember whose record I broke along the way. In fact, I didn’t even know I held the record until Mike got close to it.”
Sadly, that is not surprising due to horse racing’s poor record-keeping.