By Jay Privman
Led by Havre de Grace, the front-runner for Horse of the Year, the divisional finalists for the 2011 Eclipse Awards were announced on Thursday by the three organizations that vote on the awards, the National Thoroughbred Racing Association, Daily Racing Form, and the National Turf Writers and Broadcasters.
Havre de Grace won 5 of 7 starts last year, with a pivotal victory coming against males in the Woodward Stakes at Saratoga. She is one of three finalists for champion older female, along with Awesome Maria and Blind Luck.
The three finalists for 16 divisions – 11 equine, and five human – were released on Thursday. Finalists for Horse of the Year are not announced until the night of the 41st annual Eclipse Awards dinner, a black-tie affair to be held Jan. 16 at the Four Seasons Beverly Wilshire Hotel in Beverly Hills, Calif.
Havre de Grace failed in her final start of the year, when fourth in the Breeders’ Cup Classic, but a significant number of Breeders’ Cup winners parlayed their victories that weekend at Churchill Downs into a finalist spot. Among the divisional finalists are BC winners Amazombie, Caleb’s Posse, Hansen, Musical Romance, My Miss Aurelia, Perfect Shirl, Regally Ready, Royal Delta, and St Nicholas Abbey.
Caleb’s Posse is a finalist in two divisions, champion sprinter and champion 3-year-old male. Acclamation is the only other horse who is a finalist in two divisions, for champion older male and champion male turf horse.
A total of 248 out of an eligible 267 voters cast ballots. Voters had to choose their first three selections in each division, and the top three were determined by a 10-5-1 point scale. But the divisional champion is determined strictly by first-place votes.
There were several surprising omissions among the finalists, most notably trainer Graham Motion, who won his first Kentucky Derby with Animal Kingdom. Both Animal Kingdom (as champion 3-year-old) and the colt’s owner, Team Valor, are finalists in their respective divisions, but Motion did not crack a top three that included Bob Baffert, Bill Mott, and Todd Pletcher.
Also overlooked was Steve Asmussen, who finished second to Pletcher in purse earnings and trains My Miss Aurelia, the overwhelming favorite to be named champion 2-year-old filly.
And despite Havre de Grace being the likeliest winner as Horse of the Year, neither her owner, Rick Porter’s Fox Hill Farm; trainer, Larry Jones; nor breeder, Nancy Dillman, are among the finalists in their divisions.
Never Retreat, who traversed North America winning five times in 11 starts last year, is not a finalist for champion female turf horse, a category to be decided among Dubawi Heights, Perfect Shirl, and Stacelita.
Also, the brilliantly fast The Factor was not among the list of finalists for either champion sprinter or 3-year-old male, despite winning two Grade 1 races during the calendar year.
When it came to the human awards, purse earnings seemed to significantly sway voters. The three finalists for champion jockey – Javier Castellano, Ramon Dominguez, and John Velazquez – were the top three in earnings for the year. Similarly, the three finalists for champion apprentice jockey – Ryan Curatolo, Kyle Frey, and Rosario Montanez – mirror the earnings list for that category.
Ken and Sarah Ramsey are finalists for both champion owner and breeder. The other finalists for owner are Midwest Thoroughbreds – which led the nation in wins – and Team Valor, while the other finalists for breeder are Frank Stronach’s Adena Springs and Brereton Jones. Those three breeders were the top three in purse earnings for 2011.
2011 Eclipse Awards divisional finalists
My Miss Aurelia
Game On Dude
Havre de Grace
St Nicholas Abbey
Black Jack Blues
Ken and Sarah Ramsey
Ken and Sarah Ramsey