In keeping with the theme of the last two blogs, let's continue discussing the Eclipse Awards. People had some fairly strong opinions about Horse of the Year and 2-year-old male, so I'm guessing the race for 3-year-old male will be no different.
In a year where three different horses won the Triple Crown races and no 3-year-old won the Breeders' Cup Classic, there is no clear-cut choice. In fact, as I see it a legitimate case can be made for five horses. Each one brings a different set of credentials and each of the connections believes their horse is worthy of winning the championship. Let's examine the top contenders, in alphabetical order:
Animal Kingdom: He won two of his five starts including the grade III Spiral and grade I Kentucky Derby. Ran a solid second in the Preakness and unfortunately was injured when running sixth in the Belmont. In a year where there is no standout, a case can be made that Animal Kingdom won the most important race and therefore deserves to be a champion. Owner Barry Irwin did not want to be drawn into the debate, but did have this to say:
"The people that vote are going to get the ballots and get the information, and most of these people have enough experience to look at this and make a good decision. And that's what we're relying on. Everyone knows what it takes to win that award. People know what kind of races you need to win, over what distances, and people know what real grade Is are and what the other grade Is are. It's up to these people to figure it out; not me to tell them."
As a side note, Irwin gave an update on Animal Kingdom as he continues to recover from his slab fracture. He said he has been galloping on the track at Fair Hill for about a week and will start breezing in the middle of December. He will then be shipped down to Palm Meadows in Florida to prepare for the Dubai World Cup in March. Irwin said he may train straight up to the World Cup without a prep.
Caleb's Posse: He's probably the front-runner now after an impressive four-length victory in the Breeders' Cup Dirt Mile. That was his fifth overall win and second grade I of the season. He also scored the ungraded Smarty Jones Stakes at Oaklawn, the grade III Ohio Derby at Thistledown, the grade II Amsterdam at Saratoga, and the grade I King's Bishop at Saratoga. A horse that very few knew about at the beginning of the season, he has truly been a terrific story. He's also the only contender, so far, to have beaten older horses.
"I don't want to sound too bold, but he's got as good a resume as any 3-year-old out there," said trainer Donnie Von Hemel.
Ruler On Ice: He's the wild card because he is the only one that will race one more time before the end of the year. A victory in next week's grade I Clark Handicap could put him right near the top of the list. He's raced nine times this year with a pair of wins--an allowance at Parx Racing and the grade I Belmont Stakes. And is graded stakes-placed four other times. Would a second grade I be enough for him?
Shackleford: Like Ruler On Ice he has had a full campaign, racing 10 times with a pair of wins. He won an allowance at Gulfstream Park and the grade I Preakness. Also has been graded stakes-placed four times, including narrow losses in the Florida Derby and the Haskell. Had the photo gone the other way in either of those two races he probably would be the frontrunner. As it is, he has shown up to every dance and that probably means more in a year like this.
Stay Thirsty: Has three wins from eight starts, all in graded company. Won the grade III Gotham at Aqueduct, grade II Jim Dandy at Saratoga, and grade I Travers at Saratoga--all at different distances. Graded stakes-placed twice including a narrow defeat in the Belmont.
You know this race is a contentious one if we can't say definitely even which three horses will be finalists. I would say as of now that Caleb's Posse is the only horse that will be on the ballot without a doubt, and if Ruler On Ice gets his second grade I in the Clark he will be on there too. Beyond that, your guess is as good as mine.