Despite efforts to make the Eclipse Awards’ horse-of-the-year balloting appear like more of a, well, horse race, in the end it was runaway for Justify.
The 13th horse to win the Triple Crown won the award over Accelerate, who will be making his final career start Saturday in the $9 million Pegasus World Cup at Gulfstream Park in Florida. Justify got 191 of the votes, compared to 54 for Accelerate and two for Monomoy Girl. Justify was retired after winning the Belmont Stakes after only six races.
“I want to thank Bob Baffert for being the trainer, he’s starting to get this Triple Crown down,” said Kenny Troutt, WinStar Farm owner. “I also want to thank [jockey] Mike Smith for all the things he did for us, running through the dirt and the mud and everything.”
While Justify was the big winner, Joe Harper, president and chief executive officer of Del Mar, was the highlight after winning the Eclipse Award of Merit.
Harper spent most of his speech thanking everyone, by name, who worked at Del Mar and then launched into what was likely a good-natured series of jabs at Santa Anita.
“It just dawned on me, half of those guys [who work at Del Mar] got fired from Santa Anita,” Harper said. “All you race track managers out there, if you need some talented people, just go down to the Arcadia unemployment office. They are all there, racing secretaries, race callers.”
Harper then, in an aside, told Tim Ritvo, the Stronach Group chief operating officer, that he was kidding. Before the start of the current Santa Anita meeting, Ritvo made two controversial moves firing longtime racing secretary Rick Hammerle and race caller Michael Wrona.
The awards, presented Thursday night at Gulfstream, was a testament to California racing, winning eight of the 17 awards given to horses, trainers, jockeys, owners and breeders.
In addition to winning horse of the year, Justify was the unanimous selection for 3-year-old male. It was the only unanimous selection.
Despite having the highest win (34%) and in-the-money (59%) percentage of the top 10 U.S trainers, Baffert finished second to Chad Brown for the Eclipse Award for trainer. Brown (859) had more than twice the number of starters as Baffert (348).
Hronis Racing won by a large margin in the Eclipse for top owners. Kosta and Pete Hronis got 142 first-place votes, compared to Peter Brant’s 27. The Hronis brothers, who live in the Central Valley, own Accelerate, who did win an Eclipse for older dirt male, by 245-2, over Gun Runner, who retired last January.
Other California-based winners included Game Winner as top 2-year-old male. He is trained by Baffert and won the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile and is the early favorite for the Kentucky Derby.
Unique Bella, who was trained by Jerry Hollendorfer, was awarded older dirt female, despite being retired after four races last year to injury.
Roy H won the Eclipse for male sprinter and Stormy Liberal for male turf horse. Both horses are trained by Peter Miller and each won their Breeders’ Cup race.
The closest race was for female turf horse, where Sistercharlie beat Enable by only 11 first-place votes. Sistercharlie won the Breeders’ Cup Fillies and Mares Turf, while Enable beat male horses in winning the Breeders’ Cup Turf.
Monomoy Girl was the top 3-year-old filly and Jaywalk was the winner in 2-year-old filly category. Shamrock Rose beat Baffert-trained Marley’s Freedom for top female sprinter, 136-113.
Irad Ortiz Jr. was awarded the Eclipse for top jockey; Westin Hamilton was top apprentice jockey, John D. Gunther was top breeder and Zanjabeel was the top steeplechase horse.
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