January 16, 2012

Eclipse Award voters get it wrong with Animal Kingdom

Ask a general sports fan what's the best race in the world and nearly all will respond "Kentucky Derby." Ask them to name just one other race and they usually can't do it. Horsemen are supposed to know better, though. I thought most horsemen realized that while the KY Derby is the day that gets all the attention (and rightly so), the Breeders' Cup is where champions are crowned.

How Animal Kingdom beat out both Caleb's Posse and Shackleford (who ran one-two in the Breeders' Cup Dirt Mile against older horses) simply defies logic. Other than his Kentucky Derby upset, AK boasts a modest Grade 3 win in Turfway's Spiral Stakes on polytrack (arguably the weakest of any Derby preps) and a narrow loss to Shackleford in the Preakness. While Shackleford was the most consistent runner over the course of the year, his seconditis likely cost him the vote, finishing second in three Grade 1 races, including the BC Dirt Mile to the runaway winner Caleb's Posse. Both these sophomores had a grueling 10 race season, yet were still at the top of their game come Breeders' Cup time, especially hard to do for young horses.

But Caleb's Posse really shined in key moments, denying Uncle Mo the Grade 1 King's Bishop Stakes at historic Saratoga after winning another Grade 2 sprint there. While he certainly was not at his best running long, he did start hot at Oaklawn Park by winning the Smarty Jones Stakes and placing second in the Grade 2 Rebel to The Factor and held his own in some regional Derbies, also winning the Grade 3 Ohio Derby.

But instead, a horse who lost his first race of the season to a horse named Powhatan County and who won only two of five races over about a three month span will be voted the best 3YO of 2011? The numbers just are not at all there to support this decision. All this talk about how horses don't run enough for fans to get engaged is B-S as long as our very own "media" reward these one-hit wonders. The vote was at least close at 114-111, but certainly that doesn't take the pain away from the McNeill or Von Hemel families, who could have very well received two awards for best sprinter and 3YO male, but instead go home empty handed. Makes you wonder about the sincerity of these voters and whether there is a Kentucky bias that works against lesser known horsemen. He might not have fit in the right "peg," but to me Caleb's Posse was certainly the best of his class in 2011, hands down. And perhaps he'll get another crack at it with a more focused sprint season in 2012!