Eclipse Awards: Rating the Contenders

With the recent announcement of the nominees for the 2013 Eclipse Awards, we though that it might be enlightening to run a TrueNicks ruler over the contenders and see what was revealed by the "Tale of the Tape."

The title of champion 2-year-old might be quite close race between Shared Belief (TrueNicks A++), who ended the year dominating the West Coast juveniles, and the Breeders' Cup Juvenile (gr. I) victor, the now-retired New Year's Day (TrueNicks A++). Shared Belief is from the first of the more expensive crops to represent Candy Ride (TrueNicks), and he and Sidney's Candy (TrueNicks) are grade I winners from only 10 starters by the sire out of mares by Storm Cat (although Candy Ride has also enjoyed considerable success with sons of Storm Cat). Conversely, New Year's Day, who is one of two stakes winners from three starters for Street Cry (TrueNicks) out of Dixie Union mares, is a "next generation" version of a cross that first came to note with Street Sense (TrueNicks), who is by Street Cry out of a mare by Dixie Union's sire, Dixieland Band. The third nominee, Havana, from the first crop of Dunkirk (TrueNicks), is an extended version of a cross—Fappiano/In Reality—that has been producing stakes winners for the better part of 30 years, the first examples being Tappiano and Pentelicus, both foals of 1984.

The juvenile filly division is a muddled one, reflecting an equally muddled Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies (gr. I), where longshot Ria Antonia (TrueNicks A++) was awarded the race in the stewards' room following the disqualification of She's a Tiger (TrueNicks A++) . Ria Antonia is by Unbridled's Song's deceased son Rockport Harbor and is one of two stakes winners from six starters for that stallion out mares by Mr. Greeley (who sired grade I winner Aruna out of a mare by Unbridled, and graded winner Laughing Lashes from a daughter of Unbridled's Song). She's a Tiger is by Tale of the Cat—whose son Lion Heart should have been champion 2-year-old of his crop—and is three-quarters related to the grade I-winning sprinter Smiling Tiger, both out of the Cahill Road mare Shandra Smiles. This is a cross that does well whichever way you look at it, Storm Cat/Cahill Road, or Tale of the Cat/Fappiano. The third candidate is the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies' Turf (gr. IT) captress, the European-bred Chriselliam (TrueNicks A++), who is by Iffraaj (TrueNicks) (by Gone West's son Zafonic) out of a mare by Danehill, and is the second graded winner, and third stakes horse from just seven starters on the direct cross.

The champion 3-year-old title will almost certainly come down to Orb, who took the Kentucky Derby (gr. I) but failed to score subsequently, or Will Take Charge, who didn't fire in the classics but ended the year as a monster. Orb (TrueNicks A) is by Malibu Moon (TrueNicks) out of an Unbridled mare, and so a representative of a cross that has produced eight stakes winners out of Unbridled mares, the most notable hitherto being Tapit (TrueNicks). Will Take Charge (TrueNicks A++) is, along with another 2013 grade I winner Graydar, one of three graded stakes winners from just seven starters for Unbridled's Song out of mares by Dehere (a Northern Dancer/Secretariat cross, like the frequent Unbridled's Song foil Storm Cat). The third nominee, Belmont Stakes (gr. I) laureate Palace Malice (TrueNicks A), is from the first crop of Curlin (TrueNicks) (Smart Strike) and is out of a mare by Royal Anthem (Theatrical) and so is an extended version of the cross that produced champion turf horse and successful young sire English Channel (TrueNicks).

The Breeders' Cup Distaff (gr. I) threw the 3-year-old filly division into turmoil, as Princess of Sylmar, who had previously appeared to be a lock, finished last as two of her contemporaries, Beholder and Close Hatches ran one-two. Beholder (TrueNicks A++) is by the Hennessy speedster Henny Hughes out of the dam of Into Mischief (TrueNicks), and is a product of the Hennessy/Clever Trick cross. Close Hatches (TrueNicks A++) and Princess of Sylmar (TrueNicks A++) are both from the first crops of their respective sires, First Defence (TrueNicks) (Unbridled's Song) and Majestic Warrior (TrueNicks) (A.P. Indy), and while Close Hatches is out of a mare by Storm Cat, Princess of Sylmar is out of a mare by that horse's son Catienus (there are two stakes winners from five starters on an A.P. Indy/Catienus cross, and extension of the successful A.P. Indy/Storm Cat nick).

