The voting for the 2008 Eclipse Awards began last week and writers have until Jan. 5th to cast their ballots. The awards will be presented in Miami on Jan. 26th.
During the past few days I have completed my homework and made up my mind on nearly all of the divisions. As we have chatted about previously, Horse of the Year, Sprint and 3-year-old Filly are all highly debatable, and will likely be very close. Other than those three, there are a few others that were difficult decisions. I'll list them below and look forward to your thoughts on each one.
Older Turf Male
This one was especially difficult, as to me, there was no real standout. Horses that I seriously considered were Conduit, Kip Deville, Einstein and Grand Couturier.
Conduit will get a lot of votes based on his sensational Breeders' Cup win, especially in light of runner-up Eagle Mountain's win in Hong Kong last weekend. But I have a difficulty voting for a horse that made just one start in the U.S. It's just a rule I have. The BC and his two group stakes wins in England probably makes him the favorite, but he didn't get my vote. I also don't think Kip Deville did enough. Had he put forth a good showing in Hong Kong maybe I would have changed my mind.
It came down to Einstein and Grand Couturier. On turf, Einstein was 3-2-0 from six starts, with his wins coming in an optional claimer, the grade I Gulfstream Turf and grade I Turf Classic at Churchill. He had a terrific season and his win on the dirt in the Clark added to his versatility. My only knock against Einstein is that he didn't win on turf the second half of the season.
Grand Couturier was 2-0-1 from five starts, his wins coming in the grade I Sword Dancer at Saratoga and grade I Turf Classic Invitational at Belmont. The latter was one of the best performances we have seen all season - scoring by a ridiculous 10 lengths. I'm still undecided about this one.
Older Turf Female
Another difficult choice. My finalists were Folk Opera, Goldikova, Mauralakana and Forever Together. Folk Opera spent most of her time in England, where she won a couple minor stakes and a group II. Then she came to North America and took the grade I E.P. Taylor. It was a solid year, but not enough for me.
Obviously, Goldikova's BC Mile win over the boys was spectacular; maybe the best performance of the whole weekend. She also won a pair of group I races and a group III in France. On paper and on the track, she is probably the most talented among these. But again, she had one race in the U.S. It's an American-based award and therefore, I couldn't vote for her. You have to take a stand somewhere.
Mauralakana was probably my favorite female turfer all year. She showed a ton of heart in her four straight wins, the last one coming in the grade I Beverly D. I really enjoyed watching her run, as she tried every time out. I wanted to vote for her, but I just felt as though Forever Together did a little more. Trained by Jonathan Sheppard, Forever Together won four times on grass, three of them coming in grade I events. For me, her BC Filly & Mare turf win locked up the award.
On paper, Garrett Gomez would seem to have the upper hand here. Go-Go is first in earnings with more than $22 million and has a big lead in graded stakes victories.
But when deciding on this award, I think you have to dig a little deeper than rankings. You have to consider everything and watch a lot of racing to see who really gets the most out of every mount. To me, that is Rafael Bejarano.
Bejarano is not only second in earnings and has more grade I wins (9) than anyone, but he was absolutely dominating in California. He is on his way to a California sweep, where he will become only the third rider to win all five meet titles in the state - all of this coming in his first full year in California. You rarely get a bad ride out of Bejarano either. He seems to always get the nod in photos too, which is the sign of a great rider.