Analyzing the 2020 Eclipse Awards finalists

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A Jan. 4 announcement of the finalists for the 2019 Eclipse Awards largely yielded the expected, including in the most coveted Horse of the Year category, where Bricks and MortarMaximum Security, and Mitole were selected by voters.

Established in 1971, the Eclipse Awards determine North American championships from Thoroughbred racehorses and individuals, as determined by votes cast by members of the National Turf Writers and Broadcasters Association, Daily Racing Form, and the National Thoroughbred Racing Association, whose voters include racing officials and Equibase representatives. Three finalists are chosen in each Eclipse classification.

Bricks and Mortar, considered the favorite for Horse of the Year, went 6-for-6 in 2019 while racing exclusively on turf; 3-year-old Maximum Security won three Grade 1s, including the Cigar Mile Handicap over older foes; and Mitole excelled as a dirt sprinter from six furlongs to a mile. Besides Horse of the Year, all three are likely to win other awards, split into different categories—all of which will be presented the evening of Jan. 23 at the 49th annual Eclipse Awards at Gulfstream Park.

Among championships awarded to individuals, the jockey and trainer tandem that teamed with Bricks and Mortar, Irad Ortiz, Jr. and trainer Chad Brown, were also announced as respective finalists and are widely expected to win. Both come off record-setting seasons, one in which Ortiz’s mounts earned more than $34 million and Brown’s stable amassed more than $31 million. Ortiz won his first Eclipse in 2018, while Brown has won three straight.

Other finalists include the partners that raced Bricks and Mortar, owners Klaravich Stables and William H. Lawrence, and the colt’s breeder, George Strawbridge Jr.

Regardless of the Horse of the Year outcome, Bricks and Mortar is a sure thing in another Eclipse Award category: male turf horse of 2019. It was in that division that he was untouchable last year, capped by a victory in the Longines Breeders’ Cup Turf. He won races across the country from 1 1/8 miles to 1 1/2 miles, earning $6,723,650, the largest ever for a horse that competed strictly on the grass in the U.S.

The two other Horse of the Year finalists also look poised to earn championships in the divisions in which they competed.

Mitole is a certainty to take home the male sprinter prize, having won the Breeders’ Cup Sprint to conclude 2019. With a 6-for-7 record last year, he won four Grade 1 races, only one less than Bricks and Mortar. Brilliant at six furlongs in the Breeders’ Cup, he also excelled at a mile when he defeated McKinzie in the Grade 1 Runhappy Metropolitan Handicap.

Along with McKinzie and Longines Breeders’ Cup Classic winner Vino Rosso, Mitole is also a finalist in the older dirt male category, where both he and Vino Rosso have wide support.

As reflected by the votes that landed him among the finalists for Horse of the Year, Maximum Security looks poised to win a championship for 3-year-old male.

His three Grade 1 victories last year came in the Xpressbet.com Florida Derby, the TVG.com Haskell Invitational Stakes, and the aforementioned Cigar Mile.

It was a race he lost, the Kentucky Derby Presented by Woodford Reserve, for which he will always be remembered. That afternoon he crossed the finish in front, only to be disqualified and placed 17th by stewards for interference. Country House was elevated to first.

Other finalists for 3-year-old male are Code of Honor, winner of the Runhappy Travers Stakes and Jockey Club Gold Cup before finishing seventh in the Breeders’ Cup Classic; and Omaha Beach, a three-time Grade 1 winner in 2019 who took the Arkansas Derby, Santa Anita Sprint Championship, and Runhappy Malibu Stakes.

As usual, many Breeders’ Cup winners became Eclipse Award finalists, though not all are assured of Eclipse prizes.

Blue Prize, who upset Midnight Bisou in the Longines Breeders’ Cup Distaff, is considered unlikely to outpoll Midnight Bisou, who went 7-for-8 in 2019. Elate, fourth against males in the Classic, is the other finalist.

The closest vote tally in an equine category could come in the female turf horse division, where UniSistercharlie, and Got Stormy all turned in stellar seasons. A victory in the Breeders’ Cup Mile by Uni against males may sway support in her direction.

One of the few surprises of the Eclipse finalists is the absence of Tiz the Law in the 2-year-old male category. Beaten as the favorite when third in the Grade 2 Kentucky Jockey Club in the slop at Churchill Downs after winning the Grade 1 Champagne Stakes, he was outpolled by the three finalists of MaxfieldStorm the Court, and Structor.

Storm the Court and Structor won Breeders’ Cup Races, the TVG Juvenile and Juvenile Turf Presented by Coolmore America, respectively. Maxfield was scratched due to injury in the Juvenile after winning a maiden race and the Claiborne Breeders’ Futurity.

Awards honoring owner, breeder, and apprentice jockey seem the most competitive among human categories.

Gary BarberPeter BrantKlaravich Stables and Lawrence are the owner finalists; Calumet FarmGodolphin, and Strawbridge top the breeder category; and Julio Correa, Angel Diaz, and Kazushi Kimura comprise the three finalists for outstanding apprentice jockey.

Of the 254 eligible voters representing the NTRA, the NTWAB, and Daily Racing Form, 241 (95%) took part in this year’s voting. Finalists were determined in each category by voters’ top three selections, based on a 10-5-1 scale, though Eclipse Award winners are determined solely by first-place votes.

In addition to honoring the 17 winners in the horse and human categories, Scott Coles will receive the Eclipse Award as the 2019 Horseplayer of the Year and members of the media will be honored for outstanding coverage in six categories, the winners having already been determined and announced last month.