The title of champion older male has a pair of contenders sired by half brothers in Mucho Macho Man, by Macho Uno (TrueNicks), and Game On Dude, a son of Awesome Again (TrueNicks). Mucho Macho Man (TrueNicks A++), who is out of a mare by the Two Punch horse Ponche, is one of three stakes winners for Holy Bull and his sons out of Two Punch mares, a mating that gives a double of Grey Dawn II and combines him with The Axe II, that pair having significant pedigree ties. Game On Dude, from a daughter of Devil His Due, is the best runner for his sire with a Halo line mare, although he does have a stakes winner out of a mare by Saint Ballado, a brother to Devil's Bag, the sire of Devil His Due. We can note that Devil His Due is out of a mare by Raise a Cup, where Awesome Again has frequently done well with duplications of Mr. Prospector, a three-quarters relative to Raise a Cup.

The third contender for champion older male is Wise Dan (TrueNicks B+), who is also nailed on as a near certainty to repeat as champion turf horse. He is by Hennessy's Virgiania-based son Wiseman's Ferry out of a mare by Wolf Power, and one of three stakes winners by Storm Cat line stallions out of Wolf Power mares. The cross gives Nasrullah/Princequillo (through Secretariat) and Princequillo/Nasrullah (through Wolf Power), and for good measure, Wise Dan's second dam is a Secretariat/Northern Dancer cross, the reverse to Storm Cat. The other contenders in this category are Magician (TrueNicks A+), who is by Galileo (TrueNicks) out of a Mozart mare, so an extension of his sire's phenomenally successful nick with mares by Danehill, and Point of Entry (TrueNicks A+), one of six stakes winners, three of them grade I, by Dynaformer out of mares by Seeking the Gold.

Although her form trailed off somewhat towards the end of the year, Royal Delta (TrueNicks A) will in all likelihood garnish a third Eclipse Award and her second as champion older mare. She's one of three graded stakes winners and six stakes horses sired by Empire Maker out of A.P. Indy mares. Joyful Victory (TrueNicks A++), who is bidding to become Tapit's third Eclipse Award winner, is one of two graded scorers and four stakes horses from eight starters for the sire from daughters of Wild Again. The third nominee is Tiz Miz Sue (TrueNicks A++), who is not only one of two stakes winners for Tiznow (TrueNicks) out of a mare by Woodman, but the third whose dam is by a stallion bred on a Mr. Prospector/Buckpasser cross.

The title of champion male sprinter looks an open one. Secret Circle (TrueNicks A+) ran just twice but won both, the second of which was the Breeders' Cup Sprint (gr. I). By Eddington (TrueNicks) out of a Dixieland Band mare, he's a product of the excellent Unbridled line cross with the broodmare sire, other examples including Cotton Blossom and Eight Belles. The ill-starred Points Offthebench (TrueNicks A++) won four of five, including a pair of grade I races. The Cal-bred is by Benchmark (TrueNicks), probably the best stallion son of Alydar, out of a mare by Free House (by the Never Bend line horse Smokester), and that cross has produced four stakes winners from 13 starters. The Metropolitan Handicap (gr. I) winner Sahara Sky (TrueNicks A++) is by Pleasant Tap out of a Storm Cat mare and is one of two stakes winners from four starters for that identical cross.

In the female sprint division, Mizdirection's second victory over males in the Breeders' Cup Turf Sprint (gr. IT) should trump Groupie Doll's second win over her own division in the Breeders' Cup Filly & Mare Sprint (gr. I). Mizdirection (TrueNicks A++) is out of a Clever Trick mare, but her second dam is by Wavering Monarch, which means she also has the very successful pairing of His Majesty and his genetic relative Majestic Prince. Coincidentally, Groupie Doll is by Bowman's Band (by Dixieland Band out of a mare by His Majesty's son Pleasant Colony) and goes tail-female to Floral Park, a sister to the dam of His Majesty. The trio of hopefuls in this division is completed by Dance to Bristol (TrueNicks A), who is by the prolific Speightstown (TrueNicks) out of a Louis Quatorze mare, and is linebred to the Northern Dancer/Bold Ruler cross and to Secretariat (twice) and his three-quarters relative Bold Lad.

Mizdirection is also a contender in the female turf division, where she faces Dansili's grade I-winning daughters Dank, who took the Breeders' Cup Filly & Mare Turf (gr. IT), and Laughing (who sadly recently died of colic). Dank (TrueNicks A), out of a Darshaan mare, and Laughing (TrueNicks A++), is out of a mare by Be My Chief (by Danzig son Chief's Crown).

Of 28 horses nominated for Eclipse Awards on the flat, 16 are rated A++ (57%), three are A+ (11), five are A (18%), for 86% at A or better. There is another at the TrueNicks recommended cut off point of B+, bringing the total to 89%. This is compared with a Thoroughbred population where only 13% rate better than A, so while you don't have to be highly-rated by TrueNicks to become an Eclipse Award finalist, it certainly doesn't hurt.

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