DEL MAR, Calif. — The victory by Gun Runner in the Breeders’ Cup Classic on Saturday left no doubt as to the Horse of the Year and champion older dirt male for 2017, and while several other Eclipse Award divisions were decided over the 13 Breeders’ Cup races Friday and Saturday at Del Mar, a good number are still as murky as the fog that can roll in off the Pacific Ocean here, leaving voters with some potentially difficult choices.
And unlike in years past, there do not appear to be any scenarios in the final weeks of 2017 where horses in these debated categories will be making starts in races of consequence.
Most notable among the difficult choices is champion 2-year-old male, a division in which Good Magic romped in the most important race, Saturday’s Juvenile, but in which Bolt d’Oro – the beaten favorite in the Juvenile after taking the scenic route – may have the best overall résumé.
Good Magic’s best argument is the most basic – he won his lone head-to-head meeting against Bolt d’Oro in the race in which all the contenders for the Eclipse Award competed, and he did it shipping to a track where Bolt d’Oro had already won twice. Yet his Juvenile win was his lone victory in three starts, and obviously his lone Grade 1 win, whereas Bolt d’Oro owns Grade 1 victories in the Del Mar Futurity and FrontRunner and won all three of his starts before his third-place finish in the Juvenile. Is that enough for Bolt d’Oro to usurp a 5 1/4-length defeat versus Good Magic?
Similarly, the 2-year-old filly division finds as two of its top prospects a filly who shipped in from New York and won her lone Grade 1 race of the year while defeating a locally based favorite who scored a pair of Grade 1 wins before suffering her only loss of the year over a track at which she had won twice.
Caledonia Road was an emphatic 3 1/4-length winner Saturday of the Juvenile Fillies, her second win in three starts, her lone loss a second-place finish in the Frizette. She finished nearly seven lengths in front of Moonshine Memories, who faded to seventh in her first career defeat, but who owns significant victories in the Del Mar Debutante and Chandelier.
A wild card for the Eclipse Award as champion 2-year-old filly is Rushing Fall, who completed a perfect season with her victory Friday in the Juvenile Fillies Turf. While a filly who raced exclusively on turf has never won this award, Rushing Fall has been particularly impressive. She has as many Grade 1 wins as Caledonia Road, and one fewer than Moonshine Memories, but her record is pristine.
Rushing Fall is trained by Chad Brown, who had several runners who did not win the division’s championship race over the weekend, but whose body of work for the year give them strong claims at a title, none more so than the popular female turf runner Lady Eli. She won 3 of 4 starts earlier this year — twice in Grade 1 company — before finishing seventh Saturday in the Filly and Mare Turf, during which she suffered significant cuts on a hind leg and lost a shoe.
Lady Eli never has won an Eclipse Award — she was in the same position three years ago as Rushing Fall this year, but was denied — so there is bound to be some sentimental support for her, but her overall record this year is superior to anyone else in the division, and her cause was helped by the longshot Wuheida taking the Filly and Mare Turf. It seems unlikely voters will go for a European import, who scored her lone victory of the year in the Filly and Mare Turf, over a mare like Lady Eli.
An upset by Bar of Gold in the Filly and Mare Sprint on Saturday might similarly aid Brown-trained Paulassilverlining, who finished sixth in the Filly and Mare Sprint but who owns two Grade 1 victories this year, in the Madison and Humana Distaff. Bar of Gold’s lone win in eight prior starts this year came in a turf stakes restricted to New York-breds, so her win Saturday throws the female sprint Eclipse Award wide open. Ami’s Mesa, beaten a nose in the Filly and Mare Sprint, won all four of her prior starts this year and would have been a slam-dunk for the title if the photo had gone her way, and she and Bar of Gold split their two meetings this year, so Ami’s Mesa also is very much in the mix, but not having a Grade 1 win likely will be counted against her.
Brown-trained Beach Patrol also is likely to receive significant support for the Eclipse Award as champion male turf horse. He won two Grade 1 races and was second in the Turf on Saturday to the European import Talismanic. He also finished in front of his main rival, World Approval, in their lone head-to-head meeting in the Manhattan. However, World Approval is the likely favorite, as he completed the year with three straight Grade 1 victories, capped off by the Mile on Saturday. Had Beach Patrol staved off Talismanic, this would be an even more difficult choice.
There should be no doubt as to the male sprint champion, as Roy H won the race that mattered most, beating top rivals Mind Your Biscuits and Drefong in the Sprint on Saturday to complete a season in which he won 5 of 6 starts. His lone loss occurred when he was interfered with by the riderless Drefong in the Bing Crosby, a situation that likely prevented him from having a perfect season and winning a Grade 1 sooner. He came out of that to finish the year with a pair of Grade 1 wins and won in New York in the Grade 2 True North earlier in the year.
The Breeders’ Cup Distaff on Friday likely determined a pair of Eclipse Award winners.
Victories over Stellar Wind in the Distaff and, before that, Songbird in the Personal Ensign make Forever Unbridled — who was unbeaten in three starts this year — the favorite to be named champion older dirt female. Stellar Wind does have three Grade 1 victories to Forever Unbridled’s two, but the Distaff was a lopsided result — Stellar Wind was last — plus the quality of horses Stellar Wind was beating this year seemed to be exposed Friday.
The 3-year-old filly Eclipse Award is likely to go to Abel Tasman, who was well in front of divisional rivals Elate and Paradise Woods when finishing a close second to Forever Unbridled in the Distaff. Abel Tasman won three Grade 1 races and beat Elate in both their meetings. Elate has one fewer Grade 1 win, but did beat elders — albeit a soft group — in the Beldame.
West Coast looks to be the choice as champion 3-year-old male, as he won a pair of Grade 1 races — the Travers and Pennsylvania Derby — and, in contrast to the Triple Crown race winners, competed all year long, his campaign ending with a respectable third-place finish in the Classic on Saturday. Kentucky Derby winner Always Dreaming has as many Grade 1 wins and won the division’s biggest race, but he was a non-factor after the first Saturday in May. Oscar Performance, a turf specialist, also won a pair of Grade 1 races, but was ninth of 13 in the Turf on Saturday.