2019 Eclipse Awards Finalists (in Alphabetical Order):

Horse of the Year: Bricks and MortarMaximum SecurityMitole

Two-Year-Old Male: MaxfieldStorm the CourtStructor

Two-Year-Old Filly: BastBritish IdiomSharing

Three-Year-Old Male: Code of HonorMaximum SecurityOmaha Beach

Three-Year-Old Filly: CovfefeGuaranaSerengeti Empress

Older Dirt Male: McKinzieMitoleVino Rosso

Older Dirt Female: Blue PrizeElateMidnight Bisou

Male Sprinter: Imperial HintMitoleWorld of Trouble

Female Sprinter: Belvoir BayCome DancingCovfefe

Male Turf Horse: Bricks and MortarMo ForzaWorld of Trouble

Female Turf Horse: Got StormySistercharlieUni

Steeplechase Horse: Brain Power, Scorpiancer, Winston C

Owner: Gary BarberPeter BrantKlaravich Stables Inc. and William H. Lawrence

Breeder: Calumet FarmGodolphinGeorge Strawbridge Jr.

Trainer: Steve AsmussenChad BrownBrad Cox

Jockey: Javier CastellanoIrad Ortiz Jr.Jose Ortiz

Apprentice Jockey: Julio Correa, Angel Diaz, Kazushi Kimura

Pegasus races planned for Gulfstream and Santa Anita in 2024

Horse racing on Opening day of the winter-spring meet at Santa Anita Park.
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HALLANDALE BEACH, Fla. – After seven Pegasus World Cup events, it’s evidently time for change.

1/ST Racing, which has hosted the entirety of the Pegasus series to this point at Gulfstream Park, is planning for two Pegasus days in 2024 – one at Gulfstream and the other at Santa Anita. Details aren’t finalized and it’s unclear how it would fit in the racing calendar, but 1/ST is planning for both dirt and turf Pegasus races as part of the Santa Anita program.

Gulfstream played host to the $3 million Pegasus World Cup Invitational on the dirt Saturday, along with the $1 million Pegasus Turf and the $500,000 Pegasus Filly and Mare Turf.

“I’d really love to see that we bring it to the West Coast,” 1/ST President and CEO Belinda Stronach said. “That will probably happen in 2024. What we did this year for 2023 was said, `OK, we have a number of great race days, let’s coordinate those better and call it the 1/ST Racing Tour and recognize great achievements within our own footprint.”

Saturday marked the first stop on that new 1/ST Racing Tour. Along with some of the biggest race days at 1/ST tracks – like Florida Derby day at Gulfstream on April 1, Santa Anita Derby day on April 8 and the Preakness Stakes at Pimlico on May 20 – there are a pair of days where the tour will be running simultaneously.

This coming Saturday, Gulfstream will play host to the Holy Bull while Santa Anita has the Robert B. Lewis – both of them Kentucky Derby prep races.

And on March 4, Gulfstream has the Fountain of Youth, another major Derby prep, while San Anita has the Big Cap. Plans call for coordinated post times at those two tracks on those days to provide the best racing action every 20 minutes, as well as some unique betting options.

“We can never rest on our laurels,” Stronach said. “We have to keep moving forward. We have a great team that’s really committed.”

The main Pegasus race is one of the biggest-paying races in North America. Art Collector claimed about $1.8 million from a $3 million purse with his win on Saturday. In 2022, only the $6 million Breeders’ Cup Classic and $4 million Breeders’ Cup Turf featured bigger prizes among U.S. races, and the $3 million Pegasus purse is equal to the one offered last year at the Kentucky Derby.

Regardless of what happens with the Santa Anita plan for future Pegasus events, Stronach insisted Gulfstream will continue having Pegasus days. There has even been talk about Gulfstream playing host to Breeders’ Cup races again, something that hasn’t happened since 1999.

“This is staying here in Miami,” Stronach said. “Pegasus has a home here in Miami. We can’t move Pegasus from Miami. We have great partners here and it’s more than just a day now. We have deep roots here in Miami.”

Arabian Knight earns Baffert record 6th win in Southwest

Betway Challow Hurdle Day - Newbury Racecourse
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HOT SPRINGS, Ark. – Arabian Knight won the $750,000 Southwest Stakes by 5 1/2 lengths at Oaklawn, giving Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert his record sixth victory in the race.

The colt came into the Kentucky Derby prep as one of the most highly touted 3-year-olds in the country. Arabian Knight, who was purchased for $2.3 million as a 2-year-old, was making his second career start and first on a sloppy track in front of 27,000 fans in Arkansas.

“These good horses are hard to come by,” said Baffert, who was on hand in Hot Springs. “We’ve had a lot of luck here at Oaklawn, so it was nice to have a horse like this.”

However, Arabian Knight was ineligible to earn the Kentucky Derby qualifying points awarded to the winner because Baffert has been suspended for two years by Churchill Downs Inc. The penalty, which ends shortly after this year’s Derby on May 6, stems from Medina Spirit’s medication violation after the colt won the 2021 Derby and was later disqualified. Baffert is challenging the ban in court.

Ridden by John Velazquez, Arabian Knight ran 1 1/8 miles in 1:43.50 and paid $2.80 to win. He is 2-0 and has career earnings of $544,275.

“He ran 1:43 and change, that’s racehorse time and he did it without taking a deep breath,” Baffert said. “This was a big effort.”

Red Route One closed from last to finish second, and Frosted Departure was third. Sun Thunder was fourth, followed by Jace’s Road, Corona Bolt, El Tomate and Western Ghent.

At Gulfstream in Florida, Baffert’s entry Defunded finished second in the $3 million Pegasus World Cup, beaten by 4 1/2 lengths by Art Collector on Saturday